International Development, Community, and Environment


Sustainable Mobility: From Technological Innovation to Societal Learning

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This paper addresses a persistent and worsening societal dilemma worldwide: the ecological unsustainability of the automobile as the primary means for providing personal mobility. The solution to this problem will require input from all segments of society, and must include technological innovation, changes in the physical infrastructure and land use, and social, cultural, and institutional changes. A fundamental rethinking of the entire system of personal mobility is necessary. Governments can play a significant role in promoting change: by stimulating technological innovation through regulations, incentives and subsidies, by investing in the infrastructure, by providing leadership, and by organizing and supporting a debate with a focus on the system as a whole: its spatial characteristics, the motives for transport, and the alternatives that are presently not developed. From the technological perspective, one of the much-discussed solutions is a hydrogen-powered automobile. We argue that the future of this approach is questionable, and propose a fundamental re-framing of the significance of hydrogen: from viewing it as a solution to the personal mobility problem to seeing it as a medium for transporting and storing energy that has been generated elsewhere (preferably by renewable resources). A new and radically different way of seeing the problem of individual mobility, and of the roles of various stakeholders in finding solutions, is also necessary. This is the essence of higher order learning. To facilitate such learning among various societal groups, we advocate a combination of multi-stakeholder visioning processes, scenario building, backcasting exercises, and small-scale socio-technical experiments. These approaches may be practiced at various levels, from local to national, with experimentation probably being best suited for a smaller scale. An ongoing process of visioning future mobility in the Boston Metropolitan area illustrates how such approaches may be used. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Journal of Cleaner Production

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backcasting, Boston scenarios, higher order learning, hydrogen fuel cells, social learning, sustainable transportation, technological innovation, visioning