Automakers, legislators, and others are excited about putting autonomous vehicles (AV’s) on the road as quickly as possible, and they cite many benefits. They’re pushing hard and investing a lot of money, but there are simple reasons why self-driving cars will not rule the road any time soon, no matter how beneficial they might be. For starters, some people will prefer to drive themselves or ride with a human driver. Inevitably some people will feel insecure riding in an AV and will refuse to ride in one, let alone buy one. While the numbers of those rejecting AV’s for such reasons may be small, they will sustain a demand for self-controlled vehicles to remain on the roads longer, presenting serious problems for AV operators. But that’s just the beginning – there are other major problems with AV’s that are not often mentioned in the media. Continue reading
Tag Archives: transportation
What we build today may have to sustain us for a century. The population explosion is expected to peak in the 2040’s, just 30 years away, and we can’t expect that time to be easy. Not only will out-of-control growth exceed the capacity of much of our infrastructure, but when the trend turns around with a declining population will come a declining tax base, and there may truly be no money for infrastructure repairs and improvement. For this reason, when we pursue an infrastructure update project today we should build it to serve us with minimum maintenance for a century, not just a few years. I can’t help but think of the Roman roads, some of which are still in use 2000 years after they were built. Can we think in those terms? Are we smart enough as a species to anticipate the future and prepare for scenarios that are likely but still decades away? Or are we closer to lemmings, insects, and bacteria than we think, such that we won’t be able to avoid growing explosively until our infrastructure fails and our numbers are reduced by mass starvation? It is up to us, but serious action is needed now, and I’m not sure we’ve set an encouraging track record so far. This is a badly needed bit of consciousness raising, but we need to be talking seriously about what will happen in the next century, for our children and grandchildren if not for ourselves.
As always, your comments are welcome. Thanks for reading – Tim
Food systems are going to be of primary importance as population peaks. If, as the UN says, population will reach more than 9 billion in the 2040’s before beginning a steep decline, the causes of that decline are important to consider today. A historical review of population reductions shows that neither war nor the natural disasters we’ve seen so far make a noticeable difference, but suggests that famine and possibly disease have the potential to make major reductions in the population. Decades ago I expected that we might pollute our world so badly that average lifespans would fall, but there has been some progress on preserving the environment and it appears that energy and food shortages created by overpopulation are bigger concerns. (Of course, the primary concern SHOULD be overpopulation itself, as these other problems are results of it.) If organic food and farming methods are more costly than agribusiness’ methods now, why would they replace the hugely productive methods used to produce most food in the developed world today? Continue reading
Are the chickens of the population explosion coming home to roost? An Associated Press article today covered the employment situation in the United States, where the addition of 150,000 jobs in the last month barely matched the increase in the population. It occurred to me that these new people in the population will themselves have children someday, and that in the near future we may see the population growth consistently exceeding the addition of jobs by higher and higher margins. This suggests large and increasing numbers of people will be unemployed, and the middle class will be driven into poverty by the simple mathematics of the population explosion. In addition, conservative attacks on unions and public schools means the middle class will be less well educated and increasingly powerless before corporations larger and more powerful than most countries. Continue reading
As recently as 50 years ago it was common for American families to have gardens and can or freeze what they produced. Many people also waited for seasonal produce sales to stock up, canning or freezing the surplus food for consumption over the following year. In addition, many people had root cellars where they could store apples, potatoes, onions, and many other food items for months at a time including over the winter. Interruptions in the shipments of food into an area were troublesome, but not a serious problem because most people had stores of food they could subsist on for weeks or even months if necessary. Times have changed significantly, however, and the majority of people today not only do not can or preserve food, but don’t even know how to do this. The food in most homes would last for days or weeks at most, not weeks or months as in the past, suggesting the average person’s ability to survive in a food shortage is greatly reduced. Why has this happened? Continue reading
How will we live when fossil fuel reserves have almost run out? Scientists and students of human history accept that human population will continue to explode until the energy sources fueling this incredible expansion start to run out. It is clear that a collapse of civilization will occur, probably over a period of decades in the mid-to-late 21st century. The change will be too rapid to cope with effectively, especially given skyrocketing energy costs and infrastructure breakdowns. The magnitude of the disasters involved will vary depending on how soon we wise up as a species, improve our long-range planning, and get serious about mitigating the coming challenges. While substitute energy sources will be developed quickly, the sheer numbers of humans being born onto the planet, day by day, may exceed our ability to build and deploy the replacement hardware and infrastructure, and the inability of most people to afford it may be an additional problem.
In the aftermath people will live quite differently from how we live today. After a period of decline that might last several decades, or perhaps a century, what remains will stabilize and coalesce into a new human civilization with some significant differences from what we know today. For instance, energy consumption per person will need to be a tenth or less of what people currently consume in North America. Here are a few ideas that might describe how we will live then. Continue reading
It isn’t just fuel supply lines that have become stretched long and thin due to globalization and the corporate drive for cost reduction. Other products are affected, too, as their manufacturing is concentrated in fewer and larger facilities. The iPad factory explosion in China May 20, 2011. threatens to reduce Apple’s sales of the product as well as any other products that incorporate the popular tablet computer. So how did we get to this state of affairs? Continue reading