Modern transportation causes grave problems for society

It may not look like it, but the ‘modern’ transportation system, especially as it exists in the U.S.A., is broken, horribly. As I see it, the car companies and others are working hard on the appearance that modern transportation systems are okay.  That’s just the sugar coating designed to make us accept the system as it is.

Anybody honestly looking at transportation in the U.S. realizes those ribbons of highways choking U.S. cities are not the the wondrous thing we were promised.  Rather than the freedom to travel anywhere at any time, car-centered transportation hangs a litany of problems around our collective necks.

This blog, The Long Tail Pipe, is about looking these problems honestly and looking for positive solutions and remedies.

The list of problems is much bigger than just the parts-per-million of CO2 in the atmosphere.  But the powers-that-be are focused on carbon concentrations in the atmosphere, and the solutions they’re deploying are purely about reducing carbon output.  Are we, then, heading in the wrong direction by focusing solely on carbon?
The first step to solving an addiction is to recognize the problems caused by the addiction.  With that in mind, here’s a few of the problems (in no particular order):
Gridlock means people wasting precious hours of their lives stuck in traffic.  Traffic congestion is characterized by slower speeds.  Inter-vehicle interaction in heavy traffic slows the driving speed, and as traffic demand approaches the capacity of the road extreme congestion sets in.  Slow traffic speed means travel takes longer than it should, at a higher risk of accidents.Fossil fuels means the atmosphere near highways is poisoned, and climate change threatens our future thanks to rising levels of CO2, Methane and other chemicals associated with fossil fuels.  The word “exhaust” makes it sound so nice, but the smoke coming out the tailpipes of fossil fuel driven vehicles is toxic in many ways.  It’s associated with not just with climate change, but a whole host of illnesses including cardiovascular problems.

Oil spills are endemic across the oil industry, spewing toxic poisonous chemicals into rivers, lakes and oceans.  It’s not just the big oil spills like the BP oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico a couple years ago.  Oil spills big and small occur every day.  The old abandoned oil wells have been known to spring leaks, letting raw crude oil flow (sometimes undetected) into the environment.

Even when used as directed, fossil oil, natural gas, and coal, spew toxicity everywhere.  An oil spill, or coal ash spill, make fossil fuel toxicity obvious.  The fact is that the fossil oil consumption (gasoline, etc) causes every ounce of the crude oil to be put to some use.  Refineries separate the components of crude oil into long list of various products, scattering the crude oil haphazardly around the planet.

The car-centric infrastructure in America (and elsewhere) makes it inconvenient to walk, and the sedentary lifestyle results in health problems and obesity.  If we’re driving everywhere, it means we’re not walking much.  Driving is just as sedentary as sitting on a couch watching TV.  The sedentary lifestyle makes us less healthy, makes diseases etc worse, increases health care costs, and negatively impacts quality of life.

Peak Oil - The Age Of Oil

The dependence on fossil fuels, and lack of real effort to adopt renewable clean fuels, threatens us with doom-and-gloom scenarios similar to the Mad Max movies.  The back-story of the Mad Max movies was Peak Oil.  Peak Oil, and other forms of Resource Depletion, threatens our collective ability to do the things which depended on that resource.  Modern society is utterly dependent on fossil fuels to power airplanes, cars, buses, trucks, trains and more.  Stores wouldn’t have stuff in them if it weren’t for fossil fuel powered trucks and trains.  What happens when there’s a temporary supply glitch?  Panic buying sets in.  What happens when supply glitches stretch into months or years?

Because the primary consumers of fossil fuels have already used up their fossil fuel resources, the dependency on other countries for fuel is a geopolitical nightmare threatening national security in such countries.  Wars over oil supply have occurred for a few years now.  The two wars with Iraq, for example, were all about ensuring access to the fossil oil resources in that country.  In my opinion the “terrorism” attacks on the U.S. and other Western countries is a response to decades of Western political manipulation of the Middle East.  The word for this is – Blowback

The fight over access to fossil fuel supplies is inflicting pain and suffering on countries all around the world.  As I just said, wars are being fought to ensure access to oil supplies.  Every country the fossil fuel companies operate in becomes dictatorial.

Fracking in WyomingIn desperation for fossil fuels, hydraulic fracturing technology is beginning to be used, causing (apparently) poisoning of groundwater and fracking-induced earthquakes
.  Just a few years ago fossil oil and natural gas supplies in the U.S. were scarce, and rising oil prices triggered several recessions.  Thanks to Fracking in various shale deposits around the U.S. this story is turning around, and the powers-that-be are thinking we can begin exporting oil and natural gas.  But the cost is hugely negative on the environment, and fracking seems to be causing earthquakes.

These are by no means all the problems – I could could keep going on and on, but in the interest of space I want to get to solutions.The remedies I see are several thingsElectrifying every kind of transportation gizmo where electric drive trains make sense
Immediately begin a rapid ceasing of fossil fuel consumption
Immediately shift to more mass transit systems, walkable cities, bicycling, etc
Talk back to power – especially those who would have us believe the problem is solely carbon concentrations in the atmosphere (such as
Fossil fuels, if they’re to be used at all, should be used for things of lasting permanence, not for quick jaunts to a burger joint.  It took the planet millions of years to make those fossil fuels, and we’re burning the stuff like there’s no tomorrow.

At this rate of fossil fuel use, there simply will be no tomorrow for us.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.
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