Transportation Trends Headed in the Wrong Direction

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We need to admit that current global transportation trends aren't sustainable and that today's transportation system, particularly in America, is highly inefficient and expensive. Despite much rhetoric about energy independence and climate stabilization, the fact is that vehicle sales, oil consumption, and carbon dioxide emissions are continuing to soar globally. One-fourth of all the oil consumed by humans in our entire history will be consumed from 2000 to 2010. And if the world continues on its current path, it will consume as much oil in the next several decades as it has throughout its entire history to date (see figure 1.1). The increasing consumption of oil, and the carbon dioxide emissions resulting from it, are the direct result of dramatic growth in oil-burning motor vehicles worldwide. Barring dramatic events such as wars, economic depressions, or newfound political leadership, these trends will continue.

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FIGURE 1.1 Cumulative global oil production, 1950-2030. Sources: U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2006, DOE/EIA-0484 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Energy, 2006) and International Energy Outlook 2007, DOE/EIA-0484 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Energy, 2007), www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/ieo/index.html.

FIGURE 1.1 Cumulative global oil production, 1950-2030. Sources: U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2006, DOE/EIA-0484 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Energy, 2006) and International Energy Outlook 2007, DOE/EIA-0484 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Energy, 2007), www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/ieo/index.html.

America pioneered the motorization of human society and leads the world in auto ownership today, with more than one auto for every licensed driver. Other nations are following its lead. Auto ownership (and use) is on the rise everywhere. The desire for cars is profound; while it can be slowed, it probably can't be stopped. The estimated 85 percent of the world's population still without cars is crying out for the same mobile lifestyle that Americans have. An A. C. Nielsen poll conducted in 2004 found that more than 60 percent of residents in each of the seven fastest-growing nations, including China and India, aspire to own a car.2

As global wealth grows, especially among the 2.4 billion citizens of China and India, so too will personal motorization. Automakers are increasingly focusing their efforts on emerging markets, with their phenomenal growth. Our projection, with input from a cadre of other experts, is that the number of motorized vehicles around the globe—cars, trucks, buses, scooters, motorcycles, and electric bikes—will increase on the order of 3 percent annually. By 2020, more than two billion vehicles will populate earth, at least half of them cars (see figure 1.2). The slowest car growth is expected in the United States (less than 1 percent a year) and Western Europe (1 to 2 percent), while China's and India's fleets are expected to grow more rapidly, at around 7 or 8 percent per year.3 Growth in vehicle use continues despite the fact that China, India, and many other countries don't possess oil supplies to fuel their expanding vehicle fleets. Can countries peacefully coexist as they compete for increasingly scarce petroleum resources?

The implications for climate change are just as disconcerting. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, even as scientific and political consensus has emerged that these emissions must be cut by 50 to 80 percent by 2050 if the climate is to be stabilized. Until 2007, the United States was the largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Now China is number one. Transportation is a big part of the problem. Globally, transportation produces about a fourth of all emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary greenhouse gas.4 Transport-related CO2 emissions have more than doubled since 1970, increasing faster than in any other sector. In the United States, transportation's share is a third of CO2 emissions. Clearly, greenhouse gas emissions targets aren't going to be met without a dramatic reduction in transportation CO2 emissions.

Beyond their huge oil appetites and carbon footprints, cars cause other problems, only some of which have been effectively addressed thus far. Local

2030 Global Warming Map

FIGURE 1.2 Historical and projected increases in global motor vehicle population, 1950-2030. Sources: U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Transportation Energy Data Book: Edition 26 (2007); U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2007, DOE/ EIA-0484 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Energy, 2007; Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, The Motor Industry of Japan, (Tokyo, Japan: JAMA, 2007); Michael P. Walsh, "Ancillary Benefits for Climate Change Mitigation and Air Pollution Control in the World's Motor Vehicle Fleets," Annual Review of Public Health 29 (2008): 1-9; authors' estimates. For additional background calculations on the car and truck portion of future vehicle projections, see Joyce Dargay, Dermot Gately, and Martin Sommer, "Vehicle Ownership and Income Growth, Worldwide: 1960-2030," Energy Journal 28 (2007): 163-190.

