Transportation accounted for 28% of global final energy demand in 2017 and roughly 23% of global CO2 emissions in 2018. Since vehicles are extremely energy intensive and polluting, the transportation sector is an innovator’s dream.
Passenger transportation is responsible for around 63% of total transportation energy use, while freight transport accounts for the remaining 37%. Globalization has allowed us to travel and trade goods over great distances, but our environment is once again paying the price.
Aviation, shipping, and road vehicles have all increased their emissions in recent years, while rail continues to prove it’s the cleanest motorized transportation mode out there. Unfortunately, expensive train tickets are preventing people from reducing their footprint over long and short distances alike. To reduce environmental impacts, we’ll need to reevaluate whether eco-friendly public transit methods like buses, streetcars, or rail are really something we want to discourage with expensive fares.
After taking the world by storm, electric vehicles’ challenges are coming to light, slowly but surely. The pursuit for longer ranges with advances in battery efficiency will continue to titillate the research world, but that should be the least of our concerns. First, the EV industry relies on loads of finite resources, especially metals required for battery manufacturing. While it’s unsure whether we’ll be able to supply the EV industry with the amounts of metal it will require over the next decades, it is certain that doing so would have adverse effects – ranging from mining impacts to the finiteness of metals. Second, electrifying our transport is great, but we need to ensure it makes sense with our electricity mixes. An EV in a region dominated by coal for electricity production risks being counterproductive.
Again, prioritizing public transit to reduce the number of cars on the road is the only surefire way to decrease environmental impacts in the long term. That requires much lower fares for long distance rail and city transit. And yes, electrifying public transit will be essential, but only because it makes sense to do so at that scale. Governments and companies can reduce the global transportation sector’s impacts considerably in the near future, if the right policies and solutions are adopted now.
Artificial intelligence will also help reduce the number of cars in the world and on the road, although this type of technology is not without impacts on the environment either. With the proper systems in place, driverless vehicles will increase carpooling and make public transit an even better option. However, driverless vehicles aren’t available yet, with no guarantee of when they’ll roll out and help streamline public transit – so we’ll have to stick to proven solutions for now.