High time to put on the brakes

Despite all our sage advice the world, at least the United States, seems intent on accelerating our race to the climate cliff. It’s well past time to put on the brakes. For example, energy and climate notes that:

In the 1990s, the transportation sector saw the fastest growth in carbon dioxide emissions of any major sector of the U.S. economy. And the transportation sector is projected to generate nearly half of the 40% rise in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions forecast for 2025.3

Congratulations all you movers. Transportation finally is producing more greenhouse gases than coal-fired power plants. As my mother used to say to me when I was a sprout: Stop moving around so much!

The press often, in spite of the best efforts of the Koch brothers, chastises the power industry for its huge production of carbon dioxide. There is a plethora of op-ed pieces disparaging the industry’s love of coal fired plants. But, let’s face it, there is little that you and I can do individually to stop or alter the plans of those industry magnates. On the other hand, there is much that we can do individually to alter the continuing flow of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Particularly in view of the previous quote.

Stop moving around so much! Put on the brakes!

Telework is, of course, one of the ways you can reduce the steady flow of CO2 into the air. If you’re a long distance teleworker you’re having an extra effect each time you avoid long distance jet travel. Even if your commute to work is only a few km/mi you are decreasing the amount of greenhouse gases that you would otherwise emit. Let’s face it, the energy (and its accompanying CO2 emissions) required to move a two-ton car containing just yourself is much much greater than if you were to walk or cycle to the office, even if you are a tad flatulent.

My friend and colleague Wally Siembab has been working for at least a decade on another low-energy transportation alternative: short range electric vehicles. In a December 13, 2017, climate action planning forum of the South Bay Cities (of Los Angeles) Council of Governments Siembab outlined a series options to significantly reduce CO2 emissions at the local level. These include such moves as:

  • Converting gas-guzzlers to short-to-medium-range electric vehicles;
  • Redesigning business districts to take advantage of the “Amazon effect”; and
  • Having standard charging stations everywhere.

The electric vehicle option involves convincing people that they don’t need a long-range car for most of their travel. Siembab’s team ran tests in which they provided electric vehicles for hundreds of families to use for local travel over several months. Many of the families did not want to return the vehicles at the end of the test period. The team’s analysis of origin-destination data in the region showed that the vast majority of trips were within a 3 mile range. These were real families in real cities. Data trumps speculation!

The Amazon effect is this: have a store front that provides a range of products and help in selecting products to be delivered in hours or the next day. The store front replaces a much larger store that, historically, would have a large inventory of goods on site. Those goods are now in a regional warehouse. So a single area of strip mall size would contain a number of diverse shopping spots, instead of just a few, thereby concentrating retail spaces into small, convenient areas, preferably located at street intersections. Such intersections would be located in patterns with centers a few miles apart. Each intersection would have many charging stations as well as many storefronts.

This is just a brief description of an evolving trend to put on the brakes of our emissions of greenhouse gases. Some of it is happening right now, more will be happening in the near future. Let’s face it, if these sorts of trends at the local level don’t start to happen soon we are all in trouble. We cannot wait for the national politicians to solve these pressing problems. It’s do-it-yourself time to put on the brakes.

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