Jan Willem Erisman, chairman of the Dutch Scientific Climate Council (wetenschappelijke klimaatraad), recently stated that in the future, car ownership will no longer be taken for granted and that car sharing should be made mandatory in most cases. Maarten Steinbuch and Carlo van de Weijer believe this is an unnecessary and unfeasible plan.
- The full transition to electric transport is perfectly feasible, Maarten Steinbuch and Carlo van de Weijer note.
- That means there’s no reason to frighten people with measures like mandatory car sharing.
Erisman rightly asks whether the transition to electric transport is at all possible in the long run, with limited available resources and critical materials. The answer to that question is: yes, it is. Relatively easily, in fact. And not just for electric vehicles but also for the gigantic amount of stationary battery capacity we still need for the energy transition, e.g. for home batteries. And with that, the foundation under his threat of the end of the private car disappears. Comments like Erisman’s unnecessarily scare people and distract our attention from real solutions.
First of all, let’s take a look at raw materials. Large quantities of these are indeed needed for the necessary energy transition. Regarding mobility, especially now that the cobalt-free battery is on its way, this mainly involves lithium. The global lithium supply has already been proven to be enough to electrically propel all cars, mopeds, motorcycles, buses, trucks, and smaller aircraft over the next fifty years, in addition to all the necessary batteries.
Lithium supply is scattered all over the world but is mainly found in Australia and South America. This requires quite a few new mines, and there is a considerable investment in these worldwide right now. Opening and operating mines has quite a negative impact on the environment, which is one reason we in Europe lag behind in the resource race. But mining lithium is a lot less harmful than the alternative.
For every lithium mine we open, we can eventually close several coal mines and oil fields, which have far more negative side effects. And it is downright bad if we, as Europe, become increasingly dependent on countries that push ahead with expanding their mining capacity.
Of course, we would be better off regarding resources if we started sharing cars en masse. For many, a shared vehicle will be an excellent alternative to the second or third car. For many situations, for example in metropolitan areas, it will create an interesting market. But if you calculate by its share in total mobility, the role of shared cars will be too marginal to make a significant difference. Many shared cars are already driving around, but they provide only 0.02 percent of total automobility. For most people, a shared car versus their own car means a deterioration. You can mandate that as a government, but a structural and significant step back in comfort for the average person proves unachievable in a democracy. As it is, the private car responds perfectly to what we value as dressed-up hunter-gatherers, and it does so ever more sustainably, safely, and cheaply for both the owner and the government.
In the 1950s, most homes did not have private bathrooms; we washed with a washcloth from a tub or sink. And occasionally, we went to a public bathhouse. Now, if we were to bet again on central bathhouses and give up our won right to have our own bathroom, which we use only a few percent of the day anyway, more houses could be built in the same scarce area. Moreover, we will save a lot of ceramics, water pipes, energy, and water in the process. Let’s try to enforce that first and then talk again about the mandatory shared car.
The climate problems are too urgent to occupy ourselves with unnecessary and nonsensical issues. Let’s concentrate on real solutions.