The looming dangers of climate change have garnered considerable attention from the scientific community in recent years. Researchers from extremely diverse backgrounds have begun to look at the causes and potential effects of climate change from biological, economic, and countless other perspectives. The climate change debate has shifted considerably in recent years, as well. While disagreement about the existence of climate change was much more common several decades ago, most established contemporary scientists agree on its existence today (“Fifth Assessment Report Technical Summary”, 2014). Furthermore, the notion that climate change is nonexistent is widely considered an outright denial of reality, as the current dialogue in the science world dwells on the severity of the consequences. The scientific community has also reached a consensus that present human activity is unsustainable, though the timeframe of the most dire, irreversible effects varies.
If anything, the shift to the sustainability debate has raised many more questions, not to mention many different definitions of sustainability. Natural scientists now debate the placement of “ecological limits” while social scientists debate the feasibility of making the necessary adjustments to human behavior through existing social institutions. One such debate is taking place within the context of transportation, where participants are focused on the question of how to meet humanity’s mobility needs while curbing greenhouse gas and other emissions. There are many different points of view in this discussion, from the broadest perspectives about the necessity of transportation as a whole, to more focused perspectives about the potential combinations of transportation modes which would meet the requirements of sustainability. The most focused perspectives address the methods by which agents and structures can implement specific sustainable technologies or phase out specific unsustainable practices.
A particularly vigorous debate within the topic of sustainability involves the automobile and its future. Compared to other sources of environmental degradation, the automobile is relatively young. That said, automobiles powered by internal combustion engines (ICEs) are one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gasses. The automobile’s proliferation, while not complete across all levels of income, is extremely thorough in geographic terms.
The automobile has literally and figuratively accelerated the speed of the cross-border transactions which largely define the present globalizing world. It has profoundly expanded access to goods and services around the world, but also expanded the scope and intensity of war, as the armies of the 20th century brought destruction upon one another with ever greater speed. To varying degrees, the automobile is integrated into the economic, social, and even cultural reality of every state. Many people around the world are dependent upon cars for...