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A billion cars on the roads of the world

The number of vehicles on the globe’s roads, streets, highways and expressways recently pushed past the billion mark, which helps to illustrate the need for the advent of cleaner burning fuels and higher mileage vehicles.
Posted: August 23, 2011 - 7:50PM
Author: Don Bain

Take one simple seemingly innocent act like driving a relatively new car, getting say 20-mpg, multiply it by one billion and we’re now talking about sucking up a whole antediluvian carboniferous forest every month or so. Not to mention returning the earth to a level of atmospheric CO2 it hasn’t known for over 2 million years.

Please note carboniferous forests were actually what formed the coal deposits now mined to fuel many of our power stations. A cursory search would seem to indicate no one really knows if oil came from forests, dinosaurs or Cro-Magnon moonshiners.

Ward’s, the automotive trade journal, reported the numbers revealing the growth of auto ownership in China had a lot to do with breaking through the ribbon to the one billion mark. There are now over 78 million vehicles in China after the 16.8 million sold last year.

That pushed them past the much smaller nation of Japan where there are only 73.9 million vehicles. Meanwhile in India, automotive ownership grew by nearly 10 percent to almost 21 million cars and trucks.

Yet the remaining capacity for ownership given a viable economy is staggering. In China there is only one car for every 17.3 people, according to an article by Brad Plumer in the Washington Post today. In the U.S. we have one vehicle for every 1.3 people, which sort of means even our kids have cars!

Plumer refers to a presentation by Prof. Daniel Sperling about the effects of projecting these trends to the year 2050, given last year at UC Davis’s Institute of Transportation.

It seems today the world only consumes oil in sea-sized quantities – 87 million barrels per day. If we get to 2 billion vehicles at the same rate of consumption we may need ocean-sized amounts – up to or beyond 120 million barrels of oil per day.

The simple fact is any system involved in perpetual growth on a planet of finite resources is heading full tilt at a brick wall. If you’ve ever bumped into anything, you can see the undesirability of such a course.

We like a highly-tuned, top-performance combustion engine as much as anyone else, but there’s one word that does not apply to any such vehicle – sustainable – that is in any world we or our children want to live in.

To close on a lighter note, we’d like to share the following ditty with you for those roadtrips with the kids. It’s sung to the tune of 100 Beers On the Wall.

A billion cars on the roads of the world
A billion cars on the road,
Compact one, move it along
999,999,999 cars on the road.

You know how it goes from there… Should last for the longest journey you’ll ever take.