Climate change is a gargantuan environmental problem, but it’s not our only environmental problem. By focusing obsessively on it, we blind ourselves to problems occurring in the periphery.
That point came to mind as I read an article in today’s New York Times, entitled: “Despite Push for Cleaner Cars, Sheer Numbers Could Work Against Climate Benefits.” If you’d like to read the article, you can find it at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/08/business/energy-environment/despite-push-for-cleaner-cars-sheer-numbers-could-work-against-climate-benefits.html?partner=IFTTT&_r=0
The article notes that the number of cars “on the world’s roads is on pace to double — to more than two billion — by the year 2030. And more likely than not, most of those cars will be burning carbon-emitting gasoline or diesel fuels.” Why? Because many of those cars will be sold in places like India and China that lack “the ubiquitous electric grid required for recharging electric vehicles.”
So all those additional cars on the road will be spewing billions of additional tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, making it harder to reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions, and that’s a problem — no doubt about it. But it’s a problem that can be fixed. All we have to do is phase out the production of fossil-fuel powered vehicles and create a ubiquitous green-energy electric grid. Of course, doing those things will be difficult, but not theoretically impossible.
But there is at least one related problem that an electric grid and electric cars can’t solve: species extinctions due to paved-over habitats. A higher rate of extinctions is inevitable, because with more cars, we must have more roads. Twice as many cars will mean twice as many roads. And we’ll also need to devote more space to parking lots and garages and gas stations and salvage yards and auto parts stores, and on and on.
So, when we’re looking for ways to cope with climate change, we need to remember that environmental problems are interrelated. While we’re working on one issue, we should take a step back and ask ourselves if our proposed solutions will paper over flaws that are more intrinsic.