World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Prospects of Sustainable Mobility

The following study paper has been drawn up by an international group of experts meeting at Bad Boll near Stuttgart, Germany, from March 23th to 27th 1997. The consultation was organized as a joint initiative of the World Council of Churches and the Evangelical Academy Bad Boll near Stuttgart, Germany.

27 March 1997

A study paper for the member churches of the World Council of Churches

The following study paper has been drawn up by an international group of experts meeting at Bad Boll near Stuttgart, Germany, from March 23th to 27th 1997. The consultation was organized as a joint initiative of the World Council of Churches and the Evangelical Academy Bad Boll near Stuttgart, Germany. For more details see appendix.

Throughout the world, in the North as well as in the South, motorized mobility is continuously increasing. More and more passengers and goods are being transported over ever-growing distances. An end to this development is not yet in sight. Industrialized nations are the driving force of this development. Motorized transport - in particular the automobile - has become an integral part of almost all societies in the world.

At the same time, the damage caused by mobility is becoming more and more obvious. The "mobilization" of humankind is taking its toll on present and future generations.

Motorized individual traffic - represented by the automobile and the airplane - is increasingly pushing aside traditional means of transport and proven ways of traffic organization in the North and the South.

A growing number of traffic planners in the industrial nations and the so-called developing world are attempting to break the automobile's predominance by developing alternatives to private car ownership. Traffic planners in the South have the opportunity to avoid mistakes the industrialized countries have already committed and to develop in their countries alternative models of traffic and transport organisation on the basis of sustainability.

The main thesis of this report is that we urgently need to rethink mobility in terms of sustainability for social, economic, and ecological reasons.

To date, the themes of transport and mobility have not achieved the attention that issues such as armament, nuclear energy, and social justice between the North and the South have had and still have. Yet, the way mobility is organized exerts a deep influence on societies. Today we are setting the course for tomorrow. For this reason it is important to embark as soon as possible on new paths of development.

For a long time transport has not been an issue for the churches. Christians have always been quite prepared to make use of new technologies. It was only when the negative impacts of growing mobility became more apparent that critical questions began to arise.

The World Council of Churches became particularly aware of the dangers of modern mobility while dealing with the consequences of climate change. No one can call for a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions without questioning traffic organization as it is today.

The conclusion is inescapable: Even if considering mobility solely in the context of climate change, today's practice and future development of mobility are by no means sustainable.

The World Council of Churches expressed its opinion on the climate issue in a comprehensive study a few years ago (1994).(1) The findings of the World Council of Churches were then expanded during another international conference.(2) This paper is a complement to the two papers resulting from these two meetings; it is an attempt to take up the issue of sustainability of today's mobility and to deal with it in the perspective of Christian responsibility.

The paper is addressed to the churches. It is not to be understood as the last word on the subject but rather as an impetus. The World Council of Churches hopes that the member churches will discuss it within the context of their societies - for these issues vary from country to country. The World Council of Churches invites the member churches to react and comment on the findings and conclusions of this paper.

All humans are inherently mobile. Humans are not tied to a particular place but are able to move if they so desire from one place to another. Mobility broadens our horizons and enables us to establish new contacts, to gain new experiences, and to increase our knowledge. It can help us to cross borders and to extend fellowship.

Here the following question arises: Are there any limits on the maximization of mobility? How much mobility of humans and goods can nature take? Which kind of mobility is conducive to humankind?

A few figures will illustrate the extent of present-day mobility:

Between 1945 and 1992 the number of automobiles in Switzerland (with a population of six million people) rose from 145,000 to over 3 million private passenger cars.

In the United States 118,474,000 drivers covered an average of 10,841 miles per year in 1972. In 1992 an average of 12,921 miles was covered by 173,125,000 drivers.

