It is probably obvious that any police force has much more work than it could possibly handle: additional officers could write a few more jaywalking tickets, others could be at a radar speed check, one could handle the theft of a few kilograms of flour from the local grocery shop and so on. It is therefore clear that it has to prioritise, evaluate which laws get broken, what kind of impact that has on society and deploy its officers so that it maximises the beneficial effect on society. That is the police’s only purpose.
Now, if the police were to send all its people out into the streets to fine whoever they can catch jaywalking, people would (rightfully) be quite disappointed and frustrated with the way the police force is transforming public money into very little of value. Normally, the police force – including traffic police – is busy with more important work, so they send officers to crash sites, catch speeders on highways and so on, but recently, for reasons only they know, they have decided to regularly, frequently and in large numbers fine cyclists cycling on footways.
A few weeks back I stumbled upon this advertisement for a newspaper which in loose translation says “This tree deserves to become a better newspaper”. Seeing it was one of those events which short-circuit my mind by causing a storm of concurrent reactions, like hearing religious leaders speak out against using preservatives, for example. The thought vortex went something like this: “It’s like showing a picture of a lamb with the punch line that that lamb deserves to become a tender, juicy steak”, “Is this conclusive proof that there is no such thing as bad publicity?”, “Advertising your way out of a job…”, “Who are these people?!”, “Blissfully detached from the world around them…”…and so on. That advertisement is therefore one of the reasons why I would like to say a few words about books, newspapers and paper publishing in general.
A newspaper is a proper industrial society, 20th century product: it is mass-produced daily in up to millions of copies, packed into vans, trucks, trains and planes, sold in a massive network of points of sale where people stop by to pick them up, read up to 20% of their contents and throw them away at the end of the day. It is worth mentioning that while 80% of paper does get recycled, paper recycling is always a downcycling process (i.e. it can only be done several times) and other used resources (like transportation, storage, various sale costs) cannot be recycled at all.
Perhaps the most appropriate summary of modern transportation is “the car”. It is an invention only a century old, but it literally and fundamentally changed the way civilization works: this is equally true in the business, social and cultural context. Millions of people drive to work tens of kilometres from where they live, asphalt has in a sense become a criterion for measuring the reach of civilization (one can hardly talk of civilization in any place detached from the global road network), classes of cars have become status symbols and so on. The same way the Vespa liberated a generation of Italian youngsters during the ’50s, the car is seen today as a precondition of a free and comfortable life in the West. People in the rest of the world desire it, but it is still out of their economic reach.
The car has had its problems, too, and we will get to them in a moment, but it is important to notice that the global automotive industry is effectively addressing one issue and one issue only: electrification, the cause of the current hybrid and electric drive hype. What car makers are working on is increasing range and decreasing price of electric cars, mostly because people no longer feel as comfortable as they did burning petrol to move around and because people assume hybrid and electric vehicles do less damage to the environment.
Knowing that for every 100 litres of fuel burned about 2 litres are spent on actually transporting the driver from point A to point B (details below), one has to be grateful that a major efficiency problem is being looked into. However, there are two issues with the effort. Continue reading “Cars? Really? You can’t be serious.”→
There are two questions people usually think about when it comes to air travel: can I free my schedule for the trip and how much is the ticket? The reason this happens is because these are the only two criteria directly impacting the person in question. However, there are a few other….
A British physicist called David MacKay was frustrated by the amount of hand waving and vague assertions of “huge amounts of this” and “gigantic amounts of that” which people frequently mention when discussing energy use. He decided to put an end to it so he prepared a framework for people to intelligibly discuss the issues: it comes in form of a brilliant book called Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air. The reason the book is brilliant is its basic idea which is to list key energy sources and uses, provide simple models to get rough estimates and in doing so, allow people to get a feel for where we are in terms of energy use and what it means to be sustainable. One of the chapters of the book has something to say about air travel considerations other than time and money.
This afternoon a meeting took place in front of the Mimara museum in Zagreb. Everyone riding bicycles – or anything which could be called one, with a moderate stretch of the imagination – was invited. The idea was to show a glimpse of the total cyclist population in Zagreb, i.e. the size of the population which would be happy to see Zagreb turn into a cyclist-friendly city.
As it stands, Zagreb has around 180 km of cycling lanes. Allow me to put this into some kind of sensible perspective:
about 50% larger than the Arena shopping centre
less than one third of one percent of city surfaces dedicated to motorised traffic
less than one tenth of one percent of the total city area (roughly 20×10 km)
When we get the city to invest 0.5% of the city’s surface into cycling, I am quite certain that it will be possible to measure and register a clear improvement in air quality as well as a heart disease and obesity reduction. If it were easy to measure exact happiness levels, it would certainly be on the list as well.