Commercial Transportation and its Effects on the Environment

Commercial Transportation and its Effects on the Environment

The journey of man’s civilized development has made him so successful in reigning over creation.  However, mother nature cannot be controlled.  Nature has its own balance and man needs to comply with this order.  Any upset in this natural balance can affect not only man but the rest of the world.

Globalization or the economic trend wherein companies can offer their products and services world-wide has put a strain on man’s relationship with nature.

  The need for nations to manufacture and distribute their products has been taking its toll on the environment and destroying the balance.  Globalization has forced some countries to deplete their forests and implement synthetic methods in controlling crops and other natural products.  Technology has been ignorant of its ill effects and basic systems like transportation has created detrimental situations that could lead to the destruction of the earth itself.

Problems in the International Arena

            Despite the many inventions and ideas that are being offered, the world still seems to be at a stand still in helping heal the environment.

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  Even with the knowledge that global warming will strike all countries whether disciplined with their gas wastage or not, national interests of several supreme countries like the United States are still looming over the efforts being made to address the very urgent situation. Fears of an economic downfall because of ecological awareness and protection have prevented countries from cooperating with each other to ensure the life of mankind on earth.

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            Politicians and businesspeople, egged on by the media, consider the economy to be the “bottom line” (Suzuki, 2003, p. 89). These people believe that it is the economy that ensures man of the many benefits of civilization like good health, education, security and even ecological protection. The prevailing concept is that the economy is the primary source of everything we need and that a bad economy will not be able to protect nature. Ergo, only a strong economic is needed if a country wants to preserve its natural resources. However, this is proven to be wrong because it is globalization that is actually forcing smaller nations to destroy their own habitat. The notion of prioritizing the economy to protect the environment is not realistic.

Realists say that the concept of global commons greatly affects the issue on the environment.  William Forster Lloyd, a mathematician, observed that “the fate of a common pasture shared among rational, utility-maximizing herdsmen is doomed as the population begins to increase (Chow and Leong, 2006, p. 63). This theory, otherwise called the “tragedy of commons,” can be applied to any resource that a community shares. Each resource has a limit to its usage.  If the resource’s capability is maximized to the point of its full capacity, the tendency of its users will be to find even more ways in utilizing the resource to take advantage of what is left before it is totally ruined.  The best interest of each individual always takes over what could be necessary to maintain the resource for the betterment of the group. However, what the group usually fails to see is that competing to get the last of the depleted resource inevitably makes the whole group lose everything.

            One of the main resources that of global concern is fossil fuel.  This is petroleum used for running cars and factories that bring life to national economies. The current level of fossil fuel has been depleted to about a quarter or a half of what is recoverable on earth (cited in Greene & Shafer, 2003, p. 4). The tragedy of commons may be applied to this case too if nations will not cooperate in finding solutions to the problem.

            Globalization has brought about the tragedy of commons to many developing nations.  The move to become industrialized or to control debt to developed countries has caused many countries to abuse their natural resources.  The Philippines and Indonesia have depleted many of their rain forests to produce wooden products for export.  The Middle East nations are at war for the protection of their oil resources.  Indeed, globalization seems to be a detriment to the improvement of man’s life on earth instead of being able to bridge the gap between different countries.

            International businesses have become successful in their industries because of their reliance on transportation systems that are moved by fossil fuel.  Distribution of products and services would not be possible without gasoline which empowers land, air and even marine vessels.

Transportation has been one of man’s most important priorities since the prehistoric times. This has led him to the discovery of simple things like wheel barrows, the complex automobile invented by Henry Ford and the great airplanes created by the Wright brothers. Transportation is very important in the economic system of nations and large international corporations because it is the primary way they can distribute their goods and services. Workers also get to their offices and jobs through commercial and private transportation vehicles.  The only problem with this situation is man’s over reliance to the current transportation modes and systems that is harmful to the environment because of it’s by product which is global warming.

Much of what drives an economy depends heavily on the usage of fossil fuel which when burned for use as gasoline of many transportation modes being used today, accounts for the problem of air pollution. Excessive greenhouse gases that pollute the atmosphere cause global warming.

