Dossier on Sustainable Mobility for Vilemov Consultation 1998
compiled by Lukas Vischer
How much motorised mobility is sustainable? The question is inescapable. Motorised mobility in all its forms has drastically increased during the last few decades and especially during the last years. Most probably it will further increase in the years to come. If present trends continue, the number of cars is likely to fo up from today's 500 million to more than two billion in 2030. What can be done to slow down this development?
The World Council of Churches has recently published a study paper on the theme of mobility. It has been sent to all member churches for study and reaction. The paper was drafted last year by an international group of experts. The WCC hopes that churches and interested groups will react to the paper on the basis of their own experience by March 15th, 1999. In autumn 1999 another international conference will be called to formulate common perspectives on the theme. Could possibly a European response be formulated in the framework of the European Environmental Network?
Obviously, the perspectives vary in Europe from country to country. It is important to identify and recognise the specific aspects of each situation. But it is also clear that the issues arising from motorised mobility transcend national boundaries and can find solutions only through common efforts.
The churches have so far shown only limited interest in the theme. But there are good reasons for the churches to get involved in it. The problems connected with motorised mobility cannot be solved exclusively by technical approaches and devices. They raise a question of meaning: what meaning does mobility have? What is the appropriate spiritual attitude toward mobility? The churches can significantly contribute to the development of a sustainable mobility and to a life style which does justice to the demands of sustainability.
Among the issues which require the attention of the churches at the European level the following can be listed.
How can traffic be reduced through conscious traffic planing? Many measures are possible - promotion of public transport, development of alternative means of transportation, e.g. bicycles, urban planning etc. Particularly important is the conscious transfer of transport of goods from roads to rail. Experience shows that this principle can only be introduced by a concerted simultaneous effort of the countries concerned at the European level.
How can the 'polluter pays principle' be more consistently applied? The cost of motorised mobility is still covered to a large extent by tax money. The true price for fuel is considerably higher than the current prices. Though there are several studies about the true cost of mobility the resistance against price increases continues to be adamant. A CO2 tax on fossil fuels would be particularly urgent. It will only have a chance if proposals are made simultaneously for the whole of Europe.
How can the expansion of air traffic be kept within tolerable limits? Among all forms of motorised mobility the rate of air traffic is most rapidly growing. As an example the new European airport of Malpensa near Milano can be mentioned which 'hopes' to welcome 24 million passengers every year. Instead of promoting air travel over short distances, rail travel should be given priority. The non-sense of inner European air journeys should be called into question. The price for kerosene deserves no subsidies.
How can conversation be initiated with the automobile industry? Together with the US and Japan, Europe has a considerable share in the production of cars. It is in the interest of the automobile industry to reflect on its own future and to develop alterantive forms and ways of mobility. The first step is certainly the production of cars with low fuel needs. Though the technical problems have been overcome efforts at the realisation of new low fuel cars are slow and hesitant. Moreover, the automobile industry needs to reflect more on the implicatios of its production for society. How can a negative impact on society be avoided? How can they copntribute to reasonable solutions, e.g. through the promotion of holistic traffice planning in the countries of the South etc.
How can the expansion of tourism be kept within reasonable limits? International and especially inter-continental tourism has rapidly increased in the last years. European nations have considerably contributed to this development. Tourism has not only ecologically devastating consequences but is also socially ambivalent for the 'visited' countries. It brings income but has at the same time destructive effects on the web of society. What is in a European perspective resposible tourism?
Churches cannot speak out on the problems of motorised mobility without questioning their own behaviour. To what extent are the churches a place where sustainable mobility is being practiced? To what extent do churches and their members contribute to reducing traffic of persons and goods? what is their role in modern tourism?
Finally, the churches face the issue of theological interpretation. What can be said about the value of mobility on the basis of biblical tradition? What is the significance of the fact that human beings are not bound to stay in one place but are capable of moving around? Where is the boderline between reasonable mobility in contrast to maximised exaggerated mobility? Where does the spiritual strength come from to resist the temptation of 'ever more mobility'? An exchange on these questions could be highly significant for today's witness of the churches.
Lukas Vischer, autumn 1998