In Kenya the number of automobiles has risen within 10 years (between 1985 and 1994) by 4% from 280,000 to 388,000 vehicles Air traffic meanwhile accounts for 15% of all CO2 emissions. Since the emissions of aircraft have a direct impact on the extremely sensitive layers of the atmosphere, their negative impacts are by far worse than is the case with other means of transport. One single flight from Europe to the USA pollutes the earth's atmosphere as much as an automobile with a presumed 20,000 km traveled per annum. Moreover, air traffic has the highest growth rates among all transport modes. Throughout the world it is expected to double within only 10 years. The volume of freight transported by road or by air is steadily increasing. It has been estimated that freight traffic in Europe will double by the year 2010. More and more railways are abandoned in favour of transportation by road.
Source: Umwelt-und Prognose Institut, Heidelberg, 1995

These trends, if continued, will result in breathtaking figures. On the basis of the 1990 figures, experts reckon that we will be facing the following global scenario by the year 2030:

The fleet of private passenger cars will increase from currently 500 million to 2,300 million vehicles.

Fuel consumption will rise from 650 million tons to 1,300 million tons

CO2 emissions will climb from 3,000 million tons to 7,500 million tons. If the transportation sector continues to expand at the present speed, the CO2 reduction targets agreed upon at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 will become illusionary for this reason alone.


There are other negative consequences of motorized mobility:

Mobility causes accidents. Even though safety precautions have tightened, road casualties cannot be avoided. In 1990, 500,000 people died in traffic accidents around the world. Many people spend the rest of their lives with injuries they suffered in traffic accidents.

Transport damages public health. Summer smog has become a well-known phenomenon; the ground-close layer of ozone has adverse effects on human health and the natural environment. It also reduces crop yields to a considerable degree.

The increase of motorized traffic leads to a loss of quality of life in cities and villages. Streets are criss-crossing residential areas, people are exposed to constant noise, and traffic restricts pedestrians' mobility on the roads.

Mobility imposes a high strain on natural resources. The production and operation of vehicles are costly and produce a great amount of waste. Mobility requires infrastructure - roads, parking lots, airports, etc. - which can be provided only by consuming ever more land.

The costs for the import of fuel, for road construction, and the creation of infrastructure for motorized individual traffic are placing a heavy burden on national budgets. Consequently, budgetary funds needed for other urgent matters are no longer available.

Mobility invariably leads to social injustice. Although motorized traffic has indeed increased so rapidly, a great share of the population is isolated and prevented from participating in the process. The elderly, children, people with disabilities, and especially lower income groups are not taken into consideration in the age of motorized mobility.

In many countries, women in particular, must do with other modes of transport. Since the universalization of motorized individual traffic is not feasible, the situation will hardly change in the future.

The ratio between a privileged elite traveling by road or by air and those depending on traditional means of transport has remained the same over the years - a phenomenon, that is linked to the rapid growth of the global population.

Social injustice is deepened even more because traffic planning focuses mainly on individual motorized transport. Moreover, traffic planners are devoting their attention to the cities while neglecting the needs of rural areas.Traditional transport modes are increasingly marginalized. Motorized transport modes are fostering the exclusion of a large share of the population. Today's development of transport is also questionable in terms of aesthetics. Many people seem to be infatuated with the beauty of automobiles and airplanes, both of which play an important role in their dreams. Yet, for the realization of such a kind of mobility one has to endure many eyesores and a great deal of ugliness - the "graying" of our land, the construction of petroleum storage sites, etc. Natural beauty is being destroyed and precious national monuments are being eroded by exhaust fumes.

The question inevitably arises as to what extent the acceleration of life and the unbroken growth of mobility are a real gain. As many new possibilities and perspectives may have been opened through increased mobility, it remains to be seen whether it can produce an improved quality of life. In view of the apparent limits that are set on the development of mobility, the increasingly urgent question arises as to what extent the idea of going "farther", "higher" and "faster" can still be tolerated as a general model.

This host of negative consequences also gives the churches reason for deep concern. They cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the issue of mobility. Rather, they must ask themselves on the basis of the Gospel, which measures must be taken today in order to put sustainable forms of mobility into practice. The laissez-faire attitude that condoned the development of the last decades cannot be upheld any longer. In order to guarantee sustainability, we must reconsider transportation. We must go beyond lip-service and demonstrate the will to implement necessary political processes.

The impact of modern mobility can be witnessed all over the world. Change in climate underlines the global character of the challenge we are facing. Virtually every part of the world is affected.

