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The Road to Green Growth Is Paved with Good Inventions


Just as our cars are getting fancier, sleeker, smarter, and more energy efficient, so too are our roads. Coordinated traffic lights, crowdsourced, realtime traffic apps, the proliferation of ride-sharing communities, and even an experimental concept called “road trains” (in which cars sync speeds wirelessly and draft behind one another on the highway) all have the potential to remake how we get from point A to point B. Slate reports:

Amid all the turbocharged talk of Priuses, Leafs, and Teslas—cars that curb fuel consumption by replacing your grandfather’s internal-combustion engine with a hybrid or fully electric motor—a bevy of technologies aim to reduce cars’ environmental impact by choreographing how, when, and where they move around. Less sexy than a new engine but often as technologically complex, the alternatives range from car-sharing programs to smart-traffic-light networks to GPS-enabled systems that reward drivers for commuting before or after the height of rush hour. Many of these ideas are attracting real money, and their environmental benefit could be large.

The implications of this are huge: in 2011 bad traffic cost Americans $121 billion in lost time and wasted fuel, not to mention the toll on our relationships and our mental health. It’s encouraging to see progress being made on the transportation front, especially when it comes with so few downsides for consumers.

Greens are often left wondering why their breathless exhortations for planet-saving behavioral changes produce so little in the way of results. The answer is simple and straightforward: people don’t like going out of their ways to lower their quality of life. The best way to save the planet isn’t to guilt non-believers into eating kale and driving hybrids, lest they suffer the wrath of Gaia, but to make green choices more appealing. There are lots of ways to reduce greenhouse emissions from cars that don’t involve making everyone wear hair shirts and listen to poor-mouthing sermons from puritanical Malthusians.

Technological advances—like the smarter driving grid described above—are enabling new lifestyles that are simultaneously more efficient (read: greener) and of higher quality. Greens should stop wagging their fingers at progress and start waving pom-poms.

[Traffic image courtesy of Hung Chung Chih/]

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  • Andrew Allison

    Several years ago I read of an interesting experiment (sorry, don’t have a reference): a researcher in Seattle assembled the addresses of employees with interchangeable jobs (fast-food, bank tellers, checkout clerks), optimized their commutes by moving them to closer locations and reduced overall commute mileage 40%.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Sounds like something the central-planners would love. Something tells me that the jobs aren’t all that interchangeable….

      • Andrew Allison

        Nothing to do with central-planning. Think Starbucks, McDonald’s, et al; big banks and grocery chains; etc. What’s the employee, and hence employer, benefit of a significantly reduced commute? What’s the reduction in commuting worth to the environment (society)? Enough to justify licensing software that does the job for their employees with a tax credit for the environmental benefits?

        We’ve got more than enough to worry about with NSA and friends without inventing imaginary impediments.

        • f1b0nacc1

          Given the mobility of Americans (particularly those in some of these lower-level ‘interchangeable’ jobs), I can easily imagine someone working in one part of an urban (or suburban area) who moves to another one 20 minutes away. This person remains in their previous place of employment, but has a commute that is 20 minutes longer. They may like their old place of employment (friends, work enviornment, etc.), but are ‘inefficiently’ allocated…

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