Although electricity generated by fossil fuels is without doubt a major factor in atmospheric pollution, it comes only a poor second behind motor vehicle exhaust gases. In the USA, CO2 emissions from cars and trucks totalled 314 million metric tons in 2002. (Emissions have continued to climb steadily in the 5 years leading up to the publication of this book).
Looking at a fairly typical example of the ratio of motor vehicle emissions to emissions from electricity generated in coal fired power stations, in 1996 Travis County in the USA, produced 1700 tons of NOx annually while motor vehicles contributed 30,000 tons.
It seems as if our love of cars may be the single biggest factor in the potential demise of the human race. Wherever one travels in the industrialised world the congestions on roads and highways is rising alarmingly. When viewed from several thousand feet, motor vehicles and road systems in our major cities resemble incredibly busy ants nests as we all rush hither and yon crisscrossing each other’s paths in a crazy quest to move from place to place.
Zero emission vehicles
Technologies for zero emission vehicles have been around for many years, however the enormous power that motor vehicle manufacturers wield and their undeniable association with oil companies has seen many of these inventions effectively quashed. Their ability to compete against giant conglomerates will no doubt be stymied until such time as there are substantial improvements in storage capacity of batteries and robustness of hydrogen fuel cells (HFC) and the conventional automobile manufacturers decide that there is sufficient market for HFC vehicles, electric cars and hybrid designs which promise to go a long way toward reducing greenhouse emissions.
Meanwhile the United States, with motor vehicle exhaust emission standards falling far below those of China and Europe, has become somewhat of a global pariah for its failure to embrace both cleaner motor vehicles and ratify the Kyoto Agreement. Its recalcitrance has engendered considerable anger throughout the world, most notably in developing countries, who, while not contributing much to the planet’s environmental problems, nonetheless suffer one hundred percent from the affects of climate change.
The motor car is killing us!
It is now time for us to reconsider the degree to which we rely upon motor vehicles. How many of us travel to a central place of employment only to sit behind a computer screen for the large part of the day when perhaps we could perform the same function at home? Granted not everybody sits behind a computer screen, however employers need to give greater consideration to employing people from residential communities within cycling or walking distance. With video-conferencing and other technology it seems pointless for many companies to pay expensive rents for office space and the costly infrastructure associated with high rise buildings.
City planners need to examine ways of establishing communities that fully support the needs of their residents in terms of jobs, medical services, shopping, entertainment and education. Additionally, all of us in the workforce will have to rethink our aims and objectives when determining our career path to incorporate “green” thinking into our work habits.
We can no longer afford sprawling cities with outlying dormitory suburbs where people are forced to use motor vehicles because public transport is ineffective, inconvenient, or services are irregular or too uncomfortable. Across the globe, the roads have become clogged with motor vehicles, each carrying only one person, so the answer is to make public transport more attractive and using the family car unattractive or expensive. We must educate the populace to think twice before they fire up a tonne of inefficient, polluting machinery.
A complete shift in collective thinking about the true cost of cars is essential for our very survival. This might be done by the introduction of a carbon tax on petrol and diesel, with the money raised from every litre burnt going to carbon reduction strategies such as, tree planting. Attractive government rebates enabling motorists to purchase alternative vehicular technologies, would kick start the requisite change in the public’s motoring mindset.
Instead of being status symbols, public perception must be changed so that we have a social conscience concerning the use of motor cars, much as we now do about recycling household waste. Australians in most drought-stricken states will be familiar with the almost overnight change in public perception concerning water usage. When dams ran low and they could no longer waste water with thirsty garden sprinklers and long showers, most cooperated quite readily, so why shouldn’t perception change concerning the use of environmentally damaging motor vehicles?
Is this all pie in the sky?
If you think the above suggestion are improbable and won’t happen, pause for a moment to reflect on cigarette smoking. Who in Australia or New Zealand would now dream of lighting up in a restaurant, shopping centre or office building? Smoking in the presence of non-smokers is now accepted as an offensive act and a violation of the right of others to breathe clean, non-polluted air. Concerted advertising campaigns and other strategies for public education can and do work very effectively.
The benefits of shifting from a greedy, wasteful, hedonistic consumer society will far outweigh the disadvantages. We might all begin communicating and empathising with one another much better. A slower pace of life as we stop the mad quest for more “stuff” will result in a significant drop in both mental and physical health problems. As we slow down, realising the precious gift we have been given in this beautiful planet we all share, we might also become more spiritual, better appreciating the sanctity of nature and our children. It’s surely worth considering, isn’t it?