Nonetheless, the problems vary from country to country. This diversity must be accounted for.

At the outset it is important to note that there is a fundamental difference between the industrialized nations and the so-called developing countries. Motorized forms of mobility were developed in the industrialized nations and are recommended to the whole world as a shining example. In view of the fact that approximately between 20% and 25% of the global population living in the industrialized nations is using about 80% of the earth's resources and is responsible for more than 75% of atmospheric pollution, it becomes apparent that the North is to a large extent accountable for the current situation. For this reason, the industrialized nations are obliged to find a way to restrict their own excessive consumption of resources.

The countries of the South need to deal with the consequences of erroneous development politics. They are facing the task of seeking new solutions for their mobility problems.

Farida Akhter, head of an agricultural development project (UBINIG in Dhaka, Bangladesh), is right when she and others are calling for a "birth control of cars" for the countries of the North.

The following examples will illustrate the diverse frames of reference. All of them are extracts from presentations given during the 1997 conference at Bad Boll:

The United States is looking back on a long history of mobility. Today it has the highest level of motorized travel in the world - by road as well as by air. The average citizen uses nearly five times the transport energy as a citizen of Japan, and nearly three times that of the average citizen of Great Britain or France. 86% of passenger miles traveled were by car with 10% by air and only 4% by train. 65% of total US oil consumption is used by the transport sector. The big changes in America's outlook came after World War II. This was really the dawning of America's suburbs, the realization of having a new, single-family home and a car. During this period, public transit companies were bought up by the car industry and allowed to deteriorate to push more people toward private cars, the train system was neglected, transit ridership assumed an economic and social stigma and became associated with low-income and often with minority populations. Another event that transformed America and its relationship to cars was President Eisenhower's initiative to build an interstate highway system across the country. Today, the US, through its automobile industry plays a significant role in exporting its forms of mobility to other countries of the world.

Korea has experienced an enormous increase of traffic, particularly of individual motorized mobility within only a few years. The number of private passenger cars has risen tenfold within the last ten years from 664,226 (1986) to 6,893,254 (1996). Today's transport modes are automobiles (58.7%), trains (25.3%), metros (10.6%), ships (0.3 %) and airplanes (5.1%). In future years it is likely that there will be a shift towards mobility on the roads and especially towards individual mobility. The Korean automobile industry is a major contributor to this shift. Between 1985 and 1995 traffic accidents rose from 146,836 to 248,865. The capital, Seoul, is facing severe traffic problems. Awareness is rising that reconsidering transportation is vital.

Until the beginning of the eighties private passenger cars played a marginal role in India. Bicycles, buses, trucks, and motorbike-rickshaws dominated the streets. In the mid-eighties, Suzuki started the production of its Maruti-car, followed by Honda's motorbicyle. India's annual growth rate of motorized transport (averaging about 16%) is considerably higher than the rate of population growth (1.9%). The number of vehicles rose from 4 per 1000 inhabitants in 1971 to 32 in 1994. The expansion of the road system was not able to keep pace with this increase. Thus, the streets are strained beyond their limits and are becoming a threat to pedestrians' safety. Air pollution in the cities has become a great concern. The automobile is pushing out bicycles and rickshaws. During Campaign "Sunshine", 12,000 out of the 18,000 bike-rickshaw-drivers were pushed out of Calcutta to create space for the automobile. This process is currently underway in many big cities in Asia and Africa. Delhi, Bombay, and Calcutta rank among the ten most polluted cities in the world.

In Kenya, road and air traffic has increased sharply within a short period of time. The number of registered motor vehicles rose from 280,200 in 1985 to 387,600 in 1994. The number of private passenger cars (44% in 1994) has not yet reached a proportion that would provoke a change in mobility patterns among the majority of the population. One-third of the low-income group goes by foot; two-thirds travel by public transport. One-third of the population with medium income uses private transport modes, and it is only the highest income group that travels exclusively by private passenger cars. For this reason, it is all the more important to revalue non-motorized modes of transport in traffic planning. Another problem is access to the rural areas. The increase in air traffic is mainly due to tourism, which has become the most important economic factor in Kenya in recent years. It is mainly the industrial nations that are taking the lead in this field.

