On October 21st of 2015, a heavily modified De Lorean DMC-12 emerges on a highway of flying cars accompanied by bolts of lightning. Dr. Emmett Brown, Marty McFly and his girlfriend Jennifer Parker ascend down to the town of Hill Valley to find a future of 3D-holograms, voice controlled home appliances, very different from their reality of 1985.
The futuristic scenes from the film Back to the Future gave a generation an exciting image of what the future might be. Movie geeks were counting down to the date in 2015, dubbed “Back in the future day”, hoping for someone to invent a real life hoverboard before the time was up. Today some of us live in smart homes, and drones with cameras are becoming ubiquitous, but unfortunately we don’t have flying cars; the ultimate symbol of the future. At least not in the way most of us imagined it.
As we look into the future today, we see different possibilities and opportunities than in 1985. Not flying cars, but electric ones, providing a cleaner way of transportation. Although people still feel confident that the development of technology will keep making our lives better, it’s not all about optimism. Global warming, population growth and rapid urbanization are challenges that might bring devastating results if not dealt with accordingly.
Roughly 20% of all the carbon emissions globally are caused by transportation (of total fuel combustion). A large part of that transportation is goods moving around the world, but a large part of it is also just everyday trips to grocery stores and workplaces on cars and mopeds. There is also a huge variation between different countries, ranging from 6.1% in Kazakhstan, to over 90% in Paraguay. Urbanization, the fact that 6 out of 10 people are projected to live in cities in 2030, coupled with the projected number of car ownership rates that are going through the roof, are going to be a challenge. Already in 2014, half of the world’s population were exposed to air pollution levels at least an alarming 2.5 times higher than what is recommended by the World Health Organization. It might be a good thing that traffic jams for now are just going to be limited to two dimensions, instead of three.
While people are looking up to companies and governments to come up with clean solutions to problems, a lot will come down to people changing their habits as well. Electric cars are still out of reach for the majority of people due to their high price, but electric bikes and scooters are becoming cheap enough. If it’s only a question of comfort, choosing public transportation over driving can help reduce the carbon footprint. And let’s not forget about cycling or just plain good old walking, which are the best options from the ecological perspective. Although hoverboards are undeniably awesome, let’s hope that the day they hit the market, they’ll be green.