New research from the IPPR suggests that air travel and car adverts should carry a ‘cigarrette style’ warning about the environmental impacts of travel. Encouraging people to ‘think’ before they travel can only be a good thing, but to brand car travel warnings in the same way as smoking warnings is slightly misplaced. To start with there is an actual ‘need’ to travel, certainly by car in areas with poor public transport access, where as there is not the same ‘need’ to use substances such as tabacco. The overall message of ‘too much travel is bad for you and the planet’ is reasonable and is similar to the health message of ‘certain foods such as chocolate should be eaten in moderation’. These are laudible approaches, to be encouraged, but insinuating that we can all ‘kick the habit’ of car dependence through approaching it in the same way as smoking is naive – not everyone has the option to ‘kick the habit’ even if they desire to. Our report on Car Dependency found that 20% of all car-bourne vehicle trips could be eliminated, so it is possible for car dependency to be reduced in the right circumstances, but through a targeted and understanding approach. I am a member of the ‘Fostering Sustainable Behvaiour List Serve’ which brings together practitioners across the world to learn from each other. Recent debate centred around the value of portraying ‘positive or negative’ images to encourage sustainable behaviour has prompted me to write this post as a great deal of psychological theory suggests that portaying the ideal outcome is more aspirational to people than providing the doom and gloom scenario. One listserv member, from the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality pointed out that ‘In thinking about what should not be done, it stands in the way of positive possibilities’, supported with an exellent example of how Chicago Zoo has been using a positive approach to reconnecting children with the natural world around them.
A choice needs to be made on how to ‘get the message out there’ to encourage the responsible use of travel, whilst recognising the important role mobility plays in our daily lives. Not an easy task, but the doom and gloom approach leaves a lot to be desired.