At the moment, 320 million families in China are still making do with currently 1.5 million private passenger cars. China's government aims at increasing passenger car production up to over 1 million units per annum within the next five years. The automobile companies of the industrial nations are forcefully pushing into China's gigantic market.

Sustainable mobility is - just as sustainabilty in general - essentially a normative concept and requires value judgments. The first consideration is that future generations are entitled to the same opportunities in life as we are. Today's generations need to act as stewards of the natural environment and to hand it over to future generations as intact as possible. There is a second important consideration: all the people on the planet earth have an equal right to live in an intact natural environment and conversely to make use of global resources as long as nature is not being overexploited. So, when talking about sustainabilty we are not only dealing with ecological aspects but also with national, international and intergenerational equity.

Mobility must keep to the limits that are set by God's creation. But how can one determine these limits? In the context of climate change, a limit was calculated for the permissible level of CO2 emissions. In order to put a halt to global warming, no more than maximum 2 tons of CO2 are to be emitted per person and year. This corresponds to about 800 liters of petrol, 700 liters of heating oil, or 3000 kwh. The industrialized nations are exceeding this per capita limit up to about ten times.

Mobility must serve the creation of community as a whole or at least should not interfere with it. Community needs have priority over the interests of individuals or privileged groups. Mobility must not be expanded at the cost of the poor, women, children, and the disabled. The benefit for the whole community should be the benchmark for every new measure that is taken.

Therefore, the question arises whether it makes sense to claim that everybody is entitled to mobility. A conference, organized by the OECD in Vancouver in March 1996, formulated the following principle: "People are entitled to reasonable access to other people, places, goods and services". If this means that no one must be stopped from establishing contacts with other people for ideological or other reasons, there is nothing to be said against this principle. This sentence is also a good reminder of the fact that not only the industrial nations but all peoples are entitled to a certain degree of motorized mobility. The principle, however, becomes dubious if it sets forth the right of every individual to have access to other people and goods on the whole planet. Everything depends on the interpretation of the word "reasonable". For Christians the right to mobility is subordinated to the integrity of creation and the community. Claims cannot go beyond what is viable for all people in the framework of God's creation. For this reason, talking about a right to mobility can be confusing.

The criteria determining Christian evaluation imply a critique of values underlying the expansion of mobility. Mobility is being praised as a source of freedom. Not only does it liberate from social confinements, it also leads to personal fulfillment. It increases unrealized human potential; however, what is real freedom? Can it be equaled with personal independence and self-realization? Freedom cannot be isolated from the ties to the community. Freedom is not only restricted by the law of love but can only exist through love. The expansion of mobility is based on a limited view of freedom. It fosters the isolation of people within society.

Sustainable mobility is not only a matter of planning and efficiency. It presupposes a certain life style that is based on values other than independence of space and time and the expectancy of material gain. The permissible limit can be found and retained only if the importance of limits is recognized from the beginning.

How can we bring about change? Although success will also depend on the behavior of individuals in the final analysis, change cannot be expected exclusively from personal changes of ways of behavior.

The predominant forms of mobility are deeply rooted in today's society. Therefore, a changed framework of society that is linked to fundamental political decisions is the precondition to reorient mobility. Politics and society, however, are closely intertwined with economic factors and interests. In order to carry through necessary adaptations, the spheres of politics, economy, public opinion and individual ways of life must interact.

Traffic Planning
The circumstances for traffic planning differ from country to country. Every nation is confronted with the question of how in the framework of national circumstances and requirements, on the one hand, and overall interests of humankind, on the other hand, an optimum degree of mobility can be achieved for everybody.

Traffic planning must not place sole emphasis on the promotion of motorized traffic. The rights of pedestrians and of non- motorized transportation modes such as bicycles, rickshaws, pack animals, etc., and public transport by bus, train, etc., should not be considered as an afterthought, but should be assigned highest priority in traffic planning. Special attention needs to be given to the requirements of rural areas.

It is essential that large groups, particularly the classes of society that are discriminated against by motorized traffic are given a say in traffic planning.

Avoidance of Mobility and Shift to other modes of transportation
The adverse effects of traffic and transport can most effectively be reduced by avoiding motorized mobility.

