Car Dreams or Car Nightmares?
Will there be a "car of the future?"
Elizabeth Kolbert, writing in The New Yorker, reviews a book that may both encourage and frighten. An excerpt:
Consider what’s happening in India and China. As Carson and Vaitheeswaran point out, car ownership in both countries has been and still remains, by U.S. standards, almost absurdly low. There are nine personal vehicles per thousand eligible drivers in China and eleven for every thousand Indians, compared with 1,148 for every thousand Americans. But incomes in the two countries are rising so rapidly—the Chinese economy grew by eleven per cent last year and is expected to grow by the same amount this year—that millions of vehicleless families will soon be in a position to buy automobiles. Assuming that incomes continue to rise, in a few years tens of millions of families will be buying their first cars, and eventually hundreds of millions. (To satisfy increasing demand in India, the country’s second-largest auto manufacturer, Tata Motors, is set to start producing a four-door known as the one-lakh car—a lakh is a hundred thousand rupees—that will sell for the equivalent of twenty-five hundred dollars.) Were China and India to increase their rates of car ownership to the point where per-capita oil consumption reached just half of American levels, the two countries would burn through a hundred million additional barrels a day. (Currently, total global oil use is eighty-six million barrels a day.) Were they to match U.S. consumption levels, they would require an extra two hundred million barrels a day. It’s difficult to imagine how such enormous quantities of oil could be found, but, if they could, the result would be catastrophe. “Just consider the scale of the potential problem—for instance, the effect on global warming of seven hundred and fifty million more cars in India and China, belching carbon dioxide,” Carson and Vaitheeswaran write.