The Transportation Industry

Exploring the framework for a “Balanced Development” model

 

Ramses Rashidi

©2008 Center for Balanced Development  (www.cbdus.org)

 

In the last article we talked about fragmented development in the global agriculture practices and disparity in food distribution. Here, we are going to further examine the fragmented nature of growth and development in the modern times. Specifically, we are going to focus on the transportation industry.

 

Transportation and the Building of Civilizations

The movement of primitive humans was limited. It was all about traveling on foot and only a few people living together.  Later, as animals were domesticated, man was able to go further and build communities. In human settlements near water, rafts and logs were used to travel and explore. Then came the invention of the wheel.  The animal-drawn cart and the carriage changed land travel and villages and townships were formed. The development of seaworthy vessels and sailing ships opened up new possibilities to navigate the seas and go on great expeditions. With each new invention in transportation, new territories were settled and great civilizations flourished in the far corners of the planet. There were more and more encounters among people. Some of these encounters were peaceful. However, many were violent and they were initiated for the purpose of expanding empires, conquering territories and increasing the power base. Nonetheless and in spite of these negative factors, with the help of technology, mankind evolved from the cave life and small groups of hunter-gatherers to large nations and the industrial age.

 

The 19th century represented a time of major inventions in transportation --- the locomotive, steam engine, railroad, bicycle, motorcycle, cable car and the automobile. As the transportation industry grew, a new spirit of adventure and exploration started to bring people of diverse cultures around the planet in closer contact. In reality, the pace of development was fairly slow and highly manageable. Our cities were small and life was simple. Communities and neighbors were in close and intimate contact, and there was relative safety. Air quality was good and pollution and waste were not a concern. However, in the 20th century, with the introduction and mass production of the automobile, the development of the airplane, and assembly-line manufacturing, the transportation industry started to grow by leaps and bounds.

 

Truly, the development of the transportation industry has opened up new possibilities for the movement of material and human resources, as well as global collaboration. Today we can travel across a metropolitan region or across the planet in a matter of few hours. We have even been able to send information-gathering probes to other planets. The earth is literally becoming a village where we now have the opportunity to meet and know much about the people from the various parts of the world. Indeed, the transportation industry has changed the way we live, and for the most part, aside from occasional industrial accidents and spillage, it has, by-and-large, been a positive development. However, like any trend, when development exceeds the bounds of moderation, it can generate social and economic side effects that actually become a liability to the vitality and healthy growth of society. Today, this has particularly become the case with the unbridled and unregulated growth of the automobile industry.

 

The Impact of the Automobile Culture

Contributing to the current fragmented development trends, the automobile industry, with its expanding production, the need for more roads, infrastructure and the ever-increasing demand for energy, is already posing a profound and threatening challenge to our life, health, social harmony, natural resources, environment and the economy. If continued at the present rate, the growth of the automobile industry could have catastrophic consequences in terms of pollution, energy supplies and waste. To show the extent of the growth, in the U.S. alone, in the past 100 years, we have gone from a few thousands registered automobiles to nearly 250 million. The global count for automobile is at about 600 million and the annual production hovers around 50 million while increasing by about 6% per year. Currently, among the main producers are: Japan (11.5 million), USA (11.3 million), China (7.2 million), Germany (5.8 million), South Korea (3.8 million), France (3.5 million), Spain (2.8 million), Brazil (2.6 million), Canada (2.5 million) and India (2 million). China, with 22 million automobiles currently, is the fastest growing market in the world and the number of automobiles are projected to reach 140 million by 2020.

 

Pollution, created by automobiles in the major cities around the world, has already reached dangerous levels. It’s estimated that that motor vehicles are the single greatest source of atmospheric pollution; contributing an estimated 15-20% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning. With the automobile being dependent on oil, the steady supply and future prospects of the oil industry are questionable, as prices keep rising while supplies are consistently decreasing. New technology for energy sources; including fuel-cell, ethanol, bio-diesel and batteries might be able to solve the issue of energy supplies. However, it does not solve the issue of the traffic volume and inefficient urban design. Speaking of traffic jams and inefficiency, in Los Angeles, where there are over 6 million cars and an extensive network of highways, the average speed during rush hours is about 15 miles/hour. Furthermore, if people were provided with an efficient transportation system, the time that is spent sitting in traffic could be better spent with our loved ones, or in a far more productive way.

 

Currently, most large metropolitan areas worldwide are designed around the use of the automobile. In fact, the car has become a symbol of freedom, status and individualism. It is all too common to see only a single driver and no passengers in a car that was designed to carry 4 or 5 people. Clearly, the automobile has contributed to acute anti-social behavior. We usually don’t interact with our neighbors or communities as we move in and out of our isolated homes in our cars. Very few people ride the public transportation. The mass transit systems, do not appeal to the modern generation who are in search of their identity. Modern city planning also follows the popular trend of “cities built for cars”. While the special interest groups who benefit from the production of automobile spend huge amounts of money on promoting the car culture. The massive infrastructure that’s needed for the automobile, including highways, roads, lighting, gas stations, repair shops and junk yards, is yet another dimension of this over-grown and out-of-balance industry.

 

Balanced Development Perspective

Transportation has traditionally served in the creation of communities and in the development of civilizations. If we are to continue that tradition, we need to focus our attention on the role of the transportation industry in bringing our human and material resources together in the most efficient and effective way. In this process, each individual, along with the community, the government, mass transit agencies, automobile manufacturing companies, and the all the related industries share the responsibility to create a transportation system that benefits the development of the individual, social harmony and the economy while preserving our natural resources, ensuring clean air, and fostering a living environment that is designed for people. To achieve this goal, we need to think about our urban planning and design, while controlling production to match our social needs. Through consultation and communication among industries, and regulatory government agencies, we could easily create a solid social structure while achieving continuing, and ever-expanding economic prosperity. A balanced development model is based primarily on micro solutions with focus on the quality of life. In this spirit, the role of the government in enactment of laws and ordinances to protect the well-being of society and safeguarding the public from unregulated and unbridled growth of industries is very much similar to the role of a physician who protects the patient from disease, overgrowth of cells and cancer.

 

In the next article we will examine the growth and development of the entertainment industry.

 

Ramses Rashidi (ramses@cbdus.org) is the founder and director of Center for Balanced Development.

The center is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing resources and services to foster global balance in social, personal, ecological and economic development.