Today goods often travel long distances before they are consumed. Therefore, for every good we must ask how many kilometers were covered for its production and distribution.

The assumption needs to be questioned that goods from all over the world should be available in every part of the planet at any time. Rather, there is a need to develop local methods of providing people with the necessary goods.

Increasingly goods are transported by road and air. There is need for a re-orientation in this respect. Wherever possible transportation by rail must be given preference. The shift from road to rail requires longterm planning. Decisions must therefore be initiated without delay.

Short- and middle-distance flights - under 1000 kilometers - today account for a large share of air traffic. The improvement and expansion of the railway network could render them unnecessary. Long-distance travel should become the exception. When going on long-distance travel, the stay should be prolonged enough to acquire a thorough knowledge of the respective culture.

Technological Efficiency
It is possible to produce vehicles with less raw material and energy and to operate them more energy-efficiently. If there is a need to have an automobile, it should be at least environmentally friendly! The introduction of the 3-liter-automobile must not be delayed any longer, but there is, of course, the wider question of lowering the use of resources of all types of vehicles. The industrialized countries need to be the first to start this process.

The adverse effects of air traffic could be reduced by technological innovations during the production process as well as during operation. New concepts for air traffic can be developed on the basis of ecological, economic, and cultural aspects. Airports could be rendered more energy-efficient. Access to airports should be primarily by public transport.

True Costs
Motorized traffic on the streets, as well as in the air, costs much more than people are paying at the moment. The adverse effects of emitted pollutants, the burden for our health , accidents, the effects of climate change and more are not included in the price we are paying for motorized mobility. A large share of these so-called external costs is paid by the general public. Other costs are not paid for at all. Natural resources such as air and the sea are used as if they did not have a price. The damages done to these "free goods" are to the detriment of future generations.

In order to get a clear picture of the true costs of mobility, it is vital to calculate the external costs - a difficult undertaking. Some damages such as traffic accidents can be calculated quite easily, while for many others it is only possible to make - sometimes even vague - estimates. It is difficult to assess the effects of noise to our physical and mental health. The calculation of the extensive costs of the climate change in numbers is quite difficult.

These insecurities, however, do not mean that calculations would not make sense. What cannot be denied is that the true costs of mobility go far beyond the price we are paying today. In transport politics, the "polluter pays principle" is not upheld. In order to be able to develop equitable and viable plans, every nation must make an effort at establishing an inventory of external traffic costs.

Price Increases, Taxes and Similar Measures
In order to internalize true costs, fuel prices must be increased considerably. A slow increase of petrol prices can make a contribution to achieve more reasonable forms of mobility and to shift individual traffic to public transport, the bicycle, and other non-motorized transport modes. It will render goods transportation by train more attractive.

The increase of the price of aircraft fuel (kerosene) is of vital importance. At the moment, kerosene costs less than petrol. Especially the creation of air traffic infrastructure is supported by state subsidies. Efforts to find an international solution are already under way and merit consistent support.

A tax on fossil fuels, a so-called CO2-tax has been introduced in some countries and is being discussed alongside an ecological tax reform in several countries. These levies and taxes should contribute to the implementation of measures to reduce CO2 emissions, e.g., technological innovations and other savings.

If these price increases and levies are carried through in the framework of an ecological tax reform, taxation on salaries could be reduced; this in turn could lead to the creation of new jobs.

The Automobile Industry

The automobile industry is to a large extent responsible for the consistent promotion of private ownership of car vehicles. The production of passenger cars has contributed to the predominance of private car ownership in the industrial nations. Today it is the primary motivator in the proliferation of private car ownership throughout the world. The automobile is a product that needs to be sold. The big automobile producers of the industrial nations and countries in transition are competing for the markets in countries that have not yet reached a high degree of motorized mobility.

The dialogue with the automobile industry is fraught with many diffculties. Often, critique of today's development of motorized mobility is perceived by the industry as a threat to production and jobs. Nevertheless, the dialogue must be sought. It is in the long-term self-interest of the automobile industry to consider other forms and means of mobility.

If there are to be private cars - why not at least better cars?

