Edward Humes. 2016. Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation. HarperCollins.
A book review by Alice Friedemann at www.energyskeptic.com author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation, 2015, Springer]
I was in the transportation business for 22 years at American President Lines, where I designed computer systems to seamlessly transfer cargo between ships, rail, and trucks for just-in-time delivery. Every few weeks I was on call 24 x 7, because if computer systems are down, cargo isn’t going anywhere.
Humes writes about the amazing complexity of transportation in delightful ways that will change how you look at the world around you.
He begins simply, with how a morning cup of coffee has a transportation footprint of at least 100,000 miles. His 6.3 mile drive to get the coffee is just a small fraction of that journey. The car itself embodies at least 500,000 miles when you add up how many miles the raw materials for it traveled. And when you add in other miles part of a morning routine — the orange juice, dish soap, socks — you’re talking over 3 million miles of goods moved.
After reading this book, you will appreciate how pizza arrives at your door a great deal more. At a chain-pizza central distribution center in Ontario, California, 14 big rigs arrive at 4 am every day, 2 of them with Mozzarella in 2,736 15-pound bags traveling 233 miles. Other ingredients/miles: 936 cases tomato sauce/278, Pepperoni and other meat/1,400, chicken toppings/1,600, Salt/1,900 and so on. Empty pizza boxes arrive many times a day from 33 miles away (though the pizza box store got them from 2,200 miles distant). And that’s just the start of how that pizza eventually arrives at your door.
But pizza is nothing compared to what United Parcel Service does. I especially liked what UPS manager Noel Massie had to say about how trucks are vital to the economy and our way of life but treated like interlopers on America’s roads. He’d like to see dedicated highway freight lanes—high-speed lanes just for trucks, isolated from passenger traffic—and greater public transportation investment to take cars off the road, making room for those freight lanes and more trucks. “It’s simple, really. Trucks are like the bloodstream in the human body. They carry all the nutrients a body needs in order to be healthy. If your blood stops flowing, you would die. If trucks stop moving, the economy would die. People have become truck haters. They want them off the road. People don’t know what they’re asking for.”
Massie is right — if trucks stopped running, tens of millions of Americans would die (i.e. (1) Holcomb 2006. When Trucks Stop, America Stops. American Trucking Assoc, 2) McKinnon 2004 Life without Lorries, or 3) A Week without Truck Transport. Four Regions in Sweden).
Trucks run on diesel fuel, which is finite. I am flabbergasted that people assume the economy will keep growing and that we can continue to drive cars forever, when conventional oil production peaked in 2005 (90% of oil is conventional). Conventional oil practically flows out of the ground unaided, unconventional oil is nasty, gunky, distant, difficult to get, and uses so much energy that far less is available to society at large.
On top of that, the transportation that matters — ships, rail, and trucks, use diesel engines, nearly as essential as the fuel they burn due to their energy efficiency (twice as good as gasoline engines) and ability to do work. Diesel engines can last 40 years and go a million miles. Indeed, Smil makes the case that civilization as we know it depends on diesel engines ([Prime Movers of Globalization: The History and Impact of Diesel Engines and Gas Turbines (MIT Press)]. Replacing billions of vehicles and equipment with diesel engines before oil starts declining in earnest will be difficult. We don’t want to throw out the trillions of dollars invested in current vehicles and the distribution system. Ideally we need a “drop-in” fuel that diesel engines can burn. Diesel engines can’t burn gasoline or ethanol, and can be harmed by biodiesel, so most engine warranties restrict biodiesel from nothing up to 20% of diesel fuel. Nor can diesel engines run on natural gas (CNG or LNG). Trucks are too heavy to run on batteries, and too expensive to build with dual modes of propulsion (so they can get off the electric line to go to their destination). If overhead electric catenary wires were used, how many more power plants would need to be built? And not all “trucks” can use them, we can’t string overhead wires over millions of acres of farmland to run tractors and harvesters on, and all the other off-road trucks that mine, log, maintain the electric grid transmission wires, etc. If the intersection of transportation and energy interests you, I recommend [ When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation (SpringerBriefs in Energy)]
Most books, including this one, assume endless growth will continue and discuss ways of reducing congestion. But not to worry — oil and other vital resources such as phosphorus will decline soon enough, because energy and natural resources are finite. We’ve all been brainwashed to ignore that by the neoclassical economic system which denies such obvious truths as limits to growth. A book that explains this, and which ought to be the standard economics textbook is [Energy and the Wealth of Nations: Understanding the Biophysical Economy]. After you read it, you will understand why the economists of today will be considered as crazy as Scientologists and other religious cults in the future [Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion].
Excerpts from the book
More than smartphones, more than television, more than food, culture, or commerce, more even than Twitter or Facebook, transportation permeates our daily existence. In ways both glaringly obvious and deeply hidden, thousands, even millions of miles are embedded in everything we do and touch—not just every trip we take, but every click we make, every purchase, every meal, every sip of water and drop of gasoline. We are the door-to-door nation.
The capacity to transport a supercomputer, a desperately needed medicine, or a tube of toothpaste from a factory in Shanghai to a store in Southern California or New Jersey or Duluth—and to do so 20 billion times a day reliably, affordably, quickly, and trackably—may well be humanity’s most towering achievement.
Every time you visit the Web site for UPS or Amazon or Apple and instantly learn where in the world your product or package can be found and when it will thump on your doorstep, you have achieved something that all but the still-living generations of humanity would have declared impossible or demonic.
Costco French Roast consists of a blend of beans from South America, Africa, and Asia, each component shipped by container vessel up to 11,000 miles in 132-pound loosely woven sacks of raw, green coffee beans, some across the Pacific Ocean to ports up and down the West Coast, the rest via the Panama Canal, perhaps the Suez Canal, then on to one of several East Coast ports. The complexities are so great on this routing—based on ship space, season, and the vagaries of rates and departures—that it’s difficult to trace bulk products more precisely than this. The raw beans then travel by freight train or truck (2,226 miles for the Port of Los Angeles portion) to one of the world’s largest blending and roasting plants, located at 3000 Espresso Way in York, Pennsylvania, one of six such plants in the Starbucks empire and the one identified by the company as principally serving Costco. After roasting, blending, and testing to make sure every batch smells and tastes exactly the same no matter how many times a customer buys Costco French Roast, the beans are sealed in plastic and foil composite bags with their own coast-to-coast mileage footprint. Then the packages are stacked on wooden pallets (sourced from all over the nation) and shipped another 2,773 miles back across the country to the Costco depot in Tracy, California, from which my coffee was trucked to my local Costco store. By the time I got those beans, they had traveled more than 30,000 miles from field to exporter to port to factory to distribution center to store to my house—more than enough to circumnavigate the globe.