Although there are many people who are still ignorant about global warming, it is already a pressing issue that has to be faced squarely for the sake of mankind. Transportation may be a great cause for this dilemma but there are ways by which every individual, government or group can help lessen the current pollution and replace it with better practices or utilities that can even improve the economy further.


            Transportation is part of everyday life – may it be urban or rural living.  Man is a social animal and has the need to go to different places to seek his basic needs.  Throughout history, man has been able to develop more and more ways by which he can transport not only himself but also many other goods that are needed in a thriving economy.

            As can be seen on Figure 1, the United States alone used up 7 quadrillion British Thermal Units (Btu) for transportation in the 1950s. Each Btu is equivalent to 1055.05585 joules.  With the advent of industrialization, energy consumption for transportation has dramatically risen to more than 25 million Btu in the year 2000. The motivation for companies and corporations to market their goods overseas, the ability of smaller families to avail of private cars for each individual member and understudied transportation systems have encouraged the rate increase of transportation utilization.  So has its byproduct, carbon dioxide, which is considered one of the most notorious gases for causing global warming or the green house effect.

Global warming or the greenhouse effect has been a recurring environmental issue that has never been solved enough despite the talk it has been getting. This abnormal climate situation is so-called because green house gases like carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane act on the earth’s atmosphere in such a way that increases the warm temperature of the globe.  In winter, most plants are put in the greenhouse because when sunlight passes through its glass panes, the heat that comes with it is unable to escape back outside and this helps the plants keep warm during the cold season. The greenhouse gases are like the glass panes. When sunlight hits the earth, the atmosphere allows its rays and heat into the world.  However, this heat is trapped inside because the presence of the poisonous gases mentioned deters it from getting out.  This makes the whole world feel hotter and hotter. Because of the imbalance in climate, resulting weather conditions are also erratic and abnormal in different places in the world.  The El Nino and La Nina phenomenon are some of the results of this alteration to nature.

Fossiled fuel, the basic petroleum that is being used to run ordinary cars and other transportation vehicles releases carbon dioxide as a byproduct when automobiles are turned on. Figure 2 shows how much carbon dioxide has been able to top the list for notoriety because it is way past the levels of other gasses.

The debate on whether there is a problem with global warming or not, and the arguments about the way countries can be united to help eliminate air pollution has undermined the efforts and ideas that could actually help solve or lessen the problems.  All the talk and the controversy has taken too much of the precious time that mankind could have used to start caring for the environment better.  The international procastination is still going on but the Victoria Transport Policy Institute has taken its good time and effort to suggest several small but concrete ways by which the United States can lessen its greenhouse gas emissions from its present transport system.

            The U.S. transportation system is the largest in the world and is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions for this particular country (Greene ; Schafer, 2003, pp 1-2).  It is necessary for Americans to act on the issue urgently as a nation because it is one of the top contributors in the problem. Without a firm stand and concrete action from the U.S., no sincere effort can be successful in reducing the predicament of global warming.

Strategies that Promote an Environment Friendly Transport System

            The Victoria Transport Policy Institute (VTPI) has chosen to explain its suggestions well enough to show that the gap between ecological and economical development can actually be bridged by certain ”win-win” strategies.  These suggestions require the collective cooperation of many groups and government agencies to become fully functional because it requires an alteration in the lifestyle and laws that are presently in place. It calls for the correction of certain misleading and disadvantageous concepts and policies and suggest better ideas which will benefit both the economy and the environment.

Reforms in Modes of Transportation

            Most of the road planning that has been done is based on weak surveys that do not take the importance of alternative transportation modes into full account.  Many of the questions underestimate the value of walking and bicycling which therefore produce answers that imply the need for expansion of car roads instead of the improvement of other modes of transportation. These also indicate that mobility is highly important compared to accessibility and thus result in more expensive solutions instead of alternative community lifestyle.

            Presently alternative modes of transportation such as bicycling and walking are only favorable if the trips are short.  Longer distances require either the use of public buses or private cars. With most American families convinced that family members should have their own cars to be more mobile and adapt to the fast pace of life, the need to use private vehicles to make trips to the grocery and other places become necessary.  Public buses in major routes are not prioritized because of time and location constraints. However, there are other transport systems that can be tapped to decrease the use of private vehicles for these kinds of trips.  One of these is the jitney system.

