Transportation is unavoidable in our daily lives. Every time we travel somewhere and every time we buy a product, some aspect of transportation is involved. Unfortunately, we are often unaware of the environmental impacts of our transportation decisions. According to Environmental Defense, transportation is responsible for one-third of the United States’ carbon dioxide emissions and cars alone release more than 300 million tons of carbon ever year. In addition, the pollution of our vehicles is amplified by the overall layout of our housing and transportation systems. If we hope to become a more sustainable society and increase environmental awareness, vehicles must become more efficient, communities must be designed to decrease the need for transportation, and our current transportation culture must be changed to promote less traveling.
According to the Environmental Literacy Council, “there are currently over 200 million vehicles in the U.S., with over 700 million vehicles worldwide. At the current rate of increase, there could be over one billion cars on the road by 2025”. Our current reliance on automobiles makes them one of the biggest and most important contributors to air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions. Additionally, the Environmental Literacy Council states that on average, one third of a United States’ city is used for roads and other car related land. Other forms of transportation such as airplanes and boats also heavily contribute to environmental degradation. Geoffrey Lean explains in, “We Regret to Announce That the Flight to Malaga is Destroying the Planet”, airplanes are the most polluting form of transportation and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that they account for at least 3.5 per cent of global warming (the equivalent of the entirety of emissions from Canada). Likewise, the Environmental Literacy Council states that, “scientists estimate that within 25 years, the marine transport sector could be responsible for doubling the amount of smog-forming pollution in the United States”. The heavy impact of travel makes it all too apparent that our current modes of transportation are too polluting and inefficient. To remedy this, time and money must be invested into developing cleaner transportation technology, new laws must be enforced regarding pollution standards, and there must be a greater emphasis on walking, bicycling, and using public transportation. Although there is some progress in enacting these changes, insufficient demand for environmental protection limits any large-scale changes.
Even if transportation is made less environmentally damaging, a widespread decrease in long distance traveling is necessary to form a more sustainable society. Communities must become more self-sufficient to decrease the long distance that goods, such as food, must be transported. Likewise, the public must start to adjust to a life that is not heavily dependent on imported goods and traveling long distances. One solution is to build communities with agricultural land surrounding a densely populated city that contains all of the businesses and structures necessary for a comfortable lifestyle. If people were able to walk to work or school and use public transportation for traveling longer distances, the potential for transportation pollution would be much lower. In addition, if destinations were in closer proximity, many people would benefit from the exercise associated with walking and biking. However, it would take long-term structured organization to convert our current communities into these more self-sustaining and efficient models. The suburbs would be replaced by cities and many cities would have to change their division of domestic, commercial, and industrial land. A drastic change in global city design would require public support, governmental action, and the resources and planning necessary to undertake the project.
To reduce the pollution caused by transportation, our culture must begin to promote more efficient traveling, raise awareness of the amount of energy and waste necessary for the transportation of items we use in our daily lives, and demand restrictive actions by the government. An awareness campaign must inform the public of how environmentally destructive lavish traveling is as well as the benefits and practicality of walking, biking, and using public transportation. Likewise, if there was a focus on buying local products and offering incentives to items that required little transportation, consumerism-driven transportation pollution could be controlled. Governmental taxes on particularly polluting practices such as flying could be used as a deterrent to prodigal traveling. In addition, if there were more strict guidelines on vehicle efficiency, the traveling that humans do would be reduced to a minimum. Perhaps the most important, is a cultural shift that forces people to be aware of the pollution they produce and changing the way people think about traveling. Our current sense of freedom to travel may be overcome by our need to protect the environment – a worthwhile sacrifice.
In conclusion, transportation itself is a major contributor to the anthropogenic changes of our environment. It is therefore necessary to make major changes in how far we travel, how we travel, and the distance the items we buy must travel. Changes in technological efficiency as well as environmental regulations on vehicle pollution can help to decrease the impact of transportation on the environment. However, we must also change the design of our communities to minimize the amount we have to travel in our daily routines. It is also important that people become aware of transportation options, the effects of our consumer choices, and what reasonable levels of travel are. If we can implement serious changes to our transportation practices and make lifestyle sacrifices, we can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, global warming, and both atmospheric and marine pollution – a vital step towards conserving the environment.
“Cars and the Environment.” Environmental Defense. March 2, 2007.
Lean, Geoffrey. “We Regret to Announce That the Flight to Malaga is Destroying the Planet.” Common Dreams. August 26, 2001. March 2, 2007
Wertz, Megan. The Environmental Literacy Council. March 2, 2007.
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