Season 12 -  The conclusion of Bright Futures
Episode 2 - Will the future of transport be green and sustainable?

When we talk about the future, two visions are at odds. On the left, there are the writers, filmmakers and video game creators. They envision a dark, apocalyptic future, where the world is ravaged by the madness of humans, under the control of robots or prey to horrible diseases. On the right, there’s the vision of the techno-patriarchs and those exploiting the ecological transition. In their eyes, the future is ultra-technological, but respectful of nature. The way of life and consumption of the Earth's inhabitants doesn’t change, but technological innovation has saved the world from certain doom. Somewhere in between, there are an infinite number of possibilities which are linked to the passenger transport choices we make. But few of the technologies we’ve mentioned in this section are sustainable or ecological.

The most disappointing

Let’s get going with the two most ecologically disappointing technologies: teleportation and the flying car. The first would require a crazy deployment of energy for a perfectly questionable utility. The second would be as polluting as a small plane, if not more. Neither would drive much interest, unless you’re wildly wealthy and need an ego boost. Whatever its momentum and pollution levels, the production could only be a loss in ecological terms. Sustainability also involves producing less and producing useful products.

Finally, there’s the Very Very High Speed ​​train. Why make a bullet train which – even if it’s unlikely to work – would surely be electric and not very polluting? Because it’s not just momentum that pollutes. There’s also the construction of the infrastructure. However, as Patricia Pérennes, transport economist at the Trans-Missions firm, explained in season 2, a TGV line comes with consequences. Land would need to be flattened and reshaped so the line could run. A train that’s two or three times faster would be even more demanding, and come with a load more negative consequences.

The slightly better

Now for the transport solutions that could be more sustainable and ecological, provided progress moves in the right direction. The first two are the hydrogen plane and the hydrogen train. Their main problem? Hydrogen is not a perfect fuel, with only 5% of global production being green. As indicated by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the remaining 95% is called grey, i.e. produced using fossil fuels. So work needs to be done for it to become truly green. The same goes for the SAF (Sustainable Aircraft Fuel) aircraft, which has its work cut out. On the one hand, it will have to focus on SAFs that are themselves green. But above all, they will have to find a way to remove kerosene from the final equation. Otherwise, it will remain a smokescreen aimed at greening aviation, without any real ecological impact.

Finally, a couple more controversial cases: the solar plane and the self-driving car. Both are promising, as they make up part of a multimodal transport ecosystem. But do we really need a plane that can carry nothing (or next to nothing)? Or a car that’s so packed with electronics that making it packs a serious ecological cost? It seems reasonable to give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, AI designed for this purpose could be more environmentally friendly than a human being. All that remains is to create it and prove that it’s effective.

The most promising

Now the technologies we rely on to create a healthy future for our children and children's children. The first of these is obviously the electric car, which admittedly requires lithium. But it offers such a sea change from its thermal counterpart that it’s impossible not to classify it in this category. The only reservation: it needs to come with a serious paradigm shift. It must be accompanied by reduced production, reasonable use and has to be powered by a sustainable source of electricity. There’s no point in replacing thermal engines with a car running on poorly sourced electricity.

We’ll finish with our two favourites. First of all: trains. Naturally, we’re a little biassed about them. Then there’s biogas, which reuses polluting elements to power the trains. As Maria Lee, Logistics and Transport expert at Sia Partners, explained, it will constitute an exceptional transition technology to replace diesel trains. Then we’ll have to move onto something else: an electrification method that’s applicable to all geographic areas or clean hydrogen. Finally, there’s the night train, which can run on electricity, biogas, hydrogen, or anything else. And by simply existing, would make many plane journeys unnecessary. It’s a mode of travel that’s just crying out  for reinvention…

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