            In 1914, streetcars provided 100 percent of U.S. cities’ public transportation (Slater, 1997, p. 45).  Streetcars are like mini-trains that have electrical cables on top and move on paved tracks on the main roads of town. These are run by electricity and were considered as the buses that the U.S. citizens are using now. In 1915, the jitney system was introduced because of the limitations of the then dominant streetcar transport system. Jitneys are private cars or buses that can ply alternative routes that are more accessible to many residents.  Accessibility, lower fares, and the fact that jitneys can make side trips to pick up passengers at certain agreed upon points became such a success.  This however, was protested by streetcar companies because by 1915, the jitneys were taking more and more of the transportation market.  Stricken by the very quick progress of jitneys, streetcar companies lobbied for more restrictions on their competition.  Municipalities decided to impose taxes and insurance bonds that proved fatal to the jitney transport system and ended its very short existence in 1916.

            Streetcar operators thought that they had claimed victory but the eventual improvement of faster and more comfortable buses and automobiles made by General Motors slowly claimed the roads that were once driven by streetcars. In 1920, 8.1 million Americans had cars but by 1929, this rate reached 23.1 million  which came to the point that by 1937  39 cities or 4 percent of U.S. cities used street cars while the 50 percent was already being served by buses. Ownership of cars led to less use for public transportation but higher greenhouse gas emissions.

            The U.S. citizenry is highly dependent on vehicle ownership but adding jitneys can lessen this dependence.  Jitneys can ply routes that are more adapted to the commuting preferences of Americans and lessen the need to use more gas-powered cars. Improved biking lanes can also encourage motorists to take the healthier alternative.  When fully implemented, these suggestions can reduce automobile travel by 10 to 20% compared to the present situation (VTPI, 2007).

Pay as You Drive Pricing

            Another suggestion worth studying is the “pay as you drive pricing” or distance-based pricing which means that insurance, registration, tax and leasing fees are based on the mileage of a vehicle.  Using the car often will entail higher fees while opting to use alternative modes of transportation can lessen the charges. If this policy is implemented, people will choose to walk, bike or plan their trips better so that they will only use their cars when it is truly necessary.

            An instrument called an odometer can help insurance companies and other agencies audit and find out how much distance the car has run in one year.  These gadgets require minimal costs but when fully implemented, can actually reduce the motivation to keep using private cars while ignoring the gas consumption.

Economical Parking Strategies

            Institutions can also offer parking cash-out or the option for non-parking space users to get the cash value of this benefit. This could be done while offering other alternatives like car pooling for employees.  Instead, parking fees that enable car drivers to pay instantly for the timed usage of the space can also be implemented.  This can make motorists more aware of what they are spending on transportation and motivate them to find other ways of commuting. These strategies can reduce private car use by as much as 30 percent (VTPI, 2007).

Priced Use of Roads

            Motorists can also be made more aware of their transportation costs if they are directly paying for the roads that they will use.  Congestion pricing or increasing the price on road use during peak hours can not only help lessen the traffic but also encourage car drivers to find other ways to get to their points of destination.  According to VTPI (2007),

this  scheme can lessen vehicle traffic by up to 20 percent.

Transit and Rideshare Improvements

            Public transits can be more attractive to use if they are improved and more logistically placed.  Greater facilities, more routes, better services, higher security measures, more comfortable features, special events buses and other marketing strategies can help increase the people’s desire to use these vehicles and lessen private traveling by 10 to 30 percent (VTPI, 2007).

Walking and Cycling Options

            Europeans are known to prefer walking compared to riding or commuting.  In fact, this is considered one of the causes of EuroDisney’s failure to profit in the European locale and market. Americans would rather commute because of the easy availability of car ownership.  However, walking and cycling are very healthy ways to get to nearer destinations and public transits.  Although the government cannot force people to opt for these healthier forms of travel, better sidewalks, streetscaping, pedestrian lanes, biking lanes and bicycle parking areas can help encourage people to engage in this activity.  This is one of the simpler ways that any individual can do to help fight global warming and is an option available to most.

