The issues around greenhouse gases are getting more airplay than ever, as we look to renewable energy sources, not to mention those that relate to transportation.
“Transportation accounts for a full third of CO2 emission in the United States, and that share is growing as others shrink in comparison, rising from 31 percent in 1990 to 33 percent today” (Ewing et al, 2007, p. 12). Unlike a some other states, the transportation sector is the leading contributor of greenhouses gases in the state of California (Yang et al., 2008) thus most efforts to curb these harmful emissions 80% by the year 2050 will need to begin with a close examination of the options available to revolutionize the way we understand transportation in America.
Interestingly, although many recognize the current need for resolute action to halt negative environmental consequences and fear for the impact this might have on all aspects of society, it appears that the only path to this very optimistic reduction is through the nation’s collective pocketbook. In other words, it is being proposed here that the lack of economic sustainability, not policy actions or activism, will be the driver toward this goal. With that said, under the right (or wrong, since this means financial crisis) economic conditions, the 80% reduction goal is absolutely possible but the only way this will happen is if America hits “rock bottom” in terms of its ability to handle one fuel crisis after another and instead looks to innovation rather than old standards.
In other words, the proposed reduction by 2050 is possible, but only in the context of an economic revolution powerful enough to shake the country from its consumption-driven stupor and get most cars off the road through this economic force, as opposed to by slow legislation and even slower research, development, and creation of non-traditionally powered vehicles.
California was among the leaders in the nation to institute a broad measure to curb current and future greenhouse gas emissions with its executive order (S-3-05) and related Global Warming Solutions Act (in 2005 and 2006 respectively). Such legislation, which was based on levels of emissions from 1990, aimed to make the 80% cuts in greenhouses gases but a fundamental problem is that no one seems to know how. As Yang et al. (2008) note, despite the existence of such legislative actions, “strategies for meeting this ambitious target have not been clearly defined, and the technology and policy options are not well understood” (vii) thus there is no sense that this is viable or practicable legislation at all. Measures such as these with stringent requirements for future cuts in pollutants are numerous but as of yet, there is little agreement about how to reach this target.
With a projected doubling of California’s population by 2050 and due to the fact that no current technologies alone offer a “magic bullet” to reach the 80% target, there are several questions about what approaches will support need for affordable transit in all forms while maintaining the emissions standards. Still, there are several changes that can be combined such as “improving efficiency, utilizing alternative fuels, and reducing travel demand” (Yang et al. 2008) although there seems to be more widespread agreement that the most efficient way to the target goal of eliminating greenhouse gases in line with the proposed 80% means restricting travel demand.
There are several proven alternatives to greenhouse gas-emitting transportation fuels such as biofuels and the use of electric cars. Pacala and Socolow take the approach of breaking down the components of meeting greenhouse gas reduction targets through the use of “wedges” which represent slices of the “pie” of the portfolio of solutions to the problem. Most scholars are in agreement that it is best to begin employing a range of technologies rather than focusing on just one, and to this end, they suggest that “A wedge of biofuel would be achieved by the production of about 34 million barrels per day of ethanol in 2054 that could displace gasoline, provide the