With transportation contributing ~8 gigatons of greenhouse gases (CO2 equivalent) to the atmosphere each year, the sector is a key driver of the climate crisis. In addition, emissions from transportation contain very harmful poisons and contribute significantly to an estimated 8 million deaths per year worldwide. According to recent Harvard research, “as many as 30.7% of deaths in Eastern Asia, 16.8% in Europe, and 13.1% in the U.S. can be attributed to fossil fuel pollution.” In addition, particulate pollution from fossil fuels now accounts for nearly one in five deaths worldwide, ahead of HIV/aids, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.
A primary culprit in both warming and the health crisis is fossil fuels consumed in internal combustion engines. And it’s not just passenger transportation. Global shipping contributes approximately the equivalent quantity of greenhouse gases on an annual basis as the entire nation of Germany. So it’s no exaggeration to say that if we are to stop short of crashing through multiple planetary boundaries, all transportation must be conducted on a zero-emissions basis.
Electric transportation, better automation, smarter connectivity, and effective public transportation all have a role to play. Only the most intractable problems, such as large scale aviation, will require very high density liquid fuels going forward, and even here, these should be provided by very low net carbon sources such as algae-based biofuels. One opportunity set we see here in the most difficult transport problems is the crossover between biotech and transportation, with ideas such as gene modified algae potentially making very highly efficient fuel stock.
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