Photo by Vera Harley

Since the beginning of 2020, we have experienced wildfires across Australia, and widespread flooding across the United Kingdom, China, and India. Within the United States, we’re experiencing the second-worst drought in the west within the past few centuries. Our cities are experiencing a new climate reality. 

Did you know that the transportation sector contributes to one of the fastest-growing sources of global emissions that is causing our new reality? You may be wondering, how does transportation contribute to this global issue? 

The answer lies in our travel habits. Today, people and goods are moving faster and further than ever before. However, all of this movement comes at a climate cost, especially with a growing global population.  As the world got smaller, our global emissions went through the roof. Our transportation methods have led to “72% of global transport emissions come from road vehicles.”

Through Mashable’s Social Good 2020 Series, we virtually sat down with sustainability experts to learn more about the issues at hand and how we can do better, as cities and as individuals. As transportation accounts for a large percent towards global warming, we can start by becoming more eco-conscious travelers and build better habits now and into the future, post-pandemic. We were joined by activist Ashley Renee, NYC Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, Director Mark Chambers, and Dr. Lucy Mahoney of the C40 Climate Leadership Group and moderated by Sarah Kaufman, the Associate Director of the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation.

The Carbon Challenge: Cities, Climate & Transportation

COVID-19 (and the current backdrop of the social justice moment) has given individuals, cities, and countries a moment to pause and build back sustainably. The existing infrastructure of cities was built around cars. While cars may bring us convenience, their energy source is a detrimental cause to the environment. 

However, in the past few months, we started to see how cities are boldly moving forward and recreating spaces for people. As a leading example, Paris has revitalized its’ streets for pedestrians, and turned parking spaces into cycle lanes, squeezing motorists out of public spaces. They also created an online app for local businesses. Each week, local businesses apply to reclaim parking spaces and the streets to set up their outdoor restaurants (as indoor dining remains prohibitive). This has helped the street’s vibrancy showing how people can support a green economic recovery within cities. 

Our Individual Responsibility

As cities play their part through new initiatives and policies, individuals will need to play a larger role. Our actions can make a lasting impact on the environment, and the first place we can begin is by looking at our travel habits (and not just with transportation). Some of the ways that we can start include: 

01 | Shift Towards a Reusable Mindset
While disposables can be convenient on the go, we have to let go of certain habits and think about the long-term effects. Start small by making one switch – swap the disposable coffee cup with a travel mug, flask, or glass bottle. This swap is also essential when you’re traveling to a new destination. Tourism is a major trash generator for local communities, in which some do not have a recycling infrastructure. 

02 | Please Do Your Research
Aviation companies are rolling out their climate solutions to be greener. For example, on Earth Day, United Airlines rolled out its eco-skies, a new initiative that switched traditional jet fuel with biofuel. This switch plays a crucial role in reducing carbon emissions. There are only five airports with regular biofuel distribution today (Norway; Australia; Los Angeles; and Sweden), with others offering occasional supply. 

03 | Align Your Values with Company Calues
Support companies that believe and act sustainably. When you invest your dollars with companies that prioritize sustainable solutions, you send a message to competition about consumer values and needs. This larger message drives a larger conversation in showcasing shifting consumer needs and wants. 

04 | Invest in the Local Economy
When traveling to any new region, invest in the local economy. Instead of spending your money on big-brand tours, spend your money on public transportation and tour the city like a local. Also, don’t forget to invest in local businesses. For example, eating and shopping locally will allow money to be put back in their economy, which improves their local systems. 

05 | Travel by Public Transport or Travel Actively
This is a global challenge affecting everyone, and cities across the globe face similar challenges. The most efficient way to move people and goods throughout the city is by supporting economic activity, which helps improve society.

Becoming active participants in creating a greener future benefit all. One act can make a difference, and when we all take action, we can collectively create change. However, this is the first step to combating the climate crisis, as these actions will need to go hand-in-hand with policy. 

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