Jams today – Undercover Economist

10th February, 2007

When I first moved to one of the less genteel parts of London, I was nervous that I might get shot. My house is, after all, on a famous “murder mile”. My brother-in-law was quick to set me straight.

“You’re not going to get shot,” he told me, cheerfully. “You’re going to get mugged.” Fortunately, the same sensible precautions can be used to avoid both muggers and flying bullets, so I faced no practical dilemma.

I was reminded of that conversation by the current debate about climate change. We are told, for instance by the recent Stern Review, that we must act because catastrophe is possible, even though the likely result of climate change is something less serious. Fair enough. Even a modest risk of catastrophe, like a modest risk of being shot, is worth taking steps to avoid.

Yet some of the policies that might fight climate change would also combat an appalling environmental problem that gets little attention from environmentalists: traffic jams. Okay, I’ll admit, the Stern Review on Traffic Jams doesn’t sound like the sort of thing to keep you awake at night. Traffic jams are less dramatic than catastrophic climate change, just as being mugged is less dramatic than being shot.

I realise it seems ridiculous to compare traffic jams to climate change, but I am not sure why. If climate change ever begins to have the same impact on our lives that congestion does today, it will be a dark day indeed. Think about the delays; the uncertainties; think about the lengths big-city dwellers have to go to in an effort to avoid traffic. Then think about how severely the climate would need to change before it had the same effect on your daily routine…

Continued at ft.com, subscription free.

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