On Thursday morning (31 January, 2019) it was announced that the UK’s car industry had the slowest growth throughout Europe last year. As British car production falls to a five-year low, and sales of traditional diesel and petrol cars are slumping across the board, some are justified in trying to save their failing industry, by means of a good Brexit deal, lower fuel prices or a relaxation of the strict environmental rules in place. However, is it time to say goodbye to travel by our current means?

The problems

Most of our transport systems today involve the burning of fossil fuels, which is, by now, a well-recognised as hugely detrimental to our planet. Even though "CO2 Emissions" slip casually into our everyday conversation, we often fail to think about the real danger that we face in the coming years.

Burning fossil fuels creates carbon dioxide gas, which rising into the atmosphere. As it is a dense and insulative gas, shortwave radiation is trapped as it bounces off the Earth, and instead of leaving the atmosphere, it is re-radiated causing the temperature on Earth to increase, like a greenhouse. Since the industrial revolution, temperatures have been slowly rising and scientists warn that another 1°C increase in temperature would change the world entirely.

Due to rising sea levels, thousands of islands and costal areas like the Maldives could be totally wiped out. Habitats and species would disappear, and it would be difficult to grow the crops we need to survive. Even worse, the loss of land would lead to chronic overpopulation, which could only make the situation a lot worse.

It’s not long that we can go on burning fossil fuels at a rate of knots: if we don’t kill the planet and ourselves by then, we only have 50 years of gas and oil and 110 of coal left in the world. It’s evident that we need an alternative quickly.

The solutions

Now that we rely on non-renewable energy so much, it is hard to see a way out of the hole we have dug ourselves. However, if there is enough support for any one alternative, there could be many positive alternatives on the horizon.

Cars and planes

Despite flying cars long having been a futuristic icon for transport, due to the large amount of fuel required to raise them above the ground, they do not actually solve any of the problems our current cars have. After a few years of development, the novelty has worn off.

Electric cars are already in production and are fast becoming a respected alternative to diesel and petrol. However, their main flaw is that they still run off electricity created by burning fossil fuels in power stations; so despite their benefits, these are not totally clean.

A healthy option lies in hydrogen-powered cars. Hydrogen can be formed by splitting up water with an electric current, it burns readily in oxygen to once more form water with no toxic by-products. It seems like a godsend, and in many ways it is... Except for how flammable it is: the toughest challenge is safely storing the hydrogen – as proved by several failed attempts. Additionally, this process still requires an electric current.

These technologies are also being developed for planes, yet the same problems arise. We are in need of something that can sustain itself without electricity, or to change the production methods of electricity: no mean feat.

Public transport

Perhaps it would be best to transfer all our efforts into expanding and cleaning up the public transport system instead of selfishly choosing to have our ‘own’ cars. If we could institute a greener, and preferably less delay-ridden system for communal transportation, it would have the power to be a lot more efficient.

For example, in Dubai, prototypes of "Autonomous Pods" have been tested since the early part of last year and offer a promising alternative to the expensive and often problematic trains and buses we have today. Despite not yet being developed enough to totally replace cars, it certainly looks like these "Autonomous Pods" could play a part in our future in transport.

Get on your bike!

The ideal situation would be to have a world where humans no longer consumed the world’s resources to move us from place to place. Whilst not always possible, self-powered transport like bicycles and even walking causes a lot less damage to the environment. In places like Scandinavia and the Netherlands especially, up to 93% of people get around without the need for any fuel thanks to the supportive infrastructure in cities like Amsterdam with designated cycle roads. What’s more, it's making the population fitter!

In conclusion, it’s becoming clear that we need to clean up after a nearly 200-year history of gluttonously consuming our world’s resources to the detriment of the Earth’s environment, animals and our future generations. We need to fix this problem quickly and the only way to do this is to raise awareness and keep looking for new technologies to help us. Whilst we are reluctant to let go of our past, we all know the right path to take: it’s up to us to choose it.