Community Development

            People can be more encouraged to walk and bike to their destinations if these are closer to their residences. Establishing smaller communities or commercial places that serve less individuals can help decrease the need to use carbon emitting vehicles. Community planning can help by ensuring that the basic areas of every society is built within spaces that are easier to access by foot instead of separated from each other.  Mini-groceries, drugstores, libraries, clinics and other major daily destinations could be established so that these are accessible by walking or biking instead of the diverse distant structures that are currently in place. Although this development may take years before it can be implemented, its benefits can be worth it.

Freight Transport Management

            Freight transportation rests heavily on fossil fueled vehicles nowadays. However, it can choose to run efficiently if it maximizes other modes of transport like air, marine,  truck and rail to deliver its freight.  Strategic locations for these other modes of transportation can improve distribution practices and also lessen traffic congestion because the delivery vans that are being used at present are bulky and heavy. With better planning, freight management can actually reduce travel by 5 to 20 percent (VTPI, 2007).

            The freight aspect of transportation has received little attention because it is considered efficient enough already.  However, there are still ways to improve the systems such as technological advancement in the form of a better “thermal efficiency” for diesel powered trucks which can also be adapted to trains. These locomotives can also be redesigned into lighter models that could consume less fuel.  Research is also being done to find alternative fuel for ships and technology is being developed to used natural gases that could reduce carbon dioxide byproducts by around 38 percent (Greene ; Schafer, 2003, p.21).

Car Sharing

            Another idea that can either be embraced or rejected by communities is car sharing.  Instead of owning a car, certain persons can opt to share the expenses of using and maintaining a vehicle.  Another way could be for people to opt to rent cars by the hour or daily rate.  This enables individuals to lessen their expenses based on just what they need to use.  Motorists who shift from car ownership to carsharing typically reduce their vehicle traced by 30 to 60 percent (VTPI, 2007)

Tax Focus on Vehicle Use

            Putting more taxes on car ownership and gas can increase awareness of the expense that is wasted on unwise motorist habits.  This could also help the government recoup the needed budget to import the petroleum.  This could be done slowly and can also help lessen the other taxes that are being forced upon the lower-income bracket of society.

            The suggestions of the VTPI mentioned above are highly applicable without causing the decline of the U.S. economy.  America simply needs to shift to another perspective and prioritize the environment without putting too much pressure on economics. In fact, even the health of the American population will also be enhanced if the measures are adopted and embraced.  Smaller communities can help form better friendships.  Putting a price on parking space and road use can help increase awareness for the need to lessen uncontrollable use of owned vehicles and increase people’s creativity in finding better modes of transportation.

Alternative Fuels and  Modes of Transportation

                        Research is being done to find other unconventional oil resources that can help maintain the transportation systems needed for a thriving economy.  There are scientists who are suggesting that the earth has a vast supply of other kinds of oil such as tar sands and shale oil which can be refined to produce the gasoline that everyone needs to move around. It is a common belief that extracting these and conversion to useable form entails even higher technology.  Canada is presently converting its oil sands and Venezuela their heavy oil into more conventional forms of fuel that can be used for people’s different needs.

            Air transportation also emits great amounts of greenhouse gases and researchers are trying to study the options man can take in airplane fuel. Due to a plane’s size and energy requirement, petroleum is still the best energy source even if liquid hydrogen and liquefied petroleum gas are being considered to do the same job.  The drawback for alternative fuel in the aircraft industry is the cost of fuel which will be likely because of the production cost it would entail. Converting the fuel into its alternative form would increase significantly and this is detrimental to the economy.

            Aside from the suggestions made by VTPI, many scientists have already made inventions that can also help lessen the need or fossil fuels. Hybrid vehicles that partly run on electricity and other vehicle inventions that use other types of fuel that emit cleaner gases are already available as options for consumers.

            Hybrid-electric vehicles combine the benefis of gasoline engines and electric motors (How Hybrids Work).  These can also meet many different needs of motorists by improving fuel consumption and better power for car accessories. These vehicles are advanced in their own way and have many features that present car owners would want.