But that’s not where the coffee mileage stops. There are the components of my German-built, globally sourced coffeemaker, which collectively traveled another 15,700 miles to reach my kitchen. My little bean grinder had a similar triptych. The drinking water I use to brew my coffee comes to my home from a blend of three sources: from groundwater pumped in from local wells about 50 miles distant; via the 242-mile Colorado River Aqueduct; and through the 444-mile California State Water Project, which moves water south from Northern California, forces it 2,000 feet straight up and over the Tehachapi Mountains, then down into Southern California. The fuel and energy required for this third leg exceeds the electricity demand of the entire city of Las Vegas and all its glittering casinos. The electricity that powers my coffee machine runs through a grid festooned with millions of transformers and capacitors, most of which are now imported across 12,000 miles from China through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, a complex that is a veritable city unto itself. The natural gas that fuels the power plants that provide most of the electricity to my coffeemaker is obtained from gas fields in Canada and Texas and sometimes farther through a 44,000-mile network of underground pipelines—North America’s hidden energy transport plumbing.
At this point the collective transportation footprint on my cup of coffee is hovering at 100,000 miles minimum. And that’s not counting the seemingly smallest segment of that journey, my 6.3-mile drive to Costco in my 2009 Toyota Scion xB, which has the most massive transportation footprint of anything I own—and not because I drive it very far. I chose to buy a used vehicle on the theory that a secondhand but fuel-efficient conventional car is greener and less wasteful overall than a newly made hybrid or electric (not to mention a whole lot cheaper), and because we needed something big enough to hold our three greyhounds (which it does, barely, with two humans on board, too). The Scion was built in Japan out of about thirty thousand globally sourced components from throughout Asia and Europe, with one U.S. manufacturer contributing: the tires are from Ohio-based Goodyear, which has factories in Asia as well as the U.S. The assembled car was shipped from Japan to the Port of Long Beach in California, then trucked to a dealership in Southern California (other cars arriving by ship move by train to more distant dealers). The cumulative travels of the raw materials and parts of my car totaled at least 500,000 miles before its first test drive. The gas in its tank is a petroleum cocktail that adds another 100,000 miles to the calculation, as the California fuel mix consists of crude oil from fourteen foreign countries and four states.5 Most of this oil arrives by tanker ships at West Coast ports, then moves thousands of miles around the state and country to tank farms, refineries, fuel depots, and distribution centers via pipelines, railroads, canals, and semitrucks before finally appearing at my neighborhood gas station. Thousands of man-hours and billions of dollars in technology and infrastructure—along with the efforts of countless unsung heroes who pack, lift, load, drive, and track it all—combined to bring that cup of coffee to my lips (and my wife’s nightstand; I’m the morning person in our household). That cup of coffee is a modern miracle, magical and mundane at the same time, though we hardly if ever notice the immense door-to-door machine ticking away, making it happen with product after product, millions of them, each requiring the same level of effort and movement, day after day.
Our true daily commutes, beginning first thing in the morning with the travels of my cup of coffee—and followed by my socks and orange juice and dog food and dish soap—are more on the order of 3 million miles.
We live like no other civilization in history, embedding ever greater amounts of miles within our goods and lives as a means of making everyday products and services seemingly more efficient and affordable. In the past, distance meant the opposite: added cost, added risk, added uncertainty. It’s as if we are defying gravity.
The logistics involved in just one day of global goods movement dwarfs the Normandy invasion and the Apollo moon missions combined. The grand ballet in which we move ourselves and our stuff from door to door is equivalent to building the Great Pyramid, the Hoover Dam, and the Empire State Building all in a day. Every day. It is almost a misnomer to call this a transportation “system.” Moving door to door requires a complex system built of many systems, separate and co-dependent, yet in competition with one another for resources and customers—an orchestra of sometimes harmonizing, sometimes clashing wheels, rails, roads, wings, pipelines, and sea lanes.
We are the proud owners of roads we can no longer afford to maintain, saddling the country with an impossible $3.6 trillion backlog in repairs and improvements to aging roads and bridges—a deficit that grows every year,
How can a country that deploys insanely capable robot rovers to Mars and puts unerring GPS chips in our pockets leave us with two-ton rolling metal boxes to transport one person to work each day—boxes that kill ninety-seven of us every day and injure another eight every minute? Cars are the American family’s largest expense after dwellings, our least efficient use of energy, the number one cause of death for Americans under thirty-nine, and our least productive investment by far. The typical car sits idle twenty-two hours a day, for which privilege Americans, on average, pay $1,049 a month in fuel, ownership, and operating expenses.
These two faces of transit are often viewed and treated as two separate, even competing worlds—the frequently frustrating, in-your-face reality of how we move ourselves, and the largely hidden world of goods movement with its gated marine terminals, secure distribution centers, and mile-long trains with unfamiliar foreign names on the container cars: Maersk and COSCO and YTL. The same Los Angeles–area communities that embraced a billion-dollar bill to add a lane to Interstate 405 have successfully fought off for fifty years the completion of another north-south freeway that would connect the port to inland California with its vast web of warehouses, distribution centers, and shipping terminals. Residents oppose the building of the last five miles of this freeway, Interstate 710, because it is seen as benefiting freight, not people, as if the local Walmart stocked itself. The stream of big rigs flowing from the port instead have to take roundabout and inefficient routes on other freeways, wasting fuel and time—and adding to commuter traffic jams as well, where drivers curse the ponderous big trucks they have inflicted on themselves.
The hidden side of our commute, the flow of goods, has become so huge that our ports, rails, and roads can no longer handle the load. They desperately need investments of public capital that the nation does not seem to have. Yet it’s an investment that must be made, as logistics—the transport of goods—is now a vital pillar of the U.S. economy. Goods movement now provides a greater source of job growth than making the stuff being shipped.
