An Important Book That's Not Anti-Car, but Anti-Inefficiency

It probably won't surprise you to know I drive a Prius. I bought it because when I drive it--I only put about 8,000 miles on it a year since I live in New York City where public transit is readily available--I know that I am doing something to limit the global warming pollution going into the air.

But as much as I love my Prius, I realize that hybrids are only part of the solution. To really address climate change and oil addiction, we need a transportation revolution, not just a few good car models.

And we need it fast. Even though the media gives us daily reports about the American auto industry on life support, the culture of the car is far from dead. The title of an important new book makes this perfectly clear: Two Billion Cars. (Check out the OnEarth website later this month for a full review of the book.)

There are roughly 1 billion vehicles in the world right now, and within just 20 years, the number will double to 2 billion, largely as a result of growth in China and India. By as early as 2040, China could have more cars on the road than America.

Considering that personal transportation accounts for 30 percent of US global warming pollution, we are looking at an astronomical jump in carbon emissions and oil dependence. If, that is, we don't do something to change it.

Two Billion Cars offers some excellent ways to jumpstart that change. It starts with a thoughtful critique of what the authors call the automobile monoculture: a system where one form of transportation--the gas-powered car--has blocked other forms from taking root.

But it goes on to offer solutions for making our transit options more diverse and sustainable. The book isn't anti-car. It is anti-waste and inefficiency. And it's in favor of the viable solutions that we have at hand.

These include electric car technology, a cap-and-trade policy to reduce global warming emissions, and technology-neutral incentives that focus on carbon reductions rather than a specific approach, like corn-based ethanol for instance.

What makes this book stand out is the authors' real-world experience. I have spent time with Daniel Sperling at the World Economic Forum in Davos where he chairs the Future of Mobility Council. He is a professor turned policy guy who is deeply committed to making American transportation system better. You can see it in Dan's work on the California Air Resources Board, which is in charge of designing and implementing critical transit-related policies.

Deborah Gordon, the other author, is a policy analyst who has worked with the National Commission on Energy Policy, the California Energy Commission, and the Chinese government.

Both of them know what it takes to make on-the-ground changes. One of the lessons they have learned is that in addition to good policies, it takes the support of a broad spectrum of people from engineers to activists, environmentalists to entrepreneurs.

Right now, we have an administration in the White House that is receptive to many of the book's transportation solutions. It is up to us, the American people, to push our lawmakers to put them in place.