Electric Cars Helpful, but Not the Sole Advance in Mobility
Berg, Peter, CCPA Monitor
FUTURE TRANSPORTATION WILL RELY ON BIKES AND BUSES. TOO:
As we enter the second half of the oil age and the first half of the climate change era, the electrification of the drive train in automobiles is being heralded as the single-most important contribution to sustainable living. Even though road traffic is only part of a society's energy footprint, auto manufacturers around the globe are working feverishly towards the commercialization of electric vehicles, including pure battery, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell cars.
These technologies will be needed in the future if we want to ensure a diverse set of personal transportation modes. Given the extent to which our economic activity depends on road transportation, a case can be made for sustaining a certain level oí car ownership to support our standard of living. This is one reason why research into electric vehicles should be continued - in addition, of course, to their potential for reducing emissions and oil dependence.
There are several aspects related to electric cars, however, which are usually not mentioned when discussing the future of the automobile.
First of all, the most sustainable approach to transportation is to reduce the demand for car ownership in general, and this is closely related to urban planning. In a 2005 study, Statistics Canada assessed the car dependency of the population as a function of the distance of a residence from the nearest urban centre. It found that the dependency is very pronounced above 10km, but drops off remarkably below 5km. This runs against our trend of supporting ever-expanding urban sprawl that lacks new town centres, designed to provide places to live, work, shop, dine, etc.
Urban design is arguably the largest failure in North American transportation planning. We might be good at solving traffic problems in one location, but it happens often at the expense of creating higher traffic volume somewhere else. Meanwhile, the urban living experience is degraded by this planning approach of widening roads and adding lanes.
Secondly, the most sustainable mode of transportation is, and will always be, cycling, at about 0.05 mega-joules of energy per person per km. It beats walking. Even the next most efficient modes, such as rail or bus, consume 10 to 30 times as much energy. Depending on the number of passengers, a motor car uses about 50 to 100 times as much energy, and this number will not be reduced sufficiently through the introduction of electric automobiles.
There is wide agreement that automotive technology has the potential to reduce the environmental impact of each vehicle, but the rapid growth of the world's automotive fleet might very well offset any advances in efficiency. In addition, at the socioeconomic level, there are three main problems that will not be addressed or remedied by electric vehicles: 1) traffic jams, 2) health symptoms …
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Publication information: Article title: Electric Cars Helpful, but Not the Sole Advance in Mobility. Contributors: Berg, Peter - Author. Magazine title: CCPA Monitor. Volume: 16. Issue: 9 Publication date: March 2010. Page number: 16. © Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Mar 2009. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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