New manufacturing technologies—the science fiction turned fact that is 3-D printing—are pushing in the opposition direction. This “unicorn” technology gives businesses in Brooklyn, Boston, and Burbank the power to manufacture a fantastic range of products—from surgical implants to car parts to guns—and to do it cheaper than a Chinese factory can 12,000 miles away.
The movement of these components does not include the mining, processing, and shipping of the rare earth elements that are so vital to so much of our twenty-first-century technology, or the movement of the vast quantities of energy and water needed to obtain them.
In the end, the iPhone has a transportation footprint at least as great as a 240,000-mile trip to the moon, and most or all of the way back.
The real breakthrough that makes the iPhone possible—along with most of today’s consumer goods, right down to the cheapest pair of boxers in your drawer or the salt-and-pepper shakers (and their contents) on your table—is a breakthrough of transportation.
The fleets of giant container ships that burn fuel not by the gallon but by the ton pose a growing environmental threat, with cargo vessels contributing about 3 percent of global carbon emissions now and on track to generate up to 14 percent of worldwide greenhouse gases by 2050. 15
But beyond their smokestacks, the mega-ships that now dominate cargo movement are threatening the transportation system itself, overloading ports and the networks of rail, road, and trucking that connect them to the rest of the world. The U.S. is running out of capacity at these choke points, with neither the money nor the will to increase it.
The rise of online shopping is exacerbating the goods-movement overload, because shipping one product at a time to homes requires many more trips than delivering the same amount of goods en masse to stores. In yet another door-to-door paradox, the phenomenon of next-day and same-day delivery, while personally efficient and seductively convenient for consumers, is grossly inefficient for the transportation system at large.
And yet the impact of embedding ever larger amounts of transportation in products is often minimized in public discussion, even by businesses that have embraced the business case for sustainability. Certainly they are concerned about fuel efficiency in distribution and shipping—that’s just good business—but the transportation footprint of a manufactured product is often a secondary concern at best. That’s because the most common analysis of a consumer product’s life-cycle—an estimate of its greenhouse gas footprint, which is a proxy for its energy costs—will usually find that the distribution of a product is a much smaller factor than its production. In its public disclosures on the footprint of its products, Apple states that transport accounts for only 4 percent of my iPhone 6 Plus’s lifetime greenhouse gas emissions. Production of the device, meanwhile, accounts for 81 percent of its carbon footprint—twenty times the transportation footprint. Even my use of the phone—mostly by recharging it—overshadows shipping in Apple’s life-cycle reckoning, producing 14 percent of its footprint.16 For a glass of milk, shipping produces only 3 percent of the footprint. For a bottle of California wine, it’s about 13 percent.18 Transportation accounts for only 1 percent of the carbon footprint of a jacket from eco-conscious Patagonia, Inc., even though it’s made of fabric from China and sewn in Vietnam. Production of its petroleum-based synthetic polyester is said to be the main culprit, accounting for 71 percent of the garment’s carbon emissions.
These product-by-product analyses are accurate but often incomplete—and in the end, they can distort the reality of the gargantuan impact of the door-to-door system as a whole. Viewed as a sector, the transportation of people and product is second only to generating electricity in terms of energy use and greenhouse-gas emissions (consuming 26 percent of the country’s total energy and fuel supplies,20 while creating 31 percent of total greenhouse gases).21 Transportation has a larger energy and carbon footprint than all the other economic sectors: residential, commercial, and agricultural, as well as the industrial/product manufacturing sector that figures so prominently in those life-cycle analyses.
Transportation leads all sectors in one unfortunate metric: when it comes to wasting energy, the movement from door to door tops every other human endeavor, squandering 79 percent of the energy and fuel it consumes. Finding ways to reduce that waste presents one of the great economic and environmental opportunities of the age.
Wondering if this problem is about the movement of people in cars rather than products on trucks and trains? The simple answer: it’s both. Proportionately, goods movement has the more intense carbon footprint in the transportation space, with transport by rail, truck, ship, and pipeline together generating about a third of the total transportation footprint. Freight trucks alone spew 22.8 percent of all transportation carbon emissions. Passenger cars account for 42.7 percent, while pickup trucks, vans, and SUVs contribute 17 percent. Given that there are fewer than 3 million big-rig freight-hauling trucks in America out of 265 million vehicles total,23 the fossil-fuel-powered movement of goods has a disproportionately immense carbon, energy, and environmental footprint. Miles matter.
other big recyclables—paper and plastic—degrade during the recycling process, or lose value, or end up costing more than new material, so market forces for repurposing these waste products are mixed at best. Recycled aluminum, however, is a different story: not only is it chemically and physically indistinguishable from the new stuff, but it is beyond cost competitive. Aluminum recycling uses 92 percent less energy than mining and refining aluminum from bauxite,6 and is often done near the end consumer rather than in far-off pit mines, lowering transportation costs and distance.
Much of the aluminum extracted from the earth since the 1880s is still in play, some of it recycled dozens or even hundreds of times.
Because of its light weight and the fact that it does not rust like iron and steel, aluminum is now being touted as the next big thing for reinventing ground transportation. Aluminum is so light (atom by atom it weighs less than many gases) that swapping it with steel in cars and trucks could cut the average vehicle’s weight in half, with corresponding decreases in fuel consumption and carbon emissions.
But it takes nearly twelve years on average for passenger vehicles to enter the big recycling bin known as the scrapyard (and two or three times that for planes, trains, and cargo ships), with about 11.5 million vehicles scrapped annually in the U.S. Therein lies one of the great contradictions in the aluminum story and McKnight’s sweet-spot pitch. Demand for aluminum in the transportation space has exploded—the record 504 million pounds of the metal delivered to automakers in 2014 is projected to rise to 2.68 billion pounds by 201810—but recycling alone cannot yield the required supplies quickly enough. So ever more primary aluminum has to be mined and refined to meet the demand for more efficient cars. This is how aluminum can be at once green and dirty, both a shining example of the “cradle-to-cradle” reuse economy and a coal-soaked, industrial-age relic of primitive extraction, spewing waste and toxins in its wake.
In 2014, worldwide production of primary aluminum topped 53 million metric tons. Smelting that metal required nearly 690.170 gigawatts of electricity16—more than twice the power consumption of America’s largest and most power-hungry state, California. Aluminum smelting uses more electricity than almost any other industrial process; engineers joke that the metal ought to be defined as “congealed electricity.” Alcoa has located most of its smelting operations near sources of hydropower to lower the cost and environmental impact, but globally—particularly in China, with more than half the world’s production—more aluminum is made with dirty coal-powered electricity than anything else. Domestic aluminum smelting in the U.S. alone consumes 5 percent of the electricity generated nationwide.
