Yes: cars do actually use energy

Most of the transportation energy use is intra-city or intra-country transport of goods. This is across the ocean, or vast distances on land.

Your bike lanes and public transit are nice, but they’re not a significant contributor to the overall energy-usage profile of the planet.

This is a very typical conversation with any sustainable type. They’re worried a lot about the huge supply chains that are vital to our modern, globalized economy – but mass car dependence (something many, if not most, countries do without) is apparently but a drop in the bucket.

Luckily, the UK department of National Statistics can set us right. Here’s my source for the rest of the article.

Earlier my discussion partner (who I quoted above) said about a third of energy is transportation, he’s bang on!

Old date, but it doesn’t seem to change too quick. From the source above.

Breaking down the data we can see energy usage is mostly in the road sector, although we can also see aviation is a huge driver. All in all, road transport accounts for about three quarters of transport related energy usage.



And the private motorcar is responsible for 62% of that road related energy usage.

34% x 75% x 62% = 16%

So, in the United Kingdom, a country which has a very low level of car dependence compared to many (just look at a motorway map of London) uses 16% of its energy for cars.

16% is definitely worth targeting. If we could halve car miles (leaving plenty of rural and disabled drivers – even leftovers for the pleasure driver) that’s an 8% reduction in energy usage – a huge step forward.

Cars and density oppose each other. Cars permit sprawl and use huge amounts of valuable space (parking lots, motorways and wide roads). A bigger city means a longer and more energy intensive commute.

While electric cars are now firmly in front of us, we’re still a long way from mass adoption. In the meantime cars rely on a fuel source that is not only incredibly volatile in price, but also damaging to the air quality of our cities.

I think it’s simply foolish to brush urban planning, transit and car dependency under the rug when it comes to sustainability.


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