In the US, it is difficult to think of a product that has impacted the past, present, and even the future of our nation more so than the automobile. Unfortunately, climate change looms large in that future. Whereas the US has made some progress in switching to fossil-fuel alternatives in the last decade (though recently that has been stifled by the current administration), progress has been undercut by the fact that the nation continues to put more cars on the road. So much so that in recent years, transportation has replaced power plants as the prime culprit of greenhouse gas emissions in the US today.
Which isn't surprising, as so much of the US infrastructure is designed around cars, and in many parts of the US, even major metropolitan areas, one can hardly get to work or buy groceries without owning a car. The common refrain is that we 'love' cars in the US, but upon closer examination, what has been interpreted as love looks more like fixation or even addiction.
Which is demonstrated by how the US is using cars. A third of all trips in the this country are under 2 miles and 75 percent of car commutes are by done with one person in the car. Overall, nearly 86 percent of all miles traveled in cities, are done so by private car. Which illustrates a clear contradiction between the design of cars and their actual usage. The failure of cars as a transportation solution is made most devastatingly clear in the way that it is affecting the global climate.
Photo by David Anderson
Unsurprisingly, the goals set out by the UN IPCC are not even close to being met. A recent study published inNature found that the only possible way to limit warming of 1.5°C, is to cancel all fossil-fuel infrastructure projects. Which doesn't bode well, as in several major cities across the US, over $26 billion in highway construction projects are currently well underway. California is exemplary of our car problem, for despite higher state fuel-efficiency regulations, their transportation emissions have gone up in recent years due to the fact that there are much more cars being driven than there were in decades past.
One might be tempted to think that electric cars are the solution to this problem. Which is both right and wrong. Though it is necessary to move away from fossil-fuels, if everyone were to drive electric cars in the same way that we drive our gas-powered cars today, the carbon reduction would in fact be cancelled out by electrification. Not only that, but if to switch over the entire fleet of US cars to electric would require "18 times the world's current cobalt production, about nine times global neodymium output, nearly seven times global lithium production, and about four times world copper production." reports The Hill.
image courtesy of Kruzat
Betting everything on electric vehicles alone is not a realistic solution. Inevitably the nation must move away from away from fossil-fuels and there simply needs to be less cars on the road. In design, there is a desperate need for new transportation solutions, especially in the urban environment. Several cities around the world like Madrid, Oslo, and Bogotá have been working to diligently to remove private vehicles from city centers, and expand public transportation as well as bikeways for residents. To curb our impact on the climate, the US must follow suit.
Herald Square, New York City, 1973
Ironically, cars are a great example of how design can change the world, but if things don't change quickly that change will have been for the worse. The global climate crisis is more pronounced than ever, and if the US and the world is to curb the climate crisis to any degree, designing new transportation alternatives is one of the most important undertakings that governments and global industry must address.
title image by Rajesh Appalla
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That's it? Cars must go? Toyota says they won't. Now what? Where's the design content in this piece?
There were several grammatical issues that screamed "designer bashing on a keyboard" rather than "journalist".
As someone who gets up into the mountains to hike, fish and camp as much as possible, it's pretty hard to do that without a car.
You're obviously destroying the human race. Everyone needs to live in--and never leave--a crowded city center.
The article and comments address the symptoms not the cause as one would expect of those less informed. You are not getting Americans out of their cars period so let's move on to something that will add value and improve lives. Electric cars in America are not the future, there is no electrical grid to support it, the battery technology while good has a long ways to get including the actual manufacturing and disposal-all highly toxic. Wind driven energy is a far better investment to develop the infrastructure free of fossil fuels.
Eating factory farmed meat is a FAR larger environmental impact than automobiles. I love when people claim they care about the environment and talk shit about cars, yet continue to wolf down burgers and poultry 3 times a day.
Oh yeah, and please check out those factory farms you're supporting, with the cows jammed against each other like slave ships, seperated from their moms at birth, or the chickens that have had their beaks seared off to prevent them from pecking at each other, walking on corpses of ones that didn't make it.
But cars are the problem. Give me a fucking break.
Transportation and Consumption are both part of the climate issue. This post is simply divisive and contributes nothing to the topic at hand. Congratulations.
Every single journalist, politician, environmental activist, etc. i hear these years talking about transportation as the big issue regarding climate changes, ALL of them have a picture of a static way of living, working and so on. As if there will not be any changes in the way we live and work. Driving off to the factory, to the office, and so forth, will that even be an issue for everyone within just a few years? Or will more jobs be possible to handle from your living room, from a nearby café, etc.? Not a single one of the ones talking about this and that and battery powered cars take such issues into consideration. There is only a burning desire for a new fight for resources, which in the 21st century them will be battery components, just as all the wars for oil in the preceding one. So please, every battery driven journalist, politician, etc., start having a holistic view on just some parts of the issues you’re dealing with.
Yes sure lets get rid of all the cars said George Jetson. Unlike most countries, public transit in the USA does not work for a wide range reasons in including geographical size, even in NYC the subway system is antiquated, its much needed but its a mess and no viable to fix it short of removing and rebuilding the entire system which will take 10 years plus and zillions of dollars. Lets move on to something more viable and in the realm of being feasible-mass transit in the USA is not one of them.
I smell socialism in this post. and it reminds me of the plastic straw alarmism that we have already disregarded as pointless. Unless you're living in California.
Don't forget shopping bags, 10 cents each in our beloved Republic.
I agree that we need to completely reassess our transportation infrastructure. Perhaps working with existing highways and replacing existing lanes with light rail systems or bike paths. The statement is bold but it holds some truth. Plenty of cities/nations outside the US have successfully made cars more obsolete every year while working around far older existing infrastructure.