What this means is that aluminum’s weight advantage over iron comes at a price: iron can be produced from iron oxide in a simple, relatively compact blast furnace; the complex Hall-Héroult process requires literally acres of electrolysis cells and city-scale power plants to produce equivalent amounts of aluminum. The bottom line: a car part made from steel costs 37 percent less than the same part made of aluminum,17 although a life-cycle analysis by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory found that the overall energy and carbon footprint of a mostly aluminum car is less than a standard steel vehicle because of lower operating and fuel costs.18 The calculation changes radically in aluminum’s favor when recycled metal is used.
Because of California’s robust container deposit law, we receive a dime refund for every can we turn in, one reason why the state is the national recycling leader. Only ten states impose container deposits on beverages, however, and this explains why, nationwide, America’s recycling rate compares unfavorably with Europe’s and Japan’s. It’s also why, despite the value of scrap aluminum, 43 percent of aluminum cans used by consumers still end up thrown away instead of recycled.
As a consequence, the only way can makers can achieve the 70 percent recycled content in U.S. soda cans is by importing old cans from elsewhere in the world, mostly Europe. And so the metal in my can of lime seltzer—and every other canned beverage in America—is far better traveled than most of the consumers who buy it, as the industry is forced to outsource the metal from old cans from around the globe to satisfy our thirst. The cost of hauling scrap aluminum cans around the planet might knock some of the shine off the industry’s green credentials, but it still pencils out: even old cans transported from abroad are cheaper and have a lower energy and carbon footprint than pulling that same metal out of the mines.
Instead of questioning the very nature of the can—or the ship or the car or any other staple of the door-to-door world that has become part of daily American culture—the focus is almost always on refining the magic. Make cargo ships twice as big in the space of ten years so they can carry even more stuff door to door—but give no thought to the impact on roads, traffic, and infrastructure when all this extra cargo slams into land. Or make cars lighter with aluminum so they burn less gas and emit less carbon. But don’t question the transportation fundamentals these lighter cars will perpetuate—a country where 57 percent of households own two or more cars,23 all of them spending an average of twenty-two hours a day parked and disused.
Jay Isais is nodding and smiling as the readout comes within a percentage point of the target. He is an unabashed coffee nerd who also happens to run sourcing and manufacturing for the biggest coffee house chain in the U.S. not named Starbucks. He’s the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’s senior director of coffee, roasting, and manufacturing—or, in lay terms, the company coffee guy. He literally lives, breathes, and slurps coffee for a living: the company has nearly a thousand stores in thirty countries, and every one of the 8 million pounds a year the company buys is personally chosen by Isais.
What most consumers don’t realize, Isais says, is that when they buy coffee in a big can at the supermarket, it’s already stale before the first cup is brewed—even before the can is opened with its impressive hiss of a vacuum seal released. This is simple chemistry at work: along with its delicious aromas, coffee gives off copious amounts of carbon dioxide for a day or two after leaving the roaster. Stick the java right in a can, and that can will begin to bulge or even rupture from the pent-up gas pressure. Wait until the outgassing slows before sealing the can, and the problem goes away—but so does freshness. This had been the problem with American coffee since early in the twentieth century, when mass production and canning techniques were first applied to what had previously been a commodity sold fresh or even raw to the public.
Before the mass production techniques Henry Ford brought to the automobile were applied to coffee, the product was most often sold in its raw green bean state in the U.S.—the beans having been cleansed of the fruit skin, pulp, and an inner husk called the parchment, but not roasted. Coffee can stay good for up to a year in this state if kept dry and indoors. Consumers would take it home, roast it in a pan or oven, and grind it with a hand-cranked coffee grinder. The drink became somewhat popular in America during the American Revolution. Patriots wanted to supplant their previous favorite, tea, after the Boston Tea Party. Serving coffee represented a statement against British custom and rule. But coffee really took off as an American staple nearly a century later, during the Civil War. It was one of the few luxuries—as well as a welcome stimulant—offered troops on both sides, although only the Union Army had reliable supplies after the first year at war. Hundreds of thousands of men came home from the war hooked on java. Green coffee beans were part of the daily rations given to Union soldiers, who had little roasting kits in their packs or just used cast-iron skillets on the campfires. Some of the government-issue carbines had little grinders cleverly built into the rifle butts, but others just used their regular, solid rifle butts to hammer the beans until they broke up enough to brew.
Before each bag is sealed, oxygen is flushed out with pure nitrogen so the coffee cannot oxidize and spoil inside the bag. In this way, roasted coffee can be kept and retain most of its flavor for months. This is a compromise, as coffee is at its flavorful best twenty-four hours after roasting, Isais says. And yes, he admits, he can tell the difference. But it’s still a vast improvement over the old industrial canning process. The logistics for the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf are complex: shipments take six to eight weeks to arrive via container from Africa, Indonesia, Central and South America, and Mexico. Two-thirds of the coffee shipments enter the country through the Port of Oakland, which has a preferred rate for certain commodities, coffee among them, and one-third arrives through the Port of Los Angeles.
Cars—all 1.2 billion of them worldwide—may not be the most vital component of our sprawling transportation landscape, or the most economically potent; the goods movement fleets and flotillas hold those crowns.
The price for this convenience is acceptance of vehicles that are nothing less than rolling disasters in terms of economics, environment, energy, efficiency, climate, health, and safety. Our failure to acknowledge the social and real-dollar costs of these automotive shortcomings amounts to a massive hidden subsidy. The modern car could not dominate, or exist at all, without this shadow funding. So what are the failings of our cars? First and foremost, they are profligate wasters of money and fuel: more than 80 cents of every dollar spent on gasoline is squandered by the inherent inefficiencies of the modern internal combustion engine. No part of our infrastructure and daily lives wastes more energy and, by extension, more money than the modern automobile.
There are also the indirect environmental, health, and economic costs of extracting, transporting, and refining oil for vehicle fuels, and the immense national security costs and risks of being dependent on foreign-oil imports for significant amounts of that fuel.
