Given the ongoing pandemic, many countries went into lockdown with numerous industries and businesses closing down. With all that’s been going on, or not, one would expect that the past year put a dent in the world’s carbon emissions. However, that would be foolishly naïve. According to an article on inverse.com, carbon emissions have indeed dropped, but carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have conversely increased. In simpler terms, what this means is that while there has been a drop in carbon emissions throughout the pandemic, it is a very minuscule tug against this upward trend. Thus, this disturbing revelation highlights the need for greater changes in our lives to stabilise Earth’s climate system. That said, this change could be underway as more and more cities aim to reduce the amount of fossil fuel-powered cars on the road and embrace alternative forms of transport. In short, we are reverting to a state similar to days gone by, where internal combustion vehicles were driven almost exclusively by the upper echelons of society.
The automobile industry has always been one of the greatest contributors to pollution. Even before hitting the streets, cars leave a carbon footprint on the world. This starts with the simple fact that converting raw materials into the steel, glass, rubber, and paints used in manufacturing cars requires large amounts of energy which are mainly derived from burning fossil fuels. At the end of a car’s life, they are often sent to scrapyards, where toxic compounds seep from the wrecks and stay in the environment. Add these factors to the most common concerns of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution and it’s plain to see why cities the world over are looking to reduce the number of internal combustion vehicles on the road.
Of course, completely eliminating cars is just downright unrealistic. We’ve essentially reached a point where automobiles, whether public or privately-owned, are crucial for our economy to function efficiently. The world runs at such a quick pace that banning vehicles powered by fossil fuels outright would cripple the world’s economy. Deliveries of all kinds would be delayed as would daily work commutes. Yes, electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming increasingly prolific but are currently less accessible given their much greater prices. What countries are trying to do is reduce the number of conventional internal combustion vehicles on roads before gradually eliminating them completely, while concurrently encouraging the use of other cleaner alternatives.
For example, in its announcement to revitalise Champs-Elyseés, The French capital revealed plans to reduce the number of car lanes while increasing the width of its sidewalks. This would reduce vehicular congestion in the city centre while encouraging pedestrians to walk or cycle, thereby significantly reducing levels of pollution. Additionally, it has already limited usage of certain streets to EVs exclusively, and even implemented car-free Sundays.
Copenhagen has followed a similar course of action, introducing pedestrian-only zones from the 1960s. As a result, the city has one of Europe’s lowest percentages of car ownership, with more than 50% of its population commuting by bicycle. Its latest goals are to build a bicycle superhighway and become entirely carbon neutral by 2025.
Some cities, such as California, London and Quebec are working presently towards banning sales of fossil fuel-powered vehicles in future, while Norway is going a step further, aiming to become the first country to end sales of internal-combustion vehicles by 2025. This is a bold move for the Scandinavian country whose national revenues are built largely on the oil and gas industry.
What these examples highlight is that environmental concerns over pollution and climate change, are pushing us backwards in a sense, towards a time not unlike the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At this period in time, the automobile was not as widespread it is now, and was mainly driven by the more affluent members of society. In spite of the various measures being put in place around the world, it is still unlikely that the internal-combustion engine will completely disappear, particularly in the world of luxury cars. The supercars favoured by the rich and powerful thus far are largely petroleum fuelled beasts. While the aforementioned measures will encourage common folk to get rid of their conventional cars, we suspect that the only way one would part with a supercar worth hundreds of thousands would be if their cold, dead, hands were pried from the steering wheel. As such, petroleum-fuelled cars, while reduced in number, are likely to remain as status symbols society’s elite, as bicycles and EVs become the main mode of transportation.
To summarise, concerns over environmental pollution are pushing countries around the world to work towards reducing the number of fossil fuel-driven vehicle on the road, while promoting other forms of transportation, with the ultimate end goal of ending sales of these traditionally powered automobiles. As a result, it is our opinion, that internal combustion vehicle ownership is coming full circle. Everything we have discussed above signals a shift, back towards a state similar to the early days of automobile usage, where only the rich could afford to own and drive internal combustion vehicles.
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