            A feature called “regenerative braking” converts the energy from the wheels turning to become more power for the auto’s motor that can be stored in the car’s battery.  “Electric Motor Drive” is a feature allows the electric motor of the car to give more power when the vehicle accelerates.  This entails a lighter and smaller packed engine that is more efficient compared to the normal cars manufactured that are reliant on internal combustion. “Automatic Start and Shutoff” is a feature that automatically turns off the engine when the car is stopped and easily turns it on ones the accelerator is stepped on.  This feature can eliminate the much wasted energy when cars are waiting to move in traffic.

            Scientists are also looking into the possibility of cars run on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) which can actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 20 percent (Greene ; Schafer, 2003, p. 13).  LPG is a  byproduct of the process that crude oil undergoes during refinement.  This considerably limits the supply of LPG and inhibits it from being a good option against the gasoline fueled cars.

            Other alternative cars are called Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFV) because these are run on 85 percent ethanol and only 15 percent gasoline (How Hybrids Work). These vehicles have been produced since 1980 are very similar to the current totally gasoline dependent automobiles and have no particular interesting additional feature besides its lessened dependence on gasoline. The difference lies in the mileage of fuel used because ethanol has less energy thereby making FFVs get about one third less distance run compared to totally gasoline dependent cars. Because of the similarity, many people may not even be aware that they are actually driving an FFV.  The only way to find out would be to see the car fuel door to see a sticker or to research it from the manual.

            Another invention is called the Electric Vehicle (EV) that is run using a rechargeable electric motor.  This type of alternative has its own advantage and disadvantage over the normal car.  First of all, it is highly efficient because the motor converts three quarters of the battery’s energy to move the tires as compared to the gasoline powered ones that only translates up to twenty percent. Secondly, this vehicle does not emit any pollutant. Thirdly, it is easier to recharge the motor domestically compared to the normal car’s necessity to drive through gasoline stations.  Lastly, EVs are more silent, smooth and need less focus on maintenance. The disadvantages lie in the battery.  The most critical drawback is its mileage per charge which means that it only runs half of the distance taken by normal cars before it needs to be recharged again taking four to eight hours of what could have been travel time.  The battery is also heavy, space-consuming and expensive as technology has not yet improved its longevity.

Scientists are working on the development of another alternative car called the Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCVs). This automobile also uses electricity but does not need an external source for it.  It can make its own power from tanks of hydrogen gas kept within the vehicle.  The inventors have built it in such a way that its fuel cells can generate electricity via a chemical process that takes the hydrogen fuel and oxygen from its surroundings. Owners can also refuel using methanol, natural gas and gasoline because these can easily be converted into hydrogen gas through an installed device called a “reformer.” (How Hybrids Work). These FCVs offer more efficiency compared to the gasoline-based engined cars and may also adapt more advancements in the future to increase its value.  FCVs running on hydrogen gas only emit water and heat instead of greenhouse gases.  Using the other forms of gas can result to some greenhouse gases but it is considerably minimal compared to the current ones running.

There are still some setbacks before full marketing and sales of FCVs can be done.  First, scientists need to find ways on reducing the cost without lowering the car’s level of performance.  Another point that needs to be researched on is in finding better safety measures to secure the very volatile hydrogen gas that these vehicles need.

The inventions mentioned answer the calls of ecologists while providing economists with options on how to ensure that the transportation industry can still maintain the demands of a thriving nation.  The U.S. government has been doing its job to promote hybrids and AFVs since 2005 and have encouraged motorists to prefer these by giving federal income “tax credits of up to $3,400 for hybrids and $4,000 for alternative fuel vehicles; and $2,000 clean-fuel vehicle tax deduction; and a one-time federal tax credit of up to $4,000 for EVs (How Hybrids Work).

International Concern

            Many environmentalists are lobbying for the improvement of policies that are needed to ensure that nature is protected well.  However, the collective effort of all the countries on earth is needed to ensure the survival of the planet.  Everyone should be concerned because the life of each creature depends on the protection of our livable habitat.

