chapter  2
23 Pages

The challenge of decarbonizing the car: Paul Nieuwenhuis

WithPAUL NIEUWENHUIS

Background The car is the most important artefact to emerge from the twentieth century. Although, strictly speaking, a nineteenth-century invention, its full impact was not felt until the twentieth century, but that impact, when it came, was overwhelming. Car use and car making are linked within the current mass production/consumption-based business model and we cannot tackle one without tackling the other. Underlying the need to deal with these issues from a decarbonization point of view, two principal threats are of prime importance. First is the question of climate change; second is the peaking of key resources, notably oil (Heinberg, 2007). Car use represents a major contribution to both of these looming crises. The public appears blissfully unaware of the latter, while climate change scepticism also appears to be on the rise again, informed perhaps not so much by the science as by the fact that most people cannot conceive of a world without ready access to their car. A significant part of the answer to both problems is to decarbonize the car. Action on this is urgently needed. In this context, resource constraints potentially have an even more immediate and obvious effect in that rapidly rising oil prices are already having an impact on prices at the pump. Today, more than half of all oil consumed worldwide is used to transport people and goods, as well as providing services, making the transport sector as a whole 95 per cent dependent on oil (Kendall, 2008; Dennis and Urry, 2009). This means that transport and logistics – the lifeblood of our economies – are almost totally dependent on oil. In reality this constitutes a very high-risk strategy that makes the risks taken by financial institutions in recent years look trivial by comparison. It also makes ‘business-as-usual’ the highestrisk strategy of all. Furthermore, the current notion is that after oil peaks, the gap will be filled by GTL (gas-to-liquid) and CTL (coal-to-liquid) technologies, thereby further perpetuating our dependence on both high-carbon energy sources and liquid fuels (Sperling and Gordon, 2009; Kendall, 2008). It is clear that consumers are not going to give up their cars voluntarily – much more realistic, then, to adapt the car itself. It is also quite clear that if the key objective is to ensure its survival, our transport system needs to reduce its reliance on fossil carbon. We need to change from relying on mineral,

lithospheric energy sources and embrace the solar age, relying more on renewable energy sources. The decarbonization of the automotive system is the core concern of this chapter. It analyses the origins of the problems caused by the car, reviews the legislative framework designed to tackle these, and discusses some possible solutions.