Ten criteria for more responsible private cars:

  • Area coverage not to exceed 5.5 m2

  • Power of motor not to exceed 15-20 kw

  • Orientation towards speed limits of 30, 50 and 100km - sound signals for certain speeds.

  • Not only indication of speed but also of price.

  • Low noise level

  • Technology for recovering energy

  • Fuel consumption not to exceed 2,5 l per 100km

  • High flexibility with regard to transportation requirements

  • Avoidance of gadgets which are superfluous under the aspects of security and environmental responsibility.

  • As many elements as possible capable of being recycled

  • Commitment of producer to accept responsibility for disposal after use.

Emphasizing the Region as Expanded Living Space

If distances for persons as well as for goods are to be shortened, revaluation of regions is the consequence. The region mainly has to offer what the community needs in terms of contacts, incentives, and consumption. The production of as many vital goods as possible should occur where they are needed. Proximity must consistently be given priority over long distances.

This implies that the population in a given region must be in a position to assign the priorities in their area. Their participation in the political decision-making process must be guaranteed. Emphasizing life in regions is in direct contradiction to the present-day tendency to organize life in society within ever-increasing spaces. This development is based on the assumption that mobility can be increased without limits across great distances. The call for sustainable mobility inevitably opposes this development. Important as international exchange is and remains, essential as international cooperation to overcome global dangers is, regions as expanded living spaces must not be given up. In all spheres where international cooperation is not vitally necessary the principle of subsidiarity should be applied, i.e. the principle to attribute the responsibility of decision making to the lowest possible level in society.

Tourism
International tourism has become a vital economic factor in many countries both in the industrialized and the developing world. The precondition for international tourism are low air fares. For the countries involved, tourism does not have only positive effects. It contributes to the destruction of a country's typical features and leads in developing countries to an exaggerated dependence of the economy on the wealth of industrialized nations. Furthermore, a large share of the profit made in tourism flows back to the industrialized nations. The transportation of tourists, as well as the infrastructure, is mainly in their hands. As inevitable an economic factor as tourism may be, these aspects demonstrate that developing countries must better not rely exclusively on this one economic factor.

Urban and Regional Planning
Urban and regional planning exert vital influences on life in residential settlements and work. As early in the planning stage as possible, urban design and infrastructure should account for the avoidance of motorized mobility.

At the moment urban design is determined too exclusively by the requirements of the automobile. Entire town districts are redesigned for the construction of streets and highways.

The requirements of pedestrians and cyclists on the one side and of women and children on the other side must rank above the interests of the automobile.

The church has the task to consistently question the preconditions of today's development. Not only the violent character of motorized mobility toward the whole of creation but also the church's own mobility culture in the past and the present need to be looked at closely. During the introduction, consolidation, and expansion of motorized mobility, churches participated as modernizers and mutiplicators. Pastors and development assistants from the church take the automobile and airplanes for granted as a means of transportation and in doing so become their promoters and protagonists. When dealing with the churches' mobility, non-motorized and public transport modes should come more to the forefront.

If churches want to contribute to the discussion on sustainable mobility, they must become active in different ways and on different levels at the same time. They need to analyze the present development on the basis of their own criteria. Then they must present them to the actors in society who are responsible for this development, i.e., in the political discussion on transport issues, in the general public, the automobile industry, urban planners, those responsible for development cooperation, etc.

At the same time, however, the church can serve as a platform for discussions on sustainable mobility. In order to overcome stark contrasts, it is essential that representatives of different interest groups come together. Progress can more easily be achieved if solutions can rely on wide support in society.

Above all, however, churches have the vital task of demonstrating what a culture of limited mobility could look like. Up to now the churches had the tendency to regard new technological possibilities of mobility neutrally. Their only interest was to find out in which way and to what extent they could be used for work within the church. Therefore, the life-styles of Christians hardly differed from those of the general public. What we need, therefore, is also a reorientation within the churches in order to achieve a culture of limited mobility.

In this context, the ecumenical movement is faced with a specific problem. For the mission as well as for the ecumenical movement international air traffic is vital. Missionaries and ecumenists are faithful clients of air companies. In addition, the opinion has gained strength during the last decades that the international ecumenical movement can only become a living reality if contacts occur in a bottom-up process, from community to community. Touristic ecumenism has been added to professional ecumenism.

