Mr. Green Car: Future Transportation

By Allen Penticoff

I have been called upon to give a presentation on “Future Transportation” at the Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyles Fair coming up Saturday and Sunday at the Ogle County Fairgrounds, Oregon, Illinois. My presentation will be at 11:45 a.m. on Sunday. While I know where and when it will be – frankly, I don’t have a presentation prepared yet. Predicting the future is a funny business.

I can study other experts thoughts on the subject, and I will. I can spout my own opinions, which is certain. But all together I am hoping for and expecting an interactive audience who will discuss what they believe may lie in the future. Past experience with presentations finds that I often learn things from those in attendance.

One of those things is that there is no such thing as a free ride. Every form of transportation requires some energy – and most of it is ultimately traceable back to the sun. Some of our energy is new and fresh from the sun, such as provided by solar panels and food we eat, while a great deal of our energy comes from ancient solar energy collected by the plants and animals of millions of years ago and now burned as oil, coal and natural gas in our modern atmosphere.

Which leads to two different paths to the future. One is where we run out of the ancient energy sources, on which nearly everything in modern life depends. Worldwide famine ensues and wars over energy and resources are constant. We will not have made the choices we need to make now to transition to renewable energy sources in time to prevent the chaos. So those who do survive will be living like our present day Amish farm families. Raising food organically and using animals to plow fields and for their limited transportation needs. In the end, this may not be all bad, although a lot of bad will happen during the transition from a modern overpopulated technological society changing back into one of the 1700s. The planet in the 1700s was at a much more sustainable place than it is today.

The other future is one where our politicians stop pandering to the existing energy barons and get on with using our financial resources to end the tyranny of oil and coal use. Energy can be stored fresh from the sun in batteries, in hydrogen tanks, in elevated water ponds, in biomatter (i.e. algae farms and switch grass) and in other forms. Wind, a form of solar energy, will play a more dominant role, and all of the energy we use at home will be made at home, or in smaller community based collectives. Our food will be grown locally and not transported so much from the other side of the planet. Transportation needs will diminish as we live close to work and choose not to spend our limited incomes on far flung vacations. Transportation as a form of entertainment will cease or diminish greatly. Your car will most certainly be battery electric or a hydrogen fuel cell – and both of these produce no carbon dioxide emissions directly – or at least they are capable of being carbon dioxide free during their operation (not counting their manufacture – no free rides).

Carbon capture and sequestration will be in the form of vast prairies sucking up the carbon dioxide and giving us back grass fed beef to eat and methane and alcohol to burn. Life in general will be quieter and simpler, but sustainable without the chaos in scenario one.

Can’t we have it just as things are now? No.

The ancient energy is a finite resource. Its use is heating up the planet, which is causing vast environmental changes. We are witnessing the results of this now. It is not a theory. It is a fact – that most of us choose to ignore as the Titanic has not yet hit the iceberg. I, for one, will be standing by the life boats.

Whichever is to be our future, it is not likely (although not impossible) one of vacuum tubes zipping us around to wherever we need to go, or Star Trek transporters beaming us from one ski slope to another around the world. We could do it, but the political will is lacking to do what needs to be done.

In the meantime, you can celebrate with me, National Drive Electric Week – September 12-20. I’ll organize a Rockford based event and report on it in the next Mr. Green Car column. No reason to drive to Madison, Waukeshau or Naperville to celebrate the future of transportation – that’s missing the point.

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