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Fuel prices and social justice - an inevitable conflict?

Dec 24, 2014



Presentation by Caroline Mullen & Greg Marsden, delivered at Royal Geographical Society (RGS) Annual International Conference, August 2014.

  • 1. Fuel prices and social justice: aninevitable conflict?Caroline Mullen and Greg Marsden

2. Policy hopes for LEVProjected average new car and van emissions over the first three carbon budget periodsand illustrative ranges of average new car and van emissions in the fourth carbon budgetperiod and to 2050HM Government (2011) The Carbon Plan: Delivering our low carbon future, ExecutiveSummary, page 8 3. A shift to electric vehicles has implications for the cost of driving: Even with government subsidies,buying electric vehicles tends tobe far more expensive thanbuying diesel or petrol vehicles But the fuel tends to be farcheaper (if charge at home).i. But costs are contingent on tax and subsidy, technologicaldevelopment, resource availability, and other market factors.ii. These costs, and the factors governing them, raise questionsof fairness and justice.iii. This should inform governance of energyand transport. 4. Transport, mobility and justice outline of a theory of justiceStart with a broad conception of egalitarian justice (accept there will still beobjections): Each person matters (morally) as much as any other: so their life matters,and their ability to make something of their life also matters (Glover, 1977;Harris, 1988, 1997). There is a societal responsibility to make political, social and economicarrangements which reflect this assumption that each person matters equal concern (Dworkin 2000; Glover, 1977; Harris, 1988, 1997) The societal obligation also falls on each person, so that people have someresponsibility to accept limitations for the benefit of others (Mullen et al.2014) People should be treated as equals and this is not always the same asproviding equal treatment (Dworkin 1977, p. 68). 5. Transport, mobility and justiceTends to consider justice in relation to Accessibility or availability of movement or transport,recognises that this enables engagement in social, economicpolitical and personal activities. Life-threatening risks and aspects of sustaining life: that isrisks from collisions and pollution as well as risks fromabsence of essential goods and services. 29,000 deaths peryear (from cardio vascular illness) in the UK are attributed topoor air qualityTends to be uneven social distribution in bothMobility and transport can involve people imposing multiplerisks and barriers on one another 6. Cars and everyday life: current conditions and future scenariosUsers with reasonable access1 to key services by mode of travel, England, Source: DfT, (2012) AccessibilityStatistics, Table ACS0201Employment PrimaryschoolSecondaryschoolFurtherEducationGP Hospital Foodstore2007 Public Transport/ Walking80.8 44.2 50 62 59.7 36.2 52.3Cycle 57.4 58.7 49.8 45.7 56.1 35.9 58.5Car 89.4 58.6 75.2 84.4 75.8 73.7 66.92008 Public Transport/ Walking81.444.1 49.5 61.5 59.6 35.9 52.3Cycle 58.2 58.7 57.1 45.4 56.1 35.9 58.5Car 89.5 58.6 74.9 84.2 75.8 73 66.82009 Public Transport/ Walking81.6 44.3 50.5 58.7 61.7 33.7 52.5Cycle 57.6 58.6 49.4 42.2 57.1 31.2 58.3Car 89.5 58.6 75.1 79.5 75.9 72.5 66.92010 Public Transport/ Walking81.6 44.1 50.2 62.4 61 31.3 54.3Cycle 58.6 59.5 51.9 47.8 59 32.1 59.5Car 89.5 58.6 75.2 84.5 75.9 72.2 66.9 7. It can be difficult to engage in some activities without a carTraffic can make participation difficult 8. Electric vehicles charged at domestic electricity rates: Might expect reduction in local pollution Could be indirect impacts associated with changes indistribution of disposable income since some peoplewould now be spending less on travel. Might see increase in travel given demand elasticitybetween car travel and fuel prices (Dargey 2007, p.958 reports an elasticity of -0.14). This couldexacerbate some difficulties of engaging in activitieswithout a car, or getting on with certain non-caractivities 9. Fuel, electric vehicles and justiceSo we might see increase in travel given demandelasticity between car travel and fuel prices. This couldexacerbate some difficulties of engaging in activitieswithout a car, or getting on with certain non-caractivities.[How] does this matter for justice?First: If any societal decision, to act or not to act, isgoing to have an impact on distribution of welfare orability to participate, then we cannot avoid thequestions of justice. 10. How do we get from identifying inequalities in ability toparticipate to knowing what to do about it? We need to decide what activities matter: looking ataccess, or just subsidising fuel or vehicles is notenough because travel and mobility can act as abarrier Back to our conception of justice: sustaining life andmaking something of life matters can we developan understanding of, and protect valuable activities? 11. Shove (2010) has argued, everyday practices concerned withapparently basic aspects of living, alter and over time canexpand to involve increasing resourcese.g. living away frompollution may increasepressure to travel by car;access to healthy food caninvolve travel to shops, andpotentially significant foodmiles; and access tohealthcare and medicinecan rely on a transportsystem able to take peoplesignificant distances quickly 12. We need to understand: How people do, and might, engage in practicesunder different conditions, including different formsof transport system and availability of mobility. Possibilities for intervening to alter the conditions inwhich electric vehicles form part of the transportsystem, since these conditions influence thedevelopment of everyday practices. 13. Domestic and mobility fuel: a policy double standard?Policy on fuel pricing has been brought into question bythis discussion of justice.Subsidising fuel is unlikely to overcome these problems- but pricing may be part of the interventions which areneeded.Implications forequality with respectto practices involvingdomestic energy?