One out of every 112 Americans is likely to die in a traffic crash. Just under 1 percent of us.
The videos are horrifying, one crash after another in which death or major injury was avoided by luck rather than skill
The journey of my son’s pizza starts at 4:00 a.m. in Ontario when the first of fourteen big rigs arrives with the day’s supplies, starting with two truckloads of mozzarella. That’s 2,736 fifteen-pound bags from cheese giant Leprino Foods’ branch in Lemoore, California, 233 miles north and made from milk sourced from California dairies. Another truck arrives with 936 cases of sauce from TomaTek in Firebaugh, California, in the heart of tomato-growing country 278 miles north of Ontario. The Tyson Foods delivery brings pepperoni, sausage, ham, and salami in from the Dallas area, 1,400 miles, and chicken toppings out of Arkansas, 1,600 miles. Presliced onions and bell peppers come in from Boskovich Farms, just 100 miles away in Oxnard, California, while one of the top five toppings, mushrooms, arrives from Monterey Mushrooms in Watsonville, California, 361 miles distant. Flour originates in the wheat belt 1,500 miles away, but the mill that delivers it by tank trunk daily, Ardent Mills, a joint venture of food giants Cargill and ConAgra, is just twenty miles away in Colton. Salt is shipped in from Cargill in Wayzata, Minnesota, 1,900 miles distant, while sugar arrives from Cargill’s Brawley, California, plant, just 163 miles away.
Assorted deliveries of less frequently used toppings—garlic, anchovies, banana peppers, beef strips, and jalapeños—round out the offerings,
Multiple deliveries of empty pizza boxes arrive throughout the day from Santa Fe Springs, 33 miles away, although they’re made by a Georgia company 2,200 miles away, making them the most distant piece of the pizza puzzle other than pineapple. The various ingredients are parceled out to sections of the warehouse that are refrigerated, frozen, or kept at room temperature, where they await loading on outgoing trucks later that day.
The only freshly prepared pizza component is the dough. Everything in the Domino’s supply chain center revolves around the dough-making operation cycle, which begins when the ovens start preheating at 5:00 a.m. Domino’s pizza dough has six primary ingredients that go into one of three giant mixing bowls at the plant. Each mixing bowl holds more than six hundred pounds of dough, consisting of flour, yeast, salt, sugar, water, and oil. A secret “goody bag” with a small quantity of Domino’s proprietary flavors and dough conditioners is dumped in the mix, too, and giant stainless steel beaters go to work kneading the mixture
When the mixing is done, the giant bowl is loaded on a clanking stainless steel lift that raises the dough about eight feet in the air and then overturns it into a cutting machine that extrudes dough cylinders like Play-Doh, dumping them on a conveyor belt. The belt whisks the pasty-looking cylinders to a rolling machine that turns them into balls of dough ranging from baseball to softball size, depending on whether they are for small, medium, large, or extra-large pizzas. The dough balls shoot through a metal detector to make sure no twist-ties or bits of machinery contaminated the dough, then three line workers inspect, flatten, and pack the dough balls into one of the thousands of blue plastic trays that fill the facility in tall stacks.
By 1:30 p.m., the production phase of the day ends with the last dough run, whole wheat pizza dough for school lunches. The daily output: enough dough for 100,000 pizzas. At 2:00 p.m. the loading of the outgoing trucks begins. These are Domino-branded refrigerated big-rig trucks owned and maintained by Ryder and made by Volvo,
The trucks have been plugged in to the supply center’s electrical system and cooling down to 36 degrees all day. Even the loading dock is refrigerated to protect the raw dough. The bulk of each trailer’s interior space is taken up by the towers of stacked blue trays with their 100,000 dough balls, layered and mapped into sections based on the size of the pizza (medium and large are by far the most popular). The other ingredients—cheese, sauce, toppings, golden cornmeal to dust the pizza pans, napkins, and red peppers, in addition to cardboard pizza boxes—have to be crammed in around the all-important dough trays.
At 8:00 p.m., the first of the trucks departs for deliveries to the franchises, continuing in waves through midnight. Each truck has its own geographic area that might have twelve to fifteen stops, ranging from close-in deliveries in the LA metropolitan area, to franchises as far as the Arizona border, the Mexican border, and the ski resort at Mammoth Mountain, the most distant stop at three hundred miles and the only overnight run. The goal is to deliver the goods while the pizzerias are closed. The drivers have keys and put everything away, so the store is stocked and ready to start cooking the moment it opens for business.
We couldn’t be more contradictory about this: More than nine out of ten American voters believe it’s important to improve the country’s transportation infrastructure, and eight out of ten say it’s vital in order for America to stay competitive with other nations. Yet seven out of ten voters adamantly oppose raising the federal gas tax from its 1993 levels.11 Which is why Congress is basically cooking the books with accounting gimmicks to keep the system afloat year to year, deferring critical repairs and modernization projects year after year.
the Empire State Building weighs 365,000 tons. America moves goods equivalent to 46,575 Empire State Buildings door to door every year. If all that was loaded on just standard 53-foot semitrailers, it would require 425 million big rigs to move it, with every truck filled to the legal 80,000-pound limit. That would take about eighty times more trucks than the entire U.S. fleet of registered semitrailers.
Who rules the seas?
Cargo ships. Their purpose is not intimidating enemy targets but actually stocking Target stores, along with every other retailer, business, and home in America. Along with all their thousands of other customers, those cargo ships just happen to deliver 80 percent of the components the U.S. Navy and the rest of the American military relies upon. The Pentagon outsources as much as everyone else. When it comes to the superpowers of global shipping, the U.S. barely ranks as a bit player. In a concentration of power unlike any other sector of the transportation system, six steamship companies, none of them American, control more than half the goods in the world.2 Twenty global companies—most of which have joined forces in four immense ship-sharing alliances—control almost every product traded on earth. This has been the quietest conquest and surrender in world history, one in which the entire United States happily and somewhat obliviously participated because consumers love above all else low prices at the cash register, and there is no question that globalization has delivered that part brilliantly. The miracle of modern logistics and ultra-efficient global transportation technology has made achieving those low prices possible, although beneath the gleaming tech lies the crudest of foundations. All it took was two things: divesting America of its once-mighty cargo fleets and shipyards; and outsourcing a major chunk of consumer goods manufacturing to countries with pay, benefits, environmental practices, standards of living, and working conditions that would never in a million years be tolerated on American soil. The thrill of the checkout-line bargain masks the reality that Americans pay elsewhere for those low prices in the form of shuttered U.S. factories, lower wages, a shrinking middle class, a growing inability to pay for roads and bridges, massive public subsidies of the health and environmental costs of transportation pollution, and a nation—including its armed forces—that can no longer function without massive amounts of Chinese imports shipped aboard Korean-built vessels owned and operated by foreign conglomerates.
