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InTrans / Jun 20, 2016

Fossil Fuels=Fossil Earth?

Go! Magazine

Fossil fuels, coal burning

For millennia, centuries, decades, and years, Earth’s ecosystems have borne significant changes due to the presence of human civilization. Some of these changes to the natural environment could be considered positive—we can identify invasive species and eradicate them while preserving endangered species (thereby preventing their extinction)—however, what positive changes we do make are often countered with the negative effects our species otherwise inflicts on our increasingly bluer planet.

One of these changes, perhaps the biggest, has caused glaciers to melt, ocean levels to rise, and coral reefs to die. Whether this cause can be completely contributed to the exponentially-increasing magnitude of human civilization (our global population currently sits at about 7,400,000,000 people) is still debated.

It is a widely accepted belief that the transportation industry is to blame. Since the transportation industry runs mostly on fossil fuels (like coal, oil, and natural gas), many research scientists allege that fossil fuel emissions are a main contributor to pollutants in the atmosphere. This belief, believe it or not, is not limited to the busy morning commutes of billions of citizens every day. Don’t forget that airplanes and boats and any other motorized vehicles require fuel to move their cargo or passengers from point A to point B. Now, taking it a step further, have you ever thought about the amount of energy needed to create and ship the average car to your local dealership?

Those billions of commuters require the creation of billions of cars to satisfy the market. However, their ecological footprints do not disappear when the car is no longer functional. Have you ever taken a car to a scrap yard?  Yes, some of it is, well, scrapped and reused or resold, but some of the plastic, rubber, steel, aluminum, and battery acid is left behind.

Pollution has always been a problem for the transportation industry. For years, the U.S. Department of Transportation has been looking for a solution. And autonomous vehicles (i.e., driverless vehicles) may just be the answer. Safety, of course, would be an obvious one, but another benefit of having fully-autonomous vehicles accessible to the public would entail cutting down on the use of fossil fuels through two ways.

First, we have adaptive cruise control or ACC. ACC takes control of the car’s speed and takes notice of other vehicles in proximity to it, relieving the driver of the responsibility of accelerating and braking. If more cars came with this feature, with fully-autonomous cars succeeding them, our interstates, highways, and freeways will eventually become less backed-up with traffic jams. The less amount of time cars are on the roadways, the less they will pollute the air.

The second way autonomous vehicles could help cut down on pollution would be through a publicly-accessible, driverless-car service. Customers who didn’t own their own car (because they wouldn’t need to) would be able to access this service by ordering a driverless car to pick them up and take them where they needed to go (similar to using a taxis—but an automated one!).

We are still a long way from seeing these methods of reducing pollution in action. Only after receiving good test results from autonomous vehicles on our roadways will we begin to see them in larger numbers.

As citizens in a country in the midst of a technical revolution, we only have to be willing to accept this new technology and let it take us away.

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By Alex Larson, Go! Intern

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