Two Billion Cars

Driving Toward Sustainability

Two Billion Cars

Author: Daniel Sperling and Deborah Gordon
Review By: G. Stephen Goode

I live in Asia and particularly in Bangkok, a city that has struggled with traffic since I arrived in 1980. The Thai Government  has limited the number of cars being purchased through a luxury tax of 100-400%. Even at that, we have spent the equivalent of 11 years in traffic in this incredible city. It is only in the last few years that the traffic has improved due to new infrastructure projects, Sky train, subway being completed. 

Reading 2 Billion cars, I cannot imagine what that would look like in countries like India and China. As this is written, the Nano is being manufactured in India which will make more cars accessible to the general population.  Without major construction of infrastructure projects worldwide ---I cannot imagine millions of people living in almost permanent gridlock literally with loss of work, plus the environmental challenges of adding another billion cars to the roads, particularly in Asia -- Daunting, challenging and who is giving attention to these kinds of issues are questions that come to mind in reading this book.

In the first portion of 2 Billion -- focus is given on electric cars, hybrid cars and fuel cells that will only be available in limited fashion by 2015. Fuel cells were first built in 1843 but nothing was done until the 1950's. I remember the Energy crisis in the mid 1970's and we did nothing basically and saw the price of oil skyrocket in the first decade of 2000. There seems to have been no public will to do anything.  At least this book is bringing this to the attention of the public one more time. 

2 Billion continues on how do we become less car-dependent in this generation? Alternatives like smart paratransit - convenient transport without fixed routes -- Again I live in Asia and this a serious dream - Buses, vans, trains, taxis with radios are already in operation and pretty much full. Sky trains, subways are working but have  limited routing and  Light rails are just coming into being. The construction of these  major infrastructure projects are 4-5 years and cause quite a bit of gridlock in the meantime. 

The challenge of this transformation is understanding the tension of private desires and public interest and recognizing that no longer can the public benefits of efficient and sustainable transportation be ignored. I picked this book up before the current economic crisis effecting the car industry occurred which will be interesting to see where we end up. However, this could be an opportunity to put people to work on major infrastructural projects around the world to get people moving in a sustainable fashion. 

The authors of 2 Billion spend quite a bit of time looking at the history of Detroit and its dominance until recently in the worldwide car market. It also looks at a post-petroleum society before it looks at innovations that have been occurring in California and in China..  In 1849 California was nearly empty land until the gold rush and had 100,000 mostly Native Americans and no cities of more than 2,000 residents. However by 1930, there were two million cars or a vehicle for every 3 people in California.  Leadership and innovation are needed to move us forward. 

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been providing that leadership even when the US government has failed to take strong action. This is a story about what he is doing and mistakes that he has made along the way. In 2007 China surpassed the USA as the single largest contributor of greenhouses gases into the atmosphere. Also China could by itself add another billion cars by itself in the 21st century if they follow America's car-centric model. China is now the third largest economy in the world and requires incredible amounts of energy now. Pollution is now a serious downside. The national government is grappling with a sustainable future and beginning to impose more aggressive emission standards on vehicles. The Chinese are committed to motorization but the question is which model will they use as they move forward. 

2 Billion authors end the book with a strategy for driving toward sustainability. On page 260, " The road to surviving and thriving is paved with low-carbon fuels and electric drive vehicles, new mobility options, and smarter governance. Enlightened consumers, innovative policymakers, and entrepreneurial businesses worldwide can drive us to a sustainable future. “ 

We shall see.....

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