By David Herron
Our transportation system is one of the key culprits in climate change, environmental degradation, the global war to control access over oil supplies, the threat of peak oil, the manipulation of domestic politics, and more. The transportation system is dependent on fossil fuels, worsening all those issues and more. The inherent inefficiency of the car-dominated urban design we inhabit degrades our quality of life instead of the great boon we were promised. Unfortunately not enough people recognize these problems, and the powers-that-be make decisions which worsen the overall result.
I’ve thought about and worked on these issues for years, dating back to the mid-70’s between the two faux Arab Oil Crises. As a teenager, rather than studying which car was fastest, or coolest looking (1967 Mustang rocks), I looked for ones with the highest fuel efficiency and pondering a career in developing solar panel technology.
At college the computer room, instead, lured me into a software engineering career, while those issues remained in the back of my mind. By 2009 I could no longer contain myself, because the worry was too strong. In September 2008, attending the ASPO conference in Sacramento amplified my worries. By December 2008, there was an official training on starting Transition Towns initiatives. Taking that, and reading the Transition Handbook, was eye opening, and like a breath of fresh air. Within a few months Transition Silicon Valley was launched. In the meantime the global financial collapse erased Sun Microsystems, and my job, from the planet. With a hefty layoff package and the freedom to finally do some work to contribute to solutions, I took some time to study my options.
One thing led to another, and a career in citizen journalism / blogging was launched. The driving idea is to help enough people know the truth to make a positive difference. Today the vehicle for that work is my blog website, LongTailPipe.com. It’s not only a news blog about electric vehicles and related technology, but contains a large information/education section going over the issues below.
Reworking the transportation system is a multi-faceted problem, when looked at through the comprehensive thinking Transition encourages. It’s much more than replacing one kind of car with another kind of car, because that leaves a large number of unsolved problems.
Land use and grid lock: Individually owned cars are an inefficient way to move people around town. The current system wastes a large amount of land on highways and parking lots. One needs transportation and it’s possible to access transportation without owning a car. One should do what they can to ride bicycles and take mass transit. Through smart phone devices one can access services to ease transportation choices, from easier transit planning, to accessing car sharing services, to ride-sharing services like Uber/Lyft. You don’t have to park a car you don’t own.
Self Driving Cars: In the coming years “self driving cars” could drastically change all this. First, computerized control means they’ll be able to travel much more densely spaced than human-driven cars can, and therefore use road space more efficiently. Second, all the car companies are pondering what amounts to a self driving taxi that has no human driver that you beckon via a smart phone app. We can see prototypes of these cars on Silicon Valley’s streets today, and all the car companies have laboratories in Silicon Valley to research this technology.
Climate and Environment: Fossil fuels make a huge negative impact on the world around us. The sooner we stop using fossil fuels the better. Where natural gas and coal primarily are used to generate electricity, crude oil is the primary transportation fuel. Electric vehicles are a great alternative because they’re 100% clean at the tailpipe (no tailpipe), don’t drip oil on the highway, etc.
Clean Electricity: The source of one’s electricity is very important, so while an electric car is 100% clean the electricity may not be. California’s electricity is very clean, but still uses lots of natural gas (a fossil fuel) and therefore still contributes to climate change. It’s necessary to couple a switch to electric cars with a switch to renewable electricity.
Peak Oil: Of course we’re facing a bleak future of declining oil supplies. Fracking is currently giving us a glut of oil and natural gas, but research shows fracked oil fields have a short lifetime and quickly go into depletion. This gives us another reason to quickly get ourselves off fossil fuels.
Vehicle resource impact: Similar to peak oil is the depletion of every other resource, such as the metals used to build everything around us. Big vehicles use more resources to build, and therefore deplete the resources more quickly. Decreasing the number of vehicles owned per person should fix this problem, for example by using mass transit. Using smaller vehicles like motorcycles or bicycles also reduce resource requirements.
Wars in oil-rich areas: Almost every current war today is a fight over access to crude oil resources. Those “terrorists” we’re fighting in various places are really fighting against meddling from Western powers whose goal is manipulating whole countries into providing crude oil supplies. The best way to ease world tensions is to reduce or eliminate fossil fuel consumption.
Politics: The remaining oil in the ground is a huge economic incentive to the oil companies to extract that oil and sell us the oil products. There’s a trillion or so remaining barrels of oil, worth $100 trillion or more in economic activity. That’s fueling the manipulation of U.S. politics in order to ensure the oil companies can reap those rewards. Which means we have a huge problem to tackle in terms of negating that manipulation in order to stop fossil fuel consumption.