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Centre for Integrated Energy Research

Transport and Ethics Workshop - Gillian Harrison

On Monday 10th September, DTC student Gillian Harrison led a Workshop as part of a project called "New Fuels, New Rules?", an interdisciplinary exploration into the impact of low carbon passenger vehicles on society” funded by the Doctoral Training Centre in Low Carbon Technologies.

This project consisted of an online questionnaire as well as the workshop, and aimed to bring together the understanding of experts involved in the development and implementation of a low carbon vehicle fleet, by opening a dialogue between the disciplines of vehicle technology, transport policy and applied ethics, all of which must work together in order to secure a sustainable low carbon vehicle market. Although it is recognized that low carbon vehicle technologies are necessary in decarbonizing our transport system and to meet climate change targets (alongside other concerns), government policies are required to support their uptake. The driving concern in this work is that these policies themselves may create disproportionate impacts across society due to vulnerabilities within certain sections (most likely those already worst off, including the poor and the disabled), and these should be identified and minimized where possible.

The workshop, which was open to anyone with an interest in low carbon vehicle technology or policies, or the ethics of transport, public policy or climate change took place at the University of Leeds and was designed to enable discussion on:

  • The role of the personal passenger car in a low carbon future
  • How new technologies and their supportive policies will impact on the opportunity of owning a car, and the utility it provides us
  • Who will be most affected by the technologies and policies
  • How we can work together to minimise impacts

There were three talks in the morning session from distinguished speakers in the fields of policy, technology and ethics. John Batterbee, Transport Programme Manager at the Energy Technologies Institute gave an overview of the role of cars in society now and how it could be in the future, asserting that we can decarbonize transport by 2050 (which is a milestone not an end point), but it will be expensive, and we don’t have to force people away from the car to do this as private cars can remain to be a major mode of transport. Andy Eastlake, Managing Director of the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, spoke on the development of technologies and how society has development around advances in automobile technology, but warned that there is no silver bullet to low carbon vehicle technologies, and part of the challenge is to address perceptions of what a car actually is. Finally, James Garvey, secretary of the Royal Institute of Philosophy and author of ‘The Ethics of Climate Change’ spoke on just that. Society has a relatively good understanding of climate change science, economics and politics, but moral dimensions of climate change are just mentioned in widespread media – it is not directly explored and there are different arguments, used by those both for and against action, all based on science rather than moral understanding. What we should do about climate change seems at first obvious, but dependent on how you approach it. Agency has been smeared out as complicated intuitions about morality have evolved with us. In the afternoon of the workshop, a ‘Question Time’ style discussion was held, which addressed five questions related to the online questionnaire and allowed all delegates to debate the issues raised in the morning. The full transcript of this, and the presentations can be viewed below:

Some feedback from the delegates:

  • ‘The workshop you organized was very interesting and certainly helpful in putting interdisciplinary research at the core'
  • 'The event is amazing and thank you very much for organizing it’
  • ‘(through attending this workshop I benefited by) gaining more knowledge about changes likely to affect transport engineering in the future and the impact of transport policies on society'