Climate Change and Transportation

This year, transportation grew to rival the electricity generation sector to become an equally large emitter of carbon in the United States. A majority of all emissions from the sector come from single occupancy cars and continues to go up. We must reduce emissions from transportation dramatically in order to avoid catastrophic global climate change and stay within the goals agreed upon in the Paris Climate Accord.

A survey of research suggests that while this is a complex and unprecedented undertaking—it is not impossible. There are multiple pathways to the goal—focused primarily on two main solutions: electrifying the vehicles we use and reducing driving.

In order for these strategies to be successful, they must be implemented together and on a wide scale.  A report from the US Deep Decarbonization Project shows that over 40% of all new cars sold in the US must be electric by 2035 for our carbon goals to remain on track. While this is ambitious, it is not an insurmountable goal—every major auto manufacturer is investing significantly into EV research and production making it likely that consumers will come to see EVs as the new normal.              

An electric vehicle being displayed during National Drive Electric Week in Madison. Image: MG&E.

More difficult will be achieving the land use and modal shifts needed to reduce driving on a large scale. New population growth will have to be accommodated with infill development and investments will need to be made in public transit on corridors where more people live. We will also have to explore new and innovative solutions—such as pricing driving, to more adequately reflect the true costs of our car-centric culture. In preparing for changes like this, it is useful to remember our land-use and transportation planning history. It is only in the last 50 years that we completely redesigned our cities, towns and villages to be built around the automobile. It is therefore not a complete stretch of the imagination to envision a future in which a large mix of destinations are close to each other, and can be accessed through a variety of clean transportation options.

A shared use street in LaCrosse, a Green Tier Legacy Community

As we work towards a new transportation future, it is important to ensure we do not repeat the mistakes of the past that led to unjust outcomes for many community members, especially minorities and low income communities—such as segregation, a lack of mobility options, increased risk of pedestrian injuries and fatalities and air pollution. A zero-emission transportation future cannot be accomplished without open and accessible new technologies for everyone in the community, affordable housing and reliable and safe transit and non-motorized modes such as walking and biking being recognized as legitimate transportation options.

1000 Friends is at the forefront of fighting for an equitable carbon-neutral transportation future. Here are some of the local, state and region-wide efforts that we are leading:

  • Wisconsin Climate Table—a group of over 30 non-profits fighting to reduce carbon emissions in the state.
  • Transportation working group of the Dane County Climate Council with a team of 10 experts and stakeholders are creating an ambitious carbon reduction plan for the County.
  • “Equitable Deep Decarbonization” project of REAMP—a group of over 150 non-profits working to reduce climate change emissions in 7 Midwestern States.

Follow our website and our social media to keep abreast of our climate work and find out ways to get involved.