FIGURE 1.2 Historical and projected increases in global motor vehicle population, 1950-2030. Sources: U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Transportation Energy Data Book: Edition 26 (2007); U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2007, DOE/ EIA-0484 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Energy, 2007; Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, The Motor Industry of Japan, (Tokyo, Japan: JAMA, 2007); Michael P. Walsh, "Ancillary Benefits for Climate Change Mitigation and Air Pollution Control in the World's Motor Vehicle Fleets," Annual Review of Public Health 29 (2008): 1-9; authors' estimates. For additional background calculations on the car and truck portion of future vehicle projections, see Joyce Dargay, Dermot Gately, and Martin Sommer, "Vehicle Ownership and Income Growth, Worldwide: 1960-2030," Energy Journal 28 (2007): 163-190.

air pollution, commonly known as smog, is one issue that policymakers and engineers have focused on with considerable success in certain nations. Policymakers have ratcheted down tailpipe standards over time, and engineers have responded with continuing improvements in emissions control technology. New cars emit nearly zero conventional (local) pollutants.

But this shining success is neither complete nor uniform. While the United States and Japan have led the fight against local air pollution, others have lagged, including Europe. In part because of Europe's embrace of diesel engines and more lenient regulation of diesel emissions, the Parthenon in Athens is crumbling from chemical reactants of diesel exhaust and Milan suffers some of the worst air pollution in Europe. But even far worse smog envelops Mexico City, Cairo, Beijing, Kolkata (Calcutta), and many other cities in the developing world. Vehicles are the chief culprits almost everywhere. Even in the United States, despite tremendous resolve and many successes, air pollution hasn't disappeared. Some places such as California's Los Angeles and San Joaquin Valley areas may never have healthy air, due to temperature inversions and surrounding mountains that trap the pollution for days at a time.

The success story isn't complete for yet another reason. Older, more-polluting vehicles can remain in use for a very long time, and emission control systems on vehicles deteriorate over time. The problem is far worse in developing countries, where emission standards are even more lenient, enforcement is lax, and vehicles are often not regulated at all.

While local air pollution is on its way to being solved in most affluent cities and soon in developing countries, there's another car problem that's not being solved. Proliferating cars inevitably cause traffic congestion. Some congestion is desirable—if congestion were absent, it would indicate a depressed economy, a somnolent society, or overinvestment in infrastructure. But by any measure, congestion levels are so severe in most large cities of the world that they seriously harm economic and social activity. The culprit is the auto-centric transport system pioneered by the United States. It's inefficient and costly—and becoming more so.

Despite the existence of innovative alternatives here and there—such as carsharing pioneered in Switzerland, telecommuting and carpooling in the United States, and bus rapid transit in Curitiba, Brazil—the spreading hegemony of cars and the withering away of alternatives has resulted in a transportation monoculture. In a spiraling feedback loop, most growth in the United States and increasingly elsewhere is now in low-density suburbs served almost exclusively by cars. As suburbs grow, they become too dense for cars and not dense enough for conventional mass transit. Cities like Los Angeles, Houston, and Phoenix that developed together with autos are essentially masses of suburbs with a sprinkling of small commercial districts; they aren't easily served by conventional bus and rail transit services with their fixed routes and schedules and will have a hard time shifting their citizens out of cars.

The desire for more mobility is human nature. But transportation choices have global ramifications. There are limits to how many gas-guzzling, carbon-emitting vehicles the planet can accommodate. While many have a vague notion that we're on the wrong road, worldwide there's no admission that dramatic changes must take root in the not-so-far-off future.

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Getting Started With Solar

Getting Started With Solar

Do we really want the one thing that gives us its resources unconditionally to suffer even more than it is suffering now? Nature, is a part of our being from the earliest human days. We respect Nature and it gives us its bounty, but in the recent past greedy money hungry corporations have made us all so destructive, so wasteful.

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