Intended for healthcare professionals


Fossil fuels, transport, and public health

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 11 November 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:1168

Policy goals for physical activity and emission controls point the same way

  1. Andy Haines, professor, primary care,
  2. Tony McMichael, professor, epidemiology,
  3. Ross Anderson, professor, epidemiology and public health,
  4. John Houghton, co-chairman, scientific assessment
  1. Department of Primary Care and Population Sciences, Royal Free and University College Medical School, London NW3 2PF
  2. Epidemiology Unit, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1 7HT
  3. Department of Public Health Sciences, St George's Hospital Medical School, London SW17 0RE
  4. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Meteorological Office, Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, Bracknell RG12 2SY

    The recent protests in Britain over the price of fuel initially seemed to enjoy public support: any cause that might put more money in the public's pocket is superficially attractive. But our dependence on motor vehicles powered by fossil fuels incurs an array of external costs to the environment and the public's health. Further, the resultant accumulation of carbon dioxide—a greenhouse gas with a very long life—is storing up trouble for us and for future generations.

    In 1994 the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution pointed out that methods of transport had changed dramatically over the previous 25 years. In Britain the average daily distance travelled per person has risen by 75% to around 18 miles.1 Most of this reflects an increase in the use of cars, amounting to a 10-fold increase in distances travelled over 40 years. This has been accompanied by a decrease in travel by bus, coach, bicycle, and in walking. Transport of freight by road has also increased but at the expense of rail travel. Yet if the external costs of road …

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