Thousands of people are dying prematurely from the toxic air they are forced to breathe every day. But now, as part of a new innovative project featuring the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), people across Europe will be asked to share their opinions on how to reduce air pollution and improve public health in six cities across the continent by using a virtual game.
In an innovative approach to addressing air quality, residents will use a specially-created game on their smartphones, tablets and laptops to suggest how their home cities should develop in future.
Responses gathered from players will form a ‘people’s vision’ spelling out to civic leaders exactly how the cities should be shaped over the next 35 years – and what measures need to be taken to improve air quality, reduce CO2e emissions and diminish negative health effects.
Named CLAiR-City, the four-year project features 16 partners including the pilot cities of Bristol, Amsterdam, Aveiro in Portugal, Ljubljana in SIovenia, Sosnowiec in Poland, and the Liguria region in Italy.
UWE Bristol’s Dr Enda Hayes, Technical Director of CLAiR-City, said a bold approach was being taken because all other efforts were struggling to combat air pollution, a problem responsible for the deaths of more than 400,000 people in Europe every year.
Up to a third of Europeans living in cities are exposed to pollutant levels exceeding EU air quality standards, with approximately 90 per cent affected according to the World Health Organization’s more stringent guidelines.
Dr Hayes, Associate Professor and Director of the Air Quality Management Resource Centre (AQMRC) at UWE Bristol, said: “Air quality management is failing in many cities around the world. This is an exciting and innovative project to try to address one of the key issues – how do you empower citizens to define their own solution?
“Using game technology as an engagement platform means everyone’s voice and opinion is valued. If you run traditional workshops or surveys it can be that the quiet voices get lost and the reach can be limited. With our game, everyone’s voice is equal and we can all be experts on our own city.”
Funded by the European Commission Horizon 2020 programme, the project is aimed at creating a major shift in public understanding towards the causes of poor air quality – encouraging a focus on people’s everyday practices like commuting and shopping rather than technology such as cars, buses and HGVs.
Dr Hayes added: “To date, air quality policy has primarily been focussed on technology and technological solutions. Instead of apportioning the pollution to the technology (e.g. cars), this project will apportion it to people and our behaviour (e.g. why do we use our cars).
“By apportioning pollution to behaviour and practises, we want to give people a better understanding of how their behaviour generates pollution. If they change their behaviour it can have a substantial impact on a city. The innovation lies in how we are bringing social science into our data analysis and then engaging city citizens with that data to help them visualise and define their city’s future.”
The game, being developed by UWE’s in-house gaming studio PlayWest, will give the player the chance to outline how they would like to live, behave and interact in their city up to 2050. Responses from players will lead to the creation of a ‘citizen-led future city scenario’ which will be delivered to city leaders as a ‘policy package’ document setting out what changes they would eventually like to see introduced.
Dr Hayes said: “We wanted to empower citizens to define their futures and use that to influence policy. We are using game technology to engage a wider population and to envision what a city looks like in 2050 so the project is particularly relevant to younger people.
“Also involved in the project is UWE Bristol’s Science Communication Unit, whose internationally-recognised expertise in public engagement and dissemination will help enhance the reach of the study.”
The project will also involve detailed data and policy analysis, with a study of existing evidence on themes such as energy and transport at a local, national and European level. It will explore six cities in detail but will also generate data which could be utilised by all EU cities with a population of more than 50,000.
The 16 partners include universities, cities, small and medium sized enterprises and research organisations.
Ten members of staff from UWE Bristol – which has received over £980,000 (€1.25m) of the total funding – will be involved including members of the Air Quality Resource Management Resource Centre, Science Communication Unit and PlayWest.
Jeroen van der Laan, of economic policy consultancy Trinomics and the project coordinator, said: “We are very excited to start implementing our CLAiR-City project over the next four years with the excellent group of Europe’s leading research organisations and frontrunner cities we have in our consortium. CLAiR-City will develop innovative approaches and means of communication to inform European citizens about the air quality in their cities and engage them in forming ideas and pathways on how their living environment should look like in 2050.”
Professor Jim Longhurst, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Environment & Sustainability at UWE, said: “CLAiR-City is a great example of how different expertise can be blended together across the university, and indeed Europe, to build imaginative and effective responses to the profound environmental and public health challenges we face.”
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family
When you have a growing family, it often feels like you’re in this weird bubble that exists outside of mainstream society. Whereas everyone else seemingly has stability, your family dynamic is continuously in flux. Having said that, is it even possible to buy an eco-friendly vehicle that’s also practical?
What to Look for in a Green, Family-Friendly Vehicle?
As a single person or young couple without kids, it’s pretty easy to buy a green vehicle. Almost every leading car brand has eco-friendly options these days and you can pick from any number of options. The only problem is that most of these models don’t work if you have kids.
Whether it’s a Prius or Smart car, most green vehicles are impractical for large families. You need to look for options that are spacious, reliable, and comfortable – both for passengers and the driver.
5 Good Options
As you do your research and look for different opportunities, it’s good to have an open mind. Here are some of the greenest options for growing families:
1. 2014 Chrysler Town and Country
Vans are not only popular for the room and comfort they offer growing families, but they’re also becoming known for their fuel efficiency. For example, the 2014 Chrysler Town and Country – which was one of CarMax’s most popular minivans of 2017 – has Flex Fuel compatibility and front wheel drive. With standard features like these, you can’t do much better at this price point.
2. 2017 Chrysler Pacifica
If you’re looking for a newer van and are willing to spend a bit more, you can go with Chrysler’s other model, the Pacifica. One of the coolest features of the 2017 model is the hybrid drivetrain. It allows you to go up to 30 miles on electric, before the vehicle automatically switches over to the V6 gasoline engine. For short trips and errands, there’s nothing more eco-friendly in the minivan category.
3. 2018 Volkswagen Atlas
Who says you have to buy a minivan when you have a family? Sure, the sliding doors are nice, but there are plenty of other options that are both green and spacious. The new Volkswagen Atlas is a great choice. It’s one of the most fuel-efficient third-row vehicles on the market. The four-cylinder model gets an estimated 26 mpg highway.
4. 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
While a minivan or SUV is ideal – and necessary if you have more than two kids – you can get away with a roomy sedan when you still have a small family. And while there are plenty of eco-friendly options in this category, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is arguably the biggest bang for your buck. It gets 38 mpg on the highway and is incredibly affordable.
5. 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel
If money isn’t an object and you’re able to spend any amount to get a good vehicle that’s both comfortable and eco-friendly, the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel is your car. Not only does it get 28 mpg highway, but it can also be equipped with a third row of seats and a diesel engine. And did we mention that this car looks sleek?
Putting it All Together
You have a variety of options. Whether you want something new or used, would prefer an SUV or minivan, or want something cheap or luxurious, there are plenty of choices on the market. The key is to do your research, remain patient, and take your time. Don’t get too married to a particular transaction, or you’ll lose your leverage.
You’ll know when the right deal comes along, and you can make a smart choice that’s functional, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.
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