Five resources to understand the future of transportation

Electric vehicles have emerged as the poster child of the zero-carbon economy. If we could only manage to replace all our internal combustion engines with batteries, it seems, we’d be well on our way to a greener world. But is achieving net-zero emissions really that straightforward? And is a society and economy dependent on personal vehicles—zero-emission though they may be—actually the future we aspire to?

March 16, 2022

2-minute read

Electric vehicles have emerged as the poster child of the zero-carbon economy. If we could only manage to replace all our internal combustion engines with batteries, it seems, we’d be well on our way to a greener world. But is achieving net-zero emissions really that straightforward? And is a society and economy dependent on personal vehicles—zero-emission though they may be—actually the future we aspire to?

Maybe not. Here are five resources to help make sense of the future of transportation beyond the electric car.

1.5-Degree Lifestyles: Towards A Fair Consumption Space for All by Hot or Cool Institute (2021)

The average Canadian emits three times more greenhouse gas emissions than the average person in China and five times more than the average person in India. Our per capita emissions are nearly 50% higher than even Finland, which has a similar climate and comparable income levels. Before we can even begin to discuss the technical and political dimensions of transportation we need to establish context, and this thorough report from the Germany-based Hot or Cool Institute lays out in no uncertain terms the extravagance of Canadian energy consumption relative to the rest of the world. To do our part in the global fight against climate change we don’t just need to switch to electric vehicles; we need to rethink how we live.

Ep. 15: Decarbonizing Transportation by Energy vs. Climate (2021)

The three co-hosts of Energy vs. Climate—David Keith, Sara Hastings-Simon and Ed Whittingham—are all well-respected experts working at the forefront of Canadian climate policy. In their monthly podcast they tackle energy policy issues with a depth and nuance that is often missing from policy debates today. Episode 15, which first aired in April 2021, unpacks the numerous challenges to decarbonizing the transportation system. The conversation with guest Amy Myers Jaffe can be dense and technical at times, but you’ll learn more in an hour here than anywhere else.

Sustainability Matters: Prospects for a Just Transition in Calgary, Canada’s Petro-City by Noel Keough & Geoff Ghitter (2021)

On its face, the future of transportation seems fairly straightforward: more bikes, more buses and fewer internal combustion engines. But what does that actually mean in practice? In Sustainability Matters, academics Noel Keough and Geoff Ghitter provide an invaluable deep dive into the potential for just such a transportation revolution in one Canadian city, Calgary—a city that also happens to be Canada’s oil and gas capital. In chapters 6 and 7, Keough and Ghitter tackle the issue from both directions: how to get conventional cars off the road and how to move people around in more sustainable ways, such as trams and trains. You don’t need to be a Calgarian to benefit from this practical and hopeful case study.

Health Recovery Plan: For a safe and sustainable future by Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (2020)

Many organizations, including the CCPA, presented plans for Canada to bounce back from the ravages of COVID-19. The Health Recovery Plan from the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) is especially noteworthy for how effectively it ties together the economic and health benefits of moving away from fossil fuels. According to CAPE, cleaner air from the shift away from conventional vehicles and power plants will prevent 5,000-10,000 premature deaths per year in Canada. Their plan shows how this can be achieved, including through aggressive investment in active transportation infrastructure.

Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution by David Harvey (2012)

Marxist geographer David Harvey is best known for his unsparing critiques of capitalism, including A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005), but he has also written extensively about cities as a place of revolutionary opportunity. In Rebel Cities, Harvey offers a powerful call-to-arms for urban anti-capitalist struggle to transform cities from centres of capitalist accumulation into communities that serve their people first. Although his take on Occupy Wall Street hasn’t aged particularly well, the book’s first five chapters remain incisive and inspiring. Rebel Cities invites us to think beyond the technical details of transportation, housing and other urban policy issues to instead consider the radical potential our cities hold for a better future.

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