Of the six cargo powers that control a majority of global goods movement, Denmark-based Maersk Lines is the leader, at the top in numbers of ships, in cargo capacity, in revenues, in profits, and in constructing the biggest and most advanced cargo ships in the world. Maersk (with subsidiaries in oil platforms, oil drilling, trucking, and port terminal operations) handles nearly 16 percent of the world’s cargo all on its own. Maersk has partnered in a mega ship-sharing alliance with the Geneva-based Mediterranean Shipping Company—the world’s second biggest container ship line. Together the two companies’ “2M Alliance” control a combined fleet of 1,119 vessels capable of hauling 29 percent of the world’s goods.3 Not a single missile, cannon, or gun bristles from this container ship fleet.
Bunker fuel, it’s called: the cheapest, dirtiest form in common use is up to 1,800 times more polluting than the diesel fuel used in buses and big rigs,15 and little more than a waste product left over after everything else useful is extracted from crude oil. It has the consistency of asphalt; a person can walk on it when it’s cool. The big cargo ships burn so much bunker fuel that they don’t measure consumption in gallons but in metric tons per hour, with the really big ships consuming two hundred to four hundred tons a day. One large container ship burning this type of fuel spews out more sulfur and nitrogen oxides—the precursors of smog and particulate pollution, as well as a major contributor to the ocean acidification that threatens fisheries and coral reefs—than 500,000 big-rig trucks or roughly 7.5 million passenger cars.16 That means just 160 of the 6,000 such mega-ships in service today pump out the same amount of these pollutants as all the cars in the world.
The cargo fleet is also a prodigious source of carbon emissions—about 2 to 3 percent of the global total.17 Although that’s only between a third and a fifth of the global-warming gases emitted by the world’s cars,18 it’s still a big greenhouse gas footprint for such a relatively small number of vessels. If the shipping industry were a country, it would be in the top ten drivers of climate change, and its billion tons of carbon dioxide and equivalents put it ahead of Germany, the world’s fourth largest economy. At current rates of growth, the shipping industry that hauls 90 percent of the world’s goods will be two and a half times its current size by 2050; absent a serious effort to become more energy efficient, it could be generating a staggering 18 percent of global greenhouse gases by then.
Through a very deceptive accounting loophole, none of these big ship emissions “belong” to any one country. They happen in international waters for the most part, and so for the purpose of calculating the greenhouse gas emissions of nations, they simply don’t exist—on paper. They very much exist in terms of their impact on climate, oceans, and health.
Port of LAX
Each day in predawn darkness, Chavez and her crew of marine information specialists arrive at Angels Gate to chart the approaching parade of cargo vessels, gathering cryptic information received via phone, e-mail, and old-school fax from the world’s far-flung maritime shipping lines. The product of these labors is a master daily schedule for a hundred or more impending ship departures, arrivals, crossings of the two-hundred-mile international limit, and shifts to the marine terminal docks from remote harbor anchoring spots (the waterfront equivalent of the doctor’s waiting room). Once dockside, the mammoth ships need two to five days to unload and reload before leaving for their next port of call and making room for the next vessel, which means every berth has a waiting line behind it.
First, Debbie Chavez sends out the list to inform the work of the traffic controllers and Coast Guard officers at the Marine Exchange “Watch” peering at their radar and computer displays. They direct and police the approaching vessels. Then the Master Queuing List is used to schedule the port pilots who race out to meet the ships and guide the laden behemoths in and out of their berths. The list is next used to staff the day shift with the right number of crane operators, those princes of the docks who lift twenty-ton containers from impossibly tight quarters with the finesse (and pay scale) of brain surgeons. Then comes the assembly of longshore gangs to unload the goods, and the stevedores in the marine terminals who move and prepare the cargo for shipment out of the port. Finally, the Master Queuing List is used to dispatch the 40,000 or more big-rig truck trips that swarm into, out of, and around the twin ports every twenty-four hours, carrying the cargo out into the concentric circles of warehouse distribution centers, freight depots, and rail yards that make up America’s goods-movement ecology.
A third of U.S.-bound consumer goods, and far higher percentages of some, pass by the Marine Exchange. That makes Angels Gate and Debbie Chavez the one essential stop for everyone’s commute—long before you even leave the house.
The complex ballet required to move a product, any product, from door to door—and the overload that affects and infects that dance—begins most often at a port.
Once a container ship makes it out of the waiting room anchorages and reaches a container terminal, the unloading becomes another exercise in multi-ton surgery. Mammoth cranes capable of spanning the 170-foot-wide ships are positioned up and down the length of a vessel to begin the extraction of the containers. There are 140 electrically powered ship-to-shore cranes at the twin ports, a distinctive sight on the skyline, particularly when they’re idle and the boom arms are pointed skyward, like soldiers firing a twenty-one-gun salute. The bright red and blue crane towers run three hundred feet high and will soon be taller. The ports are painstakingly raising them sixty feet by giving them longer legs to accommodate larger, taller container ships, at a cost of a million dollars apiece (versus $10 million for each new crane). Almost all are imported from China; America makes neither the ships nor the equipment for unloading them, and they have to be transported already assembled on specialized cargo ships.
Crane operators at the California ports can average between twenty-five and twenty-eight containers an hour—just over two a minute. The highest paid and most sought-after operators routinely handle more than thirty cans an hour and can earn $250,000 a year with a thirty-hour workweek. They move more cargo in two minutes than the old bulk cargo stevedores could unload in an hour. And yet, even with four cranes working the bigger ships at once, and all operating at peak speeds, a 6,000-container delivery takes 54 hours to unload entirely, not counting time to reload (even when many of the outgoing containers from American ports tend to be empties).
