Changing Mindsets on Sustainable Transportation

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    Ford Escape Hybrid; Source: Wikimedia

    In the developed world it’s become in vogue to have an environmentally conscience vehicle. It’s moved from the being specifically for the hippies, former hippies and environmentally aware to the mainstream. Many luxury vehicles are being manufactured with hybrid engines now, which means that there’s a customer base at the upper level as well as the middle class that desires these vehicles. However, not all of these vehicles are truly designed to save gas/petrol (I will use gas in the remainder of this article, I will mean benzine or petrol when I write “gas.” If i refer to any other sort of gas I will write something like “Natural Gas”). Some have been designed to increase low speed power, because electric engines have extremely high torque, in this way hybrid engines are being used in a similar fashion as the catalytic converter which either improves fuel efficiency or increases the horse power of the vehicle. In many cases the designers chose to use higher horse power over fuel efficiency.

    Source: allentomdude on flickr.com

    In some countries, such as the Netherlands, the price of a gallon of gas is around $8, this is one way the government is trying to change behavior. However, drivers still behave as if accelerating doesn’t cause higher fuel consumption and the Netherlands can afford to push drivers away from cars; there are bike paths everywhere. In most major cities it is easier to get from place to place on bicycle than by car. A country like the United States does not have that option. Additionally, a developing country has even less of an option of using bicycles.

    For bikes to be an efficient alternative there needs to be large flat areas that are easy to traverse using a bicycle. Hilly areas are extremely difficult to travel if bikes are used to carry goods as well as people. In the Netherlands it’s possible to carry a case of beer on the back of the bike because there are so few hills to climb. However, in a hilly country like Afghanistan or India it’d be extremely difficult to do the same on anything other than a motorize bike.

    Tata Nano. India's $2000 Car; Source: Wikimedia

    In the upcoming decades we will be seeing a huge increase in the number of people with vehicles. Tata is now producing a $2000 car, which is just above the GDP per capita of India. The GDP per capita of India is likely to continue to increase. If India moves in a direction of the United States, which has roughly 250 million passenger vehicles (roughly 3 cars for every 4 people), this will lead to roughly 900 million passenger vehicles on the road. Even though this vehicle gets roughly 55.5 miles per gallon (25.2 kilometres per litre, 4.24 litres per 100 kilometers), when a large number of Indians buy this car there will be fuel price shocks and a massive increase of CO2 and other emissions.

    During the recent climate talks there has been a shift in power. China and India have taken a very active role in preventing the West from pushing a “Do as I say, not as I have done” set of policies on the rest of the world. In some ways they are justified to these arguments as the West’s current society is entirely based on hydrocarbons and emitting huge amounts of CO2 and other noxious gases from our factories and vehicles. At the same time, China has begun implementing some extremely strict goals for the future, in terms of Green Energy. However, these could easily be PR stunts to placate citizens and foreign governments.

    At the same time both of these countries are in positions where if they did implement strict goals they could shame the West into implementing similar policies. Additionally, if these countries are able to figure out how to appeal to their citizens with sustainable technologies that are cheap enough for them to afford, entire new enterprises will be created and China and India could be leading the charge not traditional powers like the United States and Europe.