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Carbon reduction and travel behaviour: Discourses, disputes and contradictions in governance

Marsden, G., Mullen, C., Bache, I., Bartle, I. and Flinders, M. (2014) Carbon reduction and travel behaviour: Discourses, disputes and contradictions in governance. Transport Policy, 35 . pp. 71-78.

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Prospects for mitigating climate change require decarbonisation of the energy sector over relatively short time periods, coupled with significant changes to the way we consume energy. This is particularly true in the transport sector given the current levels of transport-related greenhouse gas emissions, the heavy dependence on fossil fuels, and the uncertainty surrounding transition pathways to ultra-low carbon vehicles. There are policy responses aiming to reduce carbon emissions by changing travel behaviour, but prominent approaches share a common theme of seeking to change behaviour by focusing on the individual and their choices. These are the object of critics who maintain that effective change requires collective action at the social, economic and cultural levels. This paper questions whether decision-makers are relying on these choice-based approaches to change travel behaviour and, if so, how effective they expect them to be. We address this through analysis of over 50 interviews with policy stakeholders in England and Scotland. We find dominant policy approaches do focus on individual choices, but significantly it is not because decision-makers have faith in their effectiveness. These approaches persist in policy on carbon reduction for two reasons. One is appeal to a politically powerful, but incoherent, discourse of individualism. The second is that decision-makers do not want significant behavioural change. There is an imperative of economic growth and a firm belief that a strong economy is linked to higher traffic levels, and that to reduce the demand for travel is to risk economic damage. We argue that these beliefs about the relation between travel demand and prosperity are narrowly defined and contestable for empirical and normative reasons. If there is to be a significant change in the approach to intervening in travel demand there is an urgency to engage in the politics of behaviour change - a meta-level behaviour change challenge.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Publisher: Elsevier BV
Copyright: © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.
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