            It was in 1989 when 68 countries met in the Netherlands to discuss the global warming issue (Chow ; Leong, 2006, p. 66).  Grave arguments have been posed and three strategies suggested. The first was for all the countries to agree on a date by which a certain level of reduction of green house gases must have been achieved individually.  Another suggestion was that only the developed countries must enact to lower their greenhouse gas emissions because they were the proponents for industrialization.  It was also suggested that these countries must find the technology needed by Third World Countries and fund it to ensure proper implementation.  This caused quite a stir because the sole responsibility was being burdened on the First World Countries. The last suggestion came from the rich countries who opted to put more research on the issue before they could make better plans in reducing the greenhouse effect.

            By 1997, in what is known as the Kyoto Conference, 159 parties agreed to reduce their countries’ output of greenhouse gases to 5.2 percent below the 1990 level by the year 2012 while the U.S., Japan and European Union promised to target higher percentages (Chow and Leong, 2006, p67).  A system of trading emission permits was also proposed to aid the Third World countries adapt financially-burdening technology to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. However, in 2001, the U.S. suddenly backed out of the agreement because it believed that cooperating would entail a plunge in their economy. This posed a handicap for the agreements because the U.S. was one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters.  Without its support, the efforts of the rest of the world will just be in vain.

            One by one, the big countries started backing out because their current status implied that they would not be able to meet the targets made.  In another conference held in Buenos Aires, Italy suggested that the Kyoto Protocol be eliminated because none can seem to reach its goals.  Even the developing countries agreed because they felt that the restrictions made to limit the greenhouse gas emissions were slowing down their economic recoveries. Two new ideas were then conceptualized.  The European Union proposed that new targets could be made within a span of twenty years while the United States recommended that new technology be developed and implemented after the twentieth year.

            The urgency of the situation does not affect developed countries enough to give upper concern on the global environment below their own national economies.  Countries like the United States which is a major contributor to the problem would rather take the wait and see attitude.

            Al Gore, a staunch environmentalist and highly esteemed American political figure opposed the Bush administration’s decision to wait another twenty years.  Gore emphasizes that the doubling amount of greenhouse gas emissions have unpredictable results that man may not be able to successfully solve nor reverse.  The uncertainty of the future is a constant aspect that should be kept well in mind.  Man needs to “act on the basis of what is known” instead of buying time to develop new technology (Gore, 2006, p. 37).


            Humans have done well to create different societies who have enabled themselves to be open to industrialization.  However, commercialism, urban lifestyle and the need to compete economically with other nations have distracted these countries to ignore the looming problem of global warming.

            Global warming is an urgent issue that must be solved or at least slowed down for man to escape the probability of extinction.  It is a phenomenon that could provide a turning point for the changes that need to be made in the current society – especially in the United States. The urgency of the situation, is not felt critically by every citizen even if everyone’s life depends on it.

Transportation is a vital aspect of economic dominance and is one of the greatest producers of greenhouse gas emissions.  With powerful governments being tied down by their economic views, much needs to be done by individuals to enforce change. Although the U.S. is doing a lot of research, it cannot put aside the fact that nature has not announced its deadline and further imbalance may tip the scale over without warning.  Man needs to do his part collectively.  United we stand.  Divided we fall.

Works Cited

Chow, G. ;. (2006, May). The Problem of Global Warming from a Realist Perspective:

 Implications to Global Logistics. International Journal of Global Logistics and

Supply Chain Management .

Gore, A. (2006). The Shadow Our Future Throws. Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the

            Human Spirit. New York: Rodale. pp. 36 – 55.

Greene, D. L. (2003, May). Retrieved April 21, 2007, from http://www.ethanolgec.


How Hybrids Work. (2007). Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved June 15, 2007,


Litman, T. (2007, Jan). Retrieved April 21, 2007, from Victoria Transport


Slater, C. (1997). General Motors and the Demise of Streetcars. Transportation

            Quarterly, Vol. 51. No. 3, pp. 45-66.

Suzuki, D. (2003). Economics and Politics. The Suzuki Reader. Vancouver: Greystone,

            pp. 89 – 103.

Titus, J. (2002, Octobert). Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved April 21, 2007,



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