Are there any alternatives? International travel and conferences cannot be avoided. Nevertheless, the question poses itself whether the ecumenical movement could increasingly become the advocate of regional self-determination. As necessary as international exchange may be, the main emphasis needs to placed on the realization of Christian community in the respective regions. International work should be regarded more as a service to the Churches in the individual regions. International conferences could be prepared more thoroughly and with less stress. Cooperating with the regions during the preparatory process would lead to more fruitful discussions and results during the conference.

The usability of new technologies ranging from e-mail to video conferences should be analyzed more thoroughly for the preparation and efficiency of international conferences.

The path to limited mobility, however, not only requires practical measures but also changes in our way of thinking and feeling. The symbols fostering the dream of mobility have enormous power. The breaking of these symbols is in the final analysis a spiritual challenge. Intellectual considerations do not suffice. What can the Christian way of thinking achieve here?

At first glance biblical tradition is full of images of departure, of the Exodus and the mission in distant countries. These images are deeply rooted in Christian spirituality and are used - sometimes consciously, mostly unconsciously - to justify mobility. "Go forth!" Jesus' command to his disciples to go forth and spread the gospel seems to point to this concept from the start.

Yet, these statements are only one side of the coin. The biblical tradition places exactly the same emphasis on rest. The biblical law of the Sabbath, the law which is most frequently mentioned in the bible, bears witness to this fact. It is a constant reminder that God himself / herself created a relationship between activity and rest, movement and repose. The law of the Sabbath not only has the well-being of humans in mind; it is not by accident that the biblical tradition links it to the rhythm of the creation. The limitation of human activities and movements serves humans in the first place, however, it also corresponds to the needs of the creation.

Movement is thus never a value in its own right. Rather the question is whether God has commanded it. Movement can also occur as flight - flight from God and from ourselves. In order to avoid the fulfillment of God's task Jonah fled to distant countries, and in Psalm 139 he talks about the impossibility to flee God. "Whither shall I turn from thy spirit? Where shall I flee from thy presence?"

This points already to a second thought: Mobility must be assessed as to what extent it serves the neighbour and the whole of the creation. Jesus asks his disciples to "love thy neighbour". Love must prove itself right where you stand. Mobility can serve thy neighbour. It can also mean that we flee our neighbour.

The Gospel points out time and again the conflict between love and power. Motorized transport modes are also an expression of human power and rulership. The ability to quickly surmount distances and time restrictions leads to a growth of self-worth up to the illusion of omnipotence. For many the automobile is not only a machine. It is rather more than anything a symbol of success and prestige.

Automobiles and airplanes exert a nearly magical attraction. It is not without reason that modern transport modes are said to have fulfilled an age-old dream of humankind. The Japanese company Suzuki knew what it was doing when it named its automobile after the legendary flying divine creature Maruti and promoted it with the following advertisement: Trust Maruti to build India, Trust Maruti to drive India, Trust Maruti to internationalize India, Trust Maruti to revolutionize India.

Automobiles can become idols. For that reason it is difficult to discern their power. Just as all false Gods they blind us. They show themselves from their sunny side and hide the damage they do. Churches should unmask the fascination and dependence of the automobile and airplane as the dance around the golden calf and contribute to making vehicles to the only thing they can be: means which must be put at the disposal of the community.

Faced with the challenge to bear witness in society, the church will have to ask the question how new approaches to mobility can be developed in its own midst. Only a church that is able to convince people by its deeds will be able to create repercussions in the public and to make a contribution to the necessary change of values and products. The reorientation of the church' mobility is the key to its contribution to a change of mind.

The World Council of Churches invites the churches to react to this paper.

