“Back to the cave” strategies are not required to reduce transportation GHG emissions. Nor is it necessary for developing world nations to accept the materially lower levels of economic growth that would inevitably occur from not pursuing personal mobility advances. It is appropriate to ask, “If Indians and Chinese are not to be allowed to live like Americans and Western Europeans, then when are Americans and Western Europeans going to begin living like Indians and Chinese?” Continuing advances in automobile technology and demonstrated advances yet to come in alternative fuels could reduce GHG emissions from cars so radically that there should be little concern about rising automobile use .
The parade of anti-automobile and anti-suburban greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reports has one thing in common --- major behavioral changes are going to be necessary. This type of analysis makes for headlines and is attractive to the more hysterical.
These proposed policies have a “back to the cave” ring about them. Whatever the anti-automobile, anti-suburban lobby opposes is not to be allowed. If that means that people are forced to take twice as long or longer to get to work because public transport takes so long, fine. If that means that they cannot even get to work, because there is no public transport service, no problem. If that means that, with fewer jobs and less time, people spend less money on the wide variety of services and products than were unimaginable a few decades ago, then fine. All of this “let’s outlaw what we don’t like” environmentalism is destructive and portends a mean (yes, “mean”) future.
However, as is inevitably the case when ideologies are confronted, the claims and assumptions of the anti-automobile, anti-suburban lobby are found wanting.
We have already detailed inconvenient truths to the extent that (1) high-density development is not more GHG friendly than low-density development and that (2) the GHG emission advantages of public transport over cars is small and fleeting.
The potential for reducing GHG emissions without reducing our mobility is already illustrated by the technological advances in cars. Hybrid cars are now achieving substantial reductions in GHG reductions. For example, a hybrid Toyota Prius produces less than one-half the emissions of the average car in city driving. That is just the beginning.
I know there are those who think that the developing world will never be able to live as well as we do in the developed world, because of the imperative for reducing GHG emissions. This assumption that the developing world must accept a long term economic condition below ours is elitist, unreasonable and, itself not sustainable. If Indians and Chinese are not to be allowed to live like Americans and Western Europeans, then when are Americans and Western Europeans going to begin living like Indians and Chinese?
Poverty is not an option. Technology is the answer and there is plenty of reason for great hope. Environmental sustainability cannot be achieved in a vacuum. Society must be rich enough to pay for it --- or it won’t, as the record of Soviet Eastern Europe demonstrated. Social stability depends on continued economic progress, as Benjamin Friedman stated so well in his The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth. It is time to acknowledge that the glass is at least 90 percent full, not the other way around.