When the crane operator’s work is done, the terminal gangs of longshoremen take over, moving the cans into temporary holding areas, where towers and pyramids of the different-colored containers amass until the proper truck or train is ready to be loaded. Marine clerks sort through the mazes of containers, some of which are difficult to find because of malfunctioning RFID devices or containers placed or logged incorrectly. The containers are moved in and out of the mountainous stacks by rubber-tired gantry cranes—smaller versions of the ship-to-shore cranes—which are mounted on inverted U-shaped frames riding on giant tractor tires instead of towers.
The terminals, many of which are subsidiaries of the shipping lines, are charged with moving those containers out of the ports as quickly as possible, but once again overload has complicated the job. Just under a third of the containers depart via dockside rail (or near dockside, after a short truck ride). The Alameda Corridor could handle twice the number of containers currently moving through it, but lack of rail capacity inside the ports represents a bottleneck limiting the number of trains moving cargo through the corridor. Plans to expand the capacity with construction of a new rail yard near the port have been stymied for years. This project, dubbed the Southern California International Gateway, faces neighborhood opposition, environmental complaints, and a lawsuit filed by the City of Long Beach against the City of Los Angeles,
Given the limits on rail movement from the twin ports, the next stage in moving our stuff door to door is all about trucks. About 70 percent of the cargo moves out via drayage trucks, the short-haul semitrailers that jam the ports and surrounding roads, each one carrying a single container. These trucks are a major source of air pollution and traffic congestion in the region. There are about 10,000 full-time and 4,000 part-time drayage drivers working out of the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports, and each day they swarm the marine terminals. It’s difficult and not always rewarding work, as picking up containers at the ports is a daily exercise in patience and dockside traffic jams even on the best of days. Drayage drivers for the most part are paid by the load, not by the hour, so idle time is a loss for them. The drayage truckers are an important link in the national goods movement system, never straying far but performing the essential service of bringing the still-containerized goods to nearby rail yards and transmodal train terminals,1 product distribution centers, warehouses, and long-haul trucking operations. Except for a few large companies with their own trucking fleets—Walmart, the big food and beverage companies—the next move after drayage for most of the goods that come to America through ports—and from American manufacturers as well—is handled by for-hire trucking fleets and logistics companies.
The next stop for most goods out of the Southern California ports are close-in distribution facilities.
In years past, businesses would make their own arrangements, hire truckers, or haggle with railroads. Some still do. But the trend now is to farm that work out. Companies such as Frontline Freight in the nearby City of Industry work for Watson’s tenants and other businesses across the nation; they are one of a new and growing breed of truckless, trackless transportation companies known as third-party logistics providers or freight forwarders.
What Frontline does—like hundreds of other companies in this growing “3PL” line of business—is arrange to receive the goods for an importer or other freight recipient (the goods can be domestic or imported, anything from anywhere is fine) and arrange to have the freight shipped to its final destination. That could be across town, the state, the country, or the world.
Next it’s on to more distant destinations in the California desert, where hundreds of square miles have been transformed into a landscape of sprawling distribution centers (think everything from Amazon to Zappos and every company in between). Next rail, air, and long-haul truckers move the goods to the rest of the nation—on to our stores, our businesses, our hospitals and schools, and through the last mile to us. To our doors.
UNITED PARCEL SERVICE
2,000 similar United Parcel Service delivery hubs around the country and the world. In the next eight hours this cycle will land 15.3 million packages on America’s doorsteps
“I am in the business of minutes,” Massie says. “It’s all about the minutes. If the plane leaves at seven, you either get there or somebody doesn’t get what they need in time.
Before packages, before sorting and bagging and loading, before driving and delivering, there is the clock,
On an average day, Massie’s Southern California employees will make 1.2 to 1.3 million deliveries in Southern California, more than 8 percent of the UPS worldwide total,
He does this with about 5 percent of the UPS workforce (which is 435,000 worldwide, moving 6 percent of the nation’s GDP).
A secret weapon makes this feat possible: a staff of 150 industrial engineers. This is the title UPS gives to the men and women whose job is to design the optimum route and order of stops that will get delivery drivers where they need to be when they need to be there while using as few minutes and miles as possible.
With more than 10,000 drivers in Southern California averaging 120 stops a day, in the most traffic-ridden, constantly changing urban sprawl in the U.S., Massie’s troops face one of the toughest choreographing challenges in the door-to-door universe. The first tool in the UPS engineers’ arsenal is the built-in “telematics” data devices every truck and driver carries. This hardware relays each truck’s performance information in real time to the engineers, who compare it to previous days on the same routes. With this data they can identify streets, turns, and intersections that are causing delays because of shifting traffic patterns, detours, or construction—even small delays drivers may not notice. The data lets them build more efficient routes for the next day.
Then there is the company’s famous no-left-turn policy, put in place in 2004, when the engineers realized that drivers waiting to turn left with engines idling were burning significant amounts of minutes and fuel. By assigning routes that avoid lefts for 90 percent of a delivery van’s turns, the company found it shaved 98 million minutes a year of idling time from its routes, which not only sped deliveries but also saved the company about 1.3 million gallons of fuel a year. Avoiding the left is also a proven safety measure, as traffic data shows that left turns are involved in ten times as many crashes and three times as many pedestrian deaths as right turns.
The industrial engineers’ newest and most sophisticated tool is a computer program called ORION (a catchy acronym for a decidedly uncatchy 1,000 pages of computer algorithm known as On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation). No human can consider all the possible routes with brainpower alone—the variations for one truck with 120 stops in different locations with varying drop-off and pickup times yield a number too high to have a name (trillions just won’t cut it). Rounded off, it is best expressed in scientific notation: 6.7 x 10143; if you wrote this value down in normal notation, the number of possible routes would look like this: 6,689,502,913,449,135,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.3
ORION can crunch that big number down to a short list of optimal routes that saves both minutes and miles, mapping out turns and tweaks that are too numerous for any human driver or engineer to compare unaided.
Humans take that list, modify the routes that are supremely efficient on paper but make no sense in the real world.
