Buying a hybrid or electric car might allow you to reduce your personal carbon footprint, but any gains achieved by adopting new vehicle or fuel technologies in the US will be wiped out by societal increases in travel and population growth.
That’s the starting point of Moving Cooler, a new study by the Urban Land Institute and a diverse group of organizations including Environmental Defense Fund, National Resources Defense Council, the US EPA, Federal Highway Administration, and Shell Oil.
According to the study, the most effective way to achieve the proposed long-term goal of 80 percent reductions in US greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2050 is to reduce the number of miles we travel. And that’s critical because transportation contributes roughly 28 percent of the US total greenhouse gas emissions, and transportation emissions have been growing faster than those of other sectors.
Moving Cooler outlines a number of bundled strategies for discouraging travel in personal vehicles:
- create more transportation-efficient land use patterns
- encourage greater levels of walking and bicycling as alternatives to driving
- support ride-sharing, car-sharing, and other efficient commuting strategies
- subsidize public transportation fares, expanded routes and new infrastructure
- improve intelligent transportation systems to make better use of the existing capacity and encourage more efficient driving
- expand capacity and relieve bottlenecks to reduce congestion
But none of these steps will be as effective as establishing “strong economy-wide pricing measures.” For example, adding $0.60 to the price of a gallon of gasoline, starting in 2015 and increasing to $1.25 per gallon in 2050 could result in a 17 percent reduction of GHG in 2050, according to the study. If we introduced a fee similar to current European fuel taxes, starting at $2.40 a gallon in 2015 and jumping to $5.00 a gallon in 2050, we could see a 28 percent reduction in 2050. (These fees presumably would be added to the market price for gasoline.)
The study’s authors say these pricing measures would have two effects: to cut back on vehicle miles traveled and to accelerate implementation and purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles—like hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric cars.