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Sustainable September: 20 questions with… Mark Watson

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Mark Watson answers 20 questions on life, sustainability and everything.

Mark Watson is executive director of Tourism Concern, a charity that fights exploitation in the global tourism industry. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a Chartered Manager with an MSc in sustainability and a first degree in geography and international development.

He will be speaking at Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Sustainable September Tourism Debate, at the Museum of London on September 3, arguing for the motion “Growth in tourism is undesirable: it is rarely economically or environmentally ‘good’. Tickets for the evening event are available here.

We want the world to be as blue and green tomorrow as it was yesterday. What’s your mission?

Fairness and social justice – everyone is better off in more equal societies and our current economic systems are disastrously inefficient ways of producing well-being, as well as wasting resources.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A scientific explorer; along the lines of Darwin. 

How would your friends describe you?

Grounded and loyal but also impatient and argumentative!

What was your ‘road to Damascus moment’ in terms of sustainability?

When I was a kid I was devastated that we were hunting whales to extinction. We live on such an incredible planet yet seem determined to trash it.

Who or what inspires you?

The team that is landing a spacecraft on a comet – not for the achievement as such, but as a testament to what we can achieve when we try. If we can do that, making the world a fairer, more sustainable and better place should be easy. 

What really grinds your gears?

Lazy thinking.

Describe your perfect day.

Spending the day out for a walk with my partner, preferably somewhere with mountains.

What do you see when you look out your window at home?

A small pond and fruit trees. 

What do you like spending your money on?

The garden.

What’s your favourite holiday destination?

The Lake District. 

What’s your favourite book?

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

What’s your favourite film?

In the Loop. 

You’re made prime minister. What’s the first thing you do?

Bring in TEQs (Tradable Energy Quotas – personal carbon budgets). They would not only make us responsible for the energy we use, but redistribute wealth as well. 

If you were stuck on a desert island, which famous person would you like to be stuck with and why?

Stephen Hawking – we would have plenty of time so he could explain life, the universe and everything. 

What was the best piece of advice you have ever been given? And the worst?

Best: Find a vocation you want to get out of bed for. Worst: Butter is bad for you.

What would you like to be doing five years from now?

I love what I’m doing now; so more of the same (but hopefully with a bigger team).

What’s your biggest regret?

I wish I had learnt more languages – communication is the key to positive change.

What one thing would you encourage readers to do to make their life more sustainable?

Enjoy what they have rather than want for more. We are some of the luckiest people alive and who have ever lived, but our constant quest for more is making us unhappy.

What’s the one idea that you think could change the world for the better?

Gross National Happiness is more important than the GDP.

What’s your favourite quote?

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” Epicurus.

Take our 2014 reader survey and you could win an iPad, Kindle or donation to a charity of your choice.

Further reading:

Sustainable September to ask ‘is the future growth of tourism ‘desirable’?’

Sustainable September: 20 questions with… Manda Brookman

Yates, Brackenbury and Watson confirmed for Sustainable September Tourism Debate

Museum of London to host Sustainable September Tourism Debate

Tickets on sale for Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Sustainable September events

Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

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.

Driver Reduction?

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

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.

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Environment

Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family

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Greenest Vehicle
Licensed Image by Shutterstock - By Mascha Tace -- https://www.shutterstock.com/g/maschatace

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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