Is Winter Traffic Chaos "Our Fault"?


Image credit: Robbie Sproule, used under Creative Commons license.

This time last year I had just survived a two-night ordeal trying to get through the snowed-in mountains of West Virginia. It caused me to reflect on the inconceivability of immobility (and the stupidness of Sami). This year my travel plans have been a whole lot smoother—thanks, in part, to checking the weather before I left. But elsewhere the chaos is as bad as ever. One commentator says we only have ourselves to blame. While I find the article headline unpleasant and overly nagging, Damian Carrington's piece about UK Snow Chaos: Why You Are to Blame includes some interesting observations. The trouble is, argues Carrington, the combination of increased mobility, a false sense of security caused by milder weather, and a sudden run of record snowfall have created a perfect storm (sorry!), and a recipe for disaster:

"Simply put, we travel far, far more than we did just a decade or two ago. Combine that with the false sense of security that an ever warmer world delivers - there were seven mild winters before the current run of colder ones began - and you have a metaphorical train wreck. We have raised our vulnerability and decreased our resilience."

Carrington's writing gets a little confused regarding whether or not climate change will, in the long run, exacerbate or alleviate the issue. On the one hand, he points out that record snowfall may be a result of climate change, but then goes on to tell us that severe winters will become rarer. (The climate trolls will have a field day with that one...) But the observation that the fact we are used to traveling when we want, how we want, and to where we want has left us amazingly defenseless in the face of basic weather is a sound one.

Where I do part ways with Carrington is the overly simplistic notion that it is "our fault". While personal responsibility has to be part and parcel of creating a sustainable future, the idea that any one of us is responsible for the way our society has changed and evolved at lightning fast pace is absurd—and ultimately dis-empowering. Rather than pointing the finger at each of us as individuals for our supposedly spoiled and selfish ways, we'd be better off accepting that technology, economics and the human spirit for adventure have left many of us with far-flung families and a huge pressure to travel. We can then stop wringing our hands, and start figuring out what to do about it.

From high-speed rail tokite-powered ships, from staycations and local vacation to video conferencing and real-time traffic data, and from slow travel to the return of the airship, we are a smart species with a whole toolbox of solutions for lower carbon, more resilient travel. We may need to adjust our attitudes and accept that we can't always travel when we want, but that doesn't mean we have to blame ourselves for the chaos.

More on Travel, Resilience and Sustainability
The Inconceivability of Immobility (and the Stupidness of Sami)
So What if Telecommuting Did Encourage Travel? Travel is Good.
staycations and local vacation">The 100-Mile Vacation

Tags: Traffic | Trains | Transportation | United Kingdom

Best of TreeHugger 2014

WHAT'S HOT ON FACEBOOK