America passed an important milestone recently: the transportation sector now pumps out more Carbon dioxide than the electric power generation sector. Angie Schmitt of Streetsblog calls it “an indication of how slowly the American transportation sector is rising to the challenge of preventing catastrophic climate change.” But it is more than that; it is an indication of misplaced priorities and willful blindness.
Let’s look back at the latest Sankey chart from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Department of Energy, from 2014, where you can see that Electricity generation is pumping out 2040 million metric tons of CO2 while transportation is pumping out 1830. Buildings use about 75 percent of the electricity produced, or 1530 million metric tons of CO2 due to electricity use, plus what they consume in other sources, totalling 2013. But now, according to the Energy Information Administration, transportation is the single biggest source.
But our buildings and houses are getting better, thanks to tightening building codes. Industrial emissions dropping even faster, due more to de-industrialization than any investment in efficiency. Transportation now is the biggest emitter, and keeps pointing upwards. John Olivieri of the United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) nails it:
It is increasingly clear that there is no path to combating climate change that doesn’t adequately address carbon pollution and other greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. Over reliance on single-occupant vehicle travel and a failure to prioritize non-driving modes of transportation like transit, biking, and pedestrian alternatives is having a profound impact on the health of our planet and the health of our citizens.
He points to a report by the Frontier Group that describes the steps that have to be taken to deal with transportation emissions, at it goes a lot further than just CAFE standards. (more on this fascinating study in a subsequent post). They note that “America has the tools it needs to transition to a zero-carbon transportation system – and to do it in time to prevent the worst impacts of global warming.” These include the obvious, like re-powering vehicles to run on electricity, but also some other interesting suggestions, including: Urbanization and Smart Growth, increasing walking and biking, smart pricing, shared mobility and taking back the streets:
Reallocating Space: The vast majority of street space in American cities is devoted to moving or storing cars, pushing people who walk, bike or take transit to the margins. Cities in the United States and around the world are reallocating space formerly devoted to cars to other public purposes, encouraging the use of low-carbon modes of transportation. U.S. cities with good bicycling infrastructure have nearly twice as many bike commuters as the national average.
We have reached the point where transportation, 80% of which is in cars, is the single biggest source of carbon dioxide in the country. We can talk about making our buildings more efficient and buying LED bulbs, but it is our cars, and our car oriented planning, and our car culture that is killing us all. We cannot wait for Elon Musk to save us by putting everyone in a Tesla that drives to their solar powered house; we have to get people out of cars now.