Transportation is responsible for more than a quarter of global carbon emissions, so it clearly needs a restart. The question, however, is what is the best way to go? Public transportation or individual electric cars or both? Fast trains or flexible systems based on sharing?
These questions keep policy makers, planners and automakers up at night or should. As a new era of electric vehicles slowly unfolds, there are good reasons to consider their role in shaping the future.
DO WE REALLY NEED GREENER CARS?
Beyond making transportation greener, the development of electric vehicles can also stimulate energy storage innovations and the more rapid spread of renewable energy around the world. Societies with high rates of car ownership can contribute to rapid EV adoption, allowing for a faster transition to a greener transportation system without major infrastructure investments.
Also, a wide range of options, from electric buses to electric scooters, makes electric vehicles an attractive option for future infrastructure development. Electric vehicles also produce less noise and can help build healthier communities with lower rates of airborne illness.
Finally, electric modes of transport also achieve reasonable carbon savings over their lifetime if the energy and materials they use come from sustainable sources. For example, electric vehicles produced and used in the European Union perform better on multiple sustainability criteria than those produced and used in China.
Add to this increasing efficiency with the latest generation of electric vehicles, and there should be no question that electric vehicles are a greener option. Still, we can and must do better.
SEE THE FOREST BY THE TREES
As the climate is changing faster than worst-case scenarios suggested, we may need to increase our ambitions. Addressing this challenge from an EV (electric vehicle) perspective means that it's not about offering everyone a new sustainable car, but about integrating electricity-based modes of transport with a range of other solutions.
For a climate resilient transportation infrastructure, we need to think beyond individual preferences, but strive for systems that are sustainable by design and good for everyone.
As Masagos Zulkifli, Singapore's Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, has put it with regard to prioritizing public transport over electric vehicles: “We are not interested in a lifestyle. We are interested in suitable solutions that address climate problems ”.
Due to their relative lack of market penetration thus far, electric vehicles are not yet a sustainable solution on a larger scale. Rather, they are just one of many means of reducing emissions. That is why the benefits of other personal electronic transportation such as electric bikes and scooters for denser urban areas must be seriously considered.
Cities that invest in high-speed rail and good public transportation can avoid congestion and inefficient use of public space. However, the most important thing is that we must reflect on the purpose of transport as such.
SLOW TRAVEL IN THE AGE OF SPEED?
The main goal of a sustainable and effective transportation system is not necessarily to get you from point A to point B in record time. That purpose should be to consider real human needs as a well-integrated part of different forms of urban life. Car-free zones, like those in Barcelona, and bicycles as the dominant mode of transport are fast becoming the new standard for sustainability in many cities around the world.
In a century of speed, we could also be entering the culture of slow travel. Driving a bike, skateboard, or even walking is an increasingly popular choice for many city dwellers, even though they could easily afford a car. These environmentally conscious people do this not to save money, but to live happier and more fulfilling lives. Advantages include the health benefits of being more physically active and the pleasure of enjoying fresh air.
In the long term, having fewer cars on the streets and a system that focuses on quality of life rather than speed can lead to richer social interactions, fewer traffic accidents, better community ties, more space to live, and many other benefits. . While the future is sure to save some space for personal cars, including electric ones, their importance may be less than what automakers would like to assume. A different future with fewer cars is feasible and possible.