(Current) Unsustainability of Personal Mobility

As mentioned in my previous post, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that at the end of 2010 the numbers of cars on the planet surpassed 1 billion. Although it varies from country to country, globally about 15% of CO2 emissions come from transportation. While this includes other modes of transportation, cars are an important contributor to global climate change.

Currently, personal mobility is highly unsustainable for the following reasons: 1) almost total dependence on fossil fuels, 2) inefficiency of internal combustion engines, and 3) continued demand growth for cars. Let’s explore these one by one:

  • Almost total dependence on fossil fuels: Although hybrid cars and electric vehicles are becoming more widespread, fossil fuels dominate globally. Diesel cars consume less fuel than gasoline cars, thus emitting less CO2, but they tend to emit much more fine particulates which even the most efficient particulate filters fail to eliminate. Fossil fuels are also a finite resource. While there is plenty left, it is one of the few natural resources which cannot be recycled. Once it is burned inside the ICE engine, it is gone. Platinum and other precious metals, on the other hand, are recycled to a high degree. The development of biofuels tried to change our dependence on fossil fuels, but has so-far not been successful in reducing our addiction to fossil fuels. 1st generation biofuels compete with the food crop and 2nd generation (ligno-cellulosic) and 3rd generation (algae-based) biofuels are currently in pilot stage. Full electric cars, although in early stage of adoption (0.07% of the global car fleet), show tremendous promise, especially when the electricity would be derived from renewable energy sources, such as hydropower, solar and wind. The same holds for fuel cell powered cars.
  • Inefficiency of the internal combustion engine: The internal combustion engine (ICE) is highly inefficient. ICE engines generate a lot of heat and this heat cannot easily be recovered without adding lots of weight to the car. Although it varies from country to country, about 75% of the energy in an average US car is lost through the exhaust. The remaining 25% is used as follows: 8% mechanical losses (wheel bearings, etc.), 15% to move the car, and 2% to move the average. In Europe and Japan, it is slightly better because of the use of smaller engines, but the challenge of heat losses is difficult to address in traditional ICE engines. The hybrid drive, commercialised on a large scale by Toyota, now dramatically improves the efficiency of ICE engines due to energy recovery from braking and deceleration.
  • Continued demand growth for cars: Some experts expect cars to reach 2 billion by 2035. In my previous post, I challenged that projection because of changes in technology and ownership models. In Europe and Japan, car ownership is slowing and in some instances declining. According to the Boston Consulting Group, young people (18-29 year old) buy fewer cars in countries such as Germany compared to young people a decade ago. William Clay Ford, Jr, the grandson of the founder of Ford Motor Company famously said: “If you live in a city you don’t need to own a car”. Nevertheless, it is expected that globally, the demand for cars will continue to grow, especially the demand for traditional ICE powered cars, although hybrid cars and full electric cars are gaining momentum.

In the next post we will explore regulatory factors in Europe, the US, and China and how they developed over the years.

2 thoughts on “(Current) Unsustainability of Personal Mobility

  1. Another great post Profsascha thank you! Many times with friends the conversation has come up about owning a car and if young people today want to own a car. I myself don’t own a car and never think about buying one. As a city dweller the inconvenience of owning a car outweighs any benefits for me, however I do have friends that tell me they enjoy the ‘driving experience ‘ especially of sports cars and performance cars.
    I came across an interesting article “5 reasons why young people are not buying cars or getting their licenses” according to the author and the interviews he did 1) Mass transit e.g. busses.
    Now, I have to admit going on the bus when I was young was very uncool. Today in many big cities it’s the new ‘normal’. In many Asian cities there are light rail ways. Another type of rail and my favorite in Hong Kong and in Eastern Europe, Prague is the trams to get you from A to B. As a woman, when traveling alone, I often prefer public transport rather than taxi’s or Uber.
    2) Parental transport, not sure I agree with the author on this one. I personally as a child couldn’t wait to get out of my parents car.
    3) Alt-transit , apparently more and more, young people are combining mass transit with walking, cycling and even skateboarding instead of cars to get around. Also good for your health!
    4) Cost of cars, fuel and I would say depreciation, this one is self-explanatory.
    5) Mobile phones – this one really surprised me. Young people don’t need to leave the house as much anymore as thanks to social media they get the latest news and keep in touch with others is at the tip of your fingers without leaving the house.

    Read more: http://www.digitaltrends.com/cars/5-reasons-young-people-are-not-buying-cars-or-getting-their-drivers-license/#ixzz3aHh0hwWN

    I cannot wait to read your next post !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A lot of factors including the rapid population growth, urbanization, and a rise in economic growth in most countries have contributed to the increase in the level of car usages (DALAL & BASS 2002, pg 44). The use of fossil fuels as an energy source has dominated the transportation sector despite the recent developments and innovations of hybrid and electric cars. The development of biofuels served to reduce this dependence but hasn’t achieved much as had been originally thought out. The major disadvantage in the use of fossil fuels is their environmental impact; the resource cannot be recycled as much as it is finite. The use of electric cars and/or hybrid cars thus should be encouraged as this could be the viable solution to this menace. Most of these cars too are equipped with inefficient combustion engines that usually generate lots of heat which can only be easily recovered by adding more weights to the car. The post notes that the use of smaller engines and the application of hybrid cars could however help in improving the efficiency of the engines. Mobility solutions could also come as a result of the production of green cars with adequate incentives.
    There has been a continued rise in the demand for cars indicated by various statistical reports including that of the International Energy Agency and by some experts, something that the post refutes as unreliable linear predictions. This however varies from country to country. In some countries, instead of using cars people majorly use bicycles to go about their daily routines. The various modes of personal mobility in the different countries often depend on the organization of the public transport systems, the fuel costs and the prevailing environments. Fuel affordability varies in the different countries. In the US for instance, fuel is more affordable compared to countries in Europe or in Japan. This has an overall influence on the demand and use of the cars in these countries. The introduction of the car sharing system would also prove helpful in such countries as it would make it possible for transit users to speed up their trips by not having to walk long distances to and from transit stops.
    Policy makers at different levels need to create a framework which would support the auto-motive sector to enable them to be able to apply business strategies that would encourage sustainable consumption. In routing for the sustainability of such personal mobility modes and means and in order to attain more positive developments, various factors need to be considered and others implemented to help reduce these impacts. Key among such factors should include regulatory factors such as the implementation of the EURO norms and the CAFÉ standards, car taxation policies, congestion charges and regulation of fuel prices that would contribute towards the regulation on the use of cars. Taxes could be exempted on those cars that emit less CO2 into the environment to help increase their sales. Technology and efficiency should also play a major part in this. This is made possible through the evolution of ICE cars, hybrid and electric cars, driverless cars and other forms of personal mobility. A new understanding of mobility needs to be created to enable a systemic change among users and producers of cars. The various authorities involved need to encourage behavioral change of consumers and companies alike and ensure that whatever they do is in tandem with the enhancement of sustainable personal mobility.
    As noted however, broader issues should be considered in relation to the personal mobility phenomenon. Infact, contrary to the popular belief of an increasing trend on the use of cars, the writer believes that the trend is bending and taking a new twist in most countries. In most emerging and developed economies for instance, this trend is on the downwards. The Internet and the ever changing human resources policies have allowed more people to work partly from their homes and this has helped in reducing the number of hours subjected to car use. In most towns and cities too where there exist good public transportation systems, people have tended to shy away from the use of cars or have less cars in their possessions(PEARCE, BARBIER & MARKANDYA 1990, pg 76). Consumers should generally switch to such actions and transport alternatives that would prove more sustainable and protective of the environment.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s