  • Do you agree that the issue is urgent and needs to be taken up by the churches?
  • Do you think its development has been described and interpreted adequately in this paper?
  • Does the description match with the circumstances in your country and your situation? Where do you see differences?
  • What does the mobility situation look like in your respective countries?
  • What are the prospects for a sustainable mobility and which global framework conditions would be needed for its implementation?
  • Which practical steps need to be taken at the local and national levels?
  • Can these steps be linked to the commitment to the local Agenda 21 and its process?
  • What kind of support do you expect from the churches and countries of the North?
  • Can the churches bring about a common movement?
  • To what extent can sustainable transport modes be included in the churches mobility patterns?
  • Initiatives on the way to sustainable mobility must be taken in the first place in the individual countries, yet there may be tasks that need to be approached at an international level.
  • Are there in your opinion any other initiatives that should be approached at an international level? How far are you dependent on other countries to achieve a solution?

For our further work it is important to have names of resource persons regularly dealing with these issues in your country.

Accelerated Climate Change, A Study Paper, Geneva 1994, International Conference, 7th to 13th November in Driebergen, The Netherlands. The papers presented at this consultation have appeared in the Ecumenical Review, vol.4, 2, April 1997, pp.131-202; the report has been published separately by the WCC.

This paper has been formulated by a group of experts at an international consultation organized jointly by the World Council of Churches and the Evangelical Academy Bad Boll from 23 to 27 March 1997.

The need for a reflection on ‘Sustainable Mobility' arose for the World Council of Churches (WCC) in the context of its work on climate change. Since 1990 the WCC is engaged in a sustained effort to draw attention to the threat of climate change and its implications for the future of society. The Council follows regularly, through observers, the intergovernmental negotations on the UN framework convention on climate change. In 1994 it shared with its member churches a study paper on the subject, and in 1996/97 its member churches in industrialized countries urged their governments by means of an international campaign on climate change to take the measures required for mitigating the effects of climate change.

Clearly, modern motorized mobility is one of the major contributors to CO2 emissions. Without a re-orientation of modern mobility concepts the threats of climate change are unlikely to be met.

For some years, the theme of sustainable mobility has been high on the agenda of the Evangelical Academy Bad Boll, Germany. In 1995 a conference on ‘Mobility and Development Aid' was organized questioning the priority criteria of contemporary development concepts. An agreement was reached between the WCC and the Academy to organize jointly an international consultation on the subject. It was held from 23 to 27 March 1997.

The WCC and the Academy intend to continue their collaboration in the future. A small working group has been formed with the mandate to guide the project.

The report is just a first step in a process. It is hoped that it will stimulate the discussion in the member churches. Reactions to the paper and other contributions on the theme of mobility are most welcome. The Working Group will gather and evaluate all comments and may organize a further international consultation in 1999.

Participants in the 1997 consultation in Bad Boll were:
Tilman Bracher, Verkehrsclub Deutschland, Berlin, Germany
Weert Canzler, Wissenschaftszentrum, Berlin, Germany
Qiam Djallalzada, Afghanistan/Aachen
Evaristus Irandu, University of Nairobi, Kenya
Barbara Kipke, Mobility Consultant, Horb, Germany
Richard Kisamadu, First African Bicycle Information Centre, Jinja, Uganda
Damase Muganga, Traffic planner, Burundi/Berlin
Naomi Ngwira, Malawi Vision 2020 Project, Lilongwe, Malawi
Park Yong Hoon, Director of Urban Transportation Research Centre, Seoul, Korea
Christoph Rabanus, Bukarest
Wolfgang Sachs, Wuppertal Institute für Klima. Umwelt, Energie, Wuppertal, Germany
Mauricio Salazar, Mexico/Stuttgart
Carol Werner, Director of Energy and Climate Change Program for the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, Washington, USA
Organisation: Ralph Häussler, Jobst Kraus, Lukas Vischer

For further information use the following addresses:
Jobst Kraus, Evangelische Akademie Bad Boll, Akademieweg 11, D_73087 Bad Boll, Germany
Tel +49 7164 79 222 or 243
Dr. Martin Robra, World Council of Churches, 150 route de Ferney, 1211 Geneva
Tel. +41 22 791 6551, Fax +41 22 791 6029
David Hallman, Co-ordinator of WCC Climate Change Programme, United Church of Canada
3250 Bloor Str W., Etobicoke, Canada M8X 2Y4, Tel. +1 416 231 5931, Fax +1 416 232 6005