What exactly is peak car?

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When we began to find so many ways in which to use crude oil, someone soon asked whether this was wise. There’s only so much oil in the ground. The more dependent we become on this black stuff, the more trouble we’ll have when the oil runs out. At this point, everyone else fell about laughing. Everyone knew there was so much oil, we could use it for the next century and still have enough left over for another decade or so. Put another way, this was a problem for our children to worry about when we reached what was then called peak oil.

Until we’d reached the maximum possible output a year, there was no need to look around for a substitute. Even today when more people ask whether we’ve reached the peak, clever scientists come up with new ways to extract it. Fracking and using shale being the latest innovations. Well, now someone has asked the same question about cars.

The people who are responsible for urban planning have noticed something strange. We’re driving fewer miles per person. You may think the traffic jams you are encountering are the worst there’s ever been but you’d be wrong. There are fewer vehicles on the roads and we’re driving them less. There are two reasons for this:

• the young are losing interest in driving;
• the old are giving up on driving (sooner or later).

So forget about the recession. This has nothing to do with economic factors. All hail new technology! More people are working from home or using mobile technology. Fewer people have to commute. We can shop online. Soon we’ll be able to use 3D printers. Who needs malls! We have Facebook. Who needs to meet with friends face-to-face? It all comes down to this simple truth. Many of us could live useful and productive lives without leaving the couch. This may also cause a spike in the rate of obesity, but it could see the end of the motor manufacturing industry.

Wait! That’s a good thing, isn’t it? Well, just look at the newspaper industry as a model for what’s likely to happen. There was a time, there were thousands of journalists who wrote millions of words. To feed this industry, people cut down trees, made paper and printing presses, drove piles of newspapers and magazines to corner stores where they were sold (often offering employment to the young for delivery purposes). Now there are online newspapers and bloggers. The trees would be safe except we need the land for agriculture. So when we all stay home, we don’t need all these big office blocks. We can turn them into apartments and cut out the need to travel even more. The tens of thousands who make the parts for automobiles and assemble them will no longer be required. They will have to find new work to do (from home). Look into the future and tremble. There will be no more demand for personal transport. Only those in a few limited trades and professions will need to travel. A few hobbyists may own vehicles. Whether there will be roads to drive them on is anyone’s guess. Now that’s a future to look forward to!

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