As oil reserves around the world are being rapidly depleted, and as green house gas emissions from carbon based fuel combustion possibly threatens the habitability of the planet, a multifaceted approach to solving humanities energy crisis is taking shape. One of these facets is termed “sustainable transportation,” but what is it all about?
Sustainable transportation is not some new fuel or invention that is going to solve the worlds pollution or transportation energy problems, although it may help by encouraging development of low carbon footprint alternatives. Sustainable transportation is more an attitude or sociological paradigm being implemented on a community by community basis. It involves infrastructure design to include bike and walking paths, as well as community based transportation systems like light-rail, buses and even high speed commuter trains. It’s quite simple, you get people out of the habit of driving their car to work, thus reducing carbon fuel use and green house gas emissions. But such attempts at behavioral modification of the masses is easily proposed and as demonstrated to date, not so easy to implement.
For instance, in China, where bicycles have long been a predominant mode of transportation, as American jobs exported to China have created a quasi middle class culture there, bicycle riding has been in decline. In fact, bicycles are now outlawed in the main part of downtown Hong Kong, and the infamous carbon guzzling truck and automobile has become the predominant mode of transit. Indeed, even here in the United states, where billions of taxpayer dollars have already been sunk into light-rail projects in efforts to urge commuters out of their cars, most of the trains run well below capacity most of the time and require a continuous infusion of funding to keep them maintained and operational.
One driving agency for sustainable transportation initiatives, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) with 32 member nations including the U.S., has established a list of 8 guiding principles for sustainable transportation. What is obviously missing from the list is a bullet for “cost accountability” and long term economic feasibility. In other words, if these sustainable transportation projects are going to be viable, they must also be able to pay for themselves and not become a burden to taxpayers. One reason carbon fuels are still in demand, is because of their relative low cost as compared to other options. This is not to say that any or all of the sustainable transportation projects are not worthy of consideration or lacking of merit.
The fact is, that here in urban America, the notion of sustainable transportation will be most effective if it focuses on improving existing modes of transportation rather than attempting to influence individual behaviorisms. Replacing gas and diesel automobiles with affordable electric cars that don’t require massive and expensive batteries, would substantially reduce the carbon footprint while maintaining the American Icon of freedom, personal automobile transportation. For instance, electricity could be transmitted from coils embedded in the road to pick up coils mounted on the underside of cars and trucks. In addition, small engines running bio-fuels could be incorporated as a back-up in a highbred configuration. These kinds of ideas and many other viable concepts would not only reduce the carbon footprint, but would go a long way to replace many high tech jobs outsourced from America to the orient by corporations over the past twenty years.
One final thought, if all the tax dollars currently being expensed to send federal, state and municipal government officials on junkets to attend sustainable transportation conventions and conferences held by the OECD in cities around the world, were directly invested instead in funding research and development of new energy alternatives, the goals of sustainable transportation might actually be achieved. For now, it might seem “sustainable transportation” is just another buzzword politicians and government officials like to throw around to make it sound like they are doing something about growing transportation and energy problems, but in reality its all a lot of talk and very little action.