Tunnel vision and alternate routes

The award of the Nobel Prize to Al Gore and the IPCC has brought much deserved—and long delayed—attention to the prospects of global warming and the influence of human-generated CO2 thereon. As has been said before here and in many other places, one of the major sources of CO2 is the burning of petroleum. Most of petroleum is burned in vehicles. Cars and airplanes for example. So, one might think that a rational approach to reducing the rate of CO2 production would be to:

  1. increase the fuel efficiency of vehicles by some combination of better engines, reduced weight and improved structural design;
  2. move to carbon-free fuels, provided that their production and use don’t have contervailing side effects;
  3. reduce the number of vehicles in use by encouraging or requiring them to always carry at least some high percentage of their potential passenger loads;
  4. reduce the need for vehicles by altering the requirements for transportation.

Here’s where the tunnel vision comes in. Most people in the transportation business, including government regulators, concentrate on items 1 through 3 above and reject item 4. They do not question—or even think about—the fundamental assumption that whatever people needed transportation for in 1950 they need today and will always need in the future.

Therefore, the reasoning goes, we must concentrate on making the future just like today only with less CO2 production. Therefore we must spend billions on research to improve fuel efficiency by a few percent. Therefore we must spend billions on developing CO2-free fuels. Therefore we must spend futile billions on coaxing/forcing people to use mass transit of some sort in order to reduce the number of single-occupant cars on the road.

The transportation crowd either doesn’t get it that people can interact successfully without meeting face-to-face, thanks to modern information technology, or they do get it but claim that it’s too hard; that bosses will complain. People have always used transportation to do useful work or engage in commerce and they always will use transportation the same way, they say. Tunnel vision.

Meanwhile, tens of millions of people around the world have come to the conclusion that this insistence on business-as-usual-only-more-so is a tunnel worth avoiding. It really isn’t necessary to go to work in order to go to work. They can telework. It isn’t really necessary to drive to the shops in order to shop. They can teleshop. It really isn’t necessary to visit distant friends and relatives, or clients, often in order to keep in touch with them. They can teletouch. It is necessary for many more of us to think about whether that next trip is really necessary.

Happy New Year!

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