Shaving just one mile off every truck’s route can save the company $50 million in annual fuel costs; UPS expects up to $400 million in savings when ORION
The company may be delivering 18 million parcels a day, but only 2.7 million are overnight air shipments. This means that, at any one time, the company is juggling 100 million or so packages (more during holidays) while they are in transit. Routing all that requires a twenty-four-hour operation. In Massie’s district—as in any UPS district—the cycle begins around 1:00 a.m., when the fifty-three-foot big rigs—“feeder trucks,” in UPS-speak—move between cities and regions laden with ground shipments. Because UPS uses a hub and spokes system for both air and ground deliveries, few trucks haul parcels beyond a five-hundred-mile radius. A feeder truck bound for Salt Lake City from Los Angeles might stop at Las Vegas and meet a truck coming in from Utah. The two drivers will unhook and swap their trailers, then turn around and go home. Longer-distance shipments out of Southern California—about 80 percent of packages and documents—arrive and leave by rail, with the faster (and pricier) air shipments headed to the company’s regional air hub at Ontario, California, the unlikely desert location that UPS has made into one of the dozen busiest cargo airports in the country. The feeder trucks, trains, and planes meet up, crisscross the country, and bring the packages toward their destinations, ultimately landing at sorting centers and delivery facilities like Massie’s Olympic Building. They are, literally, feeding the beast.
At 4:00 a.m., the night loading of the delivery trucks begins, preparation for the final stage in the package shipping process. Parcels that arrived earlier by air or feeder truck or were picked up by the delivery vans themselves are sorted, scanned, and incorporated into ORION’s route-planning calculations, which are continually updated as new pickups arrive. While the sorted packages are being put on delivery trucks, the routes are finalized and downloaded into the drivers’ tablets (UPS had deployed this tech years before the iPad came along). Then the iconic brown box trucks depart to complete their deliveries—the endpoint the customer at the doorstep actually sees. Finally the same drivers complete their pickups—three quarters of a million package pickups in Massie’s Southern California district—and return to the network of operating centers, usually between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m. There, incoming packages are sorted by destination and shipping method and sent out by feeder truck, rail, and air to the proper UPS hub, and the process begins anew, sometimes with bare minutes to spare before a plane, train, or truck departure.
He ticks off the problems that keep him up at night: failing bridges, potholed streets, congested ports, endless traffic jams. Truckers on overnight hauls can’t even find safe parking half the time. As vital as trucks are to the economy and our way of life, Massie says, they are treated like interlopers on America’s roads. He’d like to see dedicated highway freight lanes—high-speed lanes just for trucks, isolated from passenger traffic—and greater public transportation investment to take cars off the road, making room for those freight lanes and more trucks.
“It’s simple, really. Trucks are like the bloodstream in the human body. They carry all the nutrients a body needs in order to be healthy. If your blood stops flowing, you would die. If trucks stop moving, the economy would die. That’s not hyperbole. That’s not embellishment. That’s just math. And yet—and this is what really gets me—the general public hates trucks. People have become truck haters. They want them off the road. They oppose improvements that would keep the economy moving and growing. It’s already hurting our business. People don’t know what they’re asking for. They would paralyze America if they had their way.
“I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing in America that people feel entitled to the cement and the roads without having to pay for them, without having to understand how the system works, or that our economy depends on it continuing to work,” says Noel Massie.
One additional proposal put forward by the ports and local groups tired of choking on pollution would add electric power lines overhead so that zero-emission electric trucks could traverse the 710 corridor, then switch to battery power when leaving the freeway. And all of the plans will require much cleaner trucks than the current generation of diesel big rigs, as state and federal law demands sharp improvements in Southern California’s notoriously poor air quality.
Twenty-two companies are working together on one such promising superlight experimental big rig called the WAVE—for Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience—that uses a hybrid system consisting of a powerful battery electric motor coupled with a micro-turbine engine that together can cut emissions and fuel use by up to 241 percent. But a commercially viable version of the WAVE (that is, one that’s cheap enough) may be a decade or more off, if it’s even achievable at all.
Absent such a paradigm-shifting technological advance actually hitting the road soon and in large numbers, community opposition to any proposal that would allow more trucks or increase the freeway’s footprint has already formed.
Monorails. Flying cars. Nuclear-powered cars. A helicopter in every garage. Subway bullet trains traversing the country. Moving sidewalks. Magnetic highways to guide vehicles so drivers can relax and play board games with the kids. Rocket planes that go suborbital to cover long distances quicker. We were supposed to have all these by now, or so the predictions of the future went a couple generations ago. Traffic was supposed to have been solved. Energy and pollution, too.
It’s tempting to judge those earlier decisions harshly, to condemn the shuttering of a valuable transportation asset and the refusal to build a new one when it would have been so much easier and less expensive to lay those tracks when the freeways first went in, rather than trying to shoehorn them into a built-out urban landscape today. But were those decisions wrong? Mass transit ridership was dying in the region even before World War II. And for all the money being spent on new light rail and trolley systems now, ridership is only a fraction of what it was a century ago. Cars won. And the decisions made to reject those multimodal freeways were rational at the time. People wanted cars. They didn’t want to see America from the train. They wanted to see the U.S.A. in their Chevrolets. They wanted to drive to work in air-conditioned comfort, not walk to the streetcar or train station, then wait around on crowded platforms. All the billions spent on mass rail transit in LA in recent years, the most ambitious build-out of multiple routes anywhere in the country, has not reduced car traffic jams as hoped. It helps somewhat, but the reductions make it hard to justify the expense. This mirrors the experience nationwide, even as about 25 percent of surface transportation spending goes to fund mass transit.
Mass transit use has picked up a bit in recent years but still is lower than it was a quarter century ago and far below its absolute peak in the 1920s, when it was the best and most desirable way to get around the nation’s cities and suburbs. Indeed, suburban development followed the extension of mass transit lines back then in the era of streetcar suburbs, because the trolleys were considered a prerequisite for suburban development. Most streetcar suburbs have been absorbed into cities proper since then, and suburban development after World War II eschewed following mass transit and instead relied on car accessibility. The new mass transit spending is not enticing waves of new riders to abandon their cars and ease road traffic. The convenience of the car parked in front of the house trumps the inconvenience of getting to a train or trolley or bus. In the 1920s, Americans were not deterred by this last-mile problem.
People walked to the stop—no big deal.
The replacement of truck, bus, and cab drivers with automation will be wrenching, particularly since taxis have become an entry point into the workforce for immigrants, and truck and bus driving have provided one of the few enduring and plentiful blue-collar jobs that still provide reliable paths to middle-class prosperity. The American Trucking Associations reports that there are about 3 million truck drivers working in the U.S.—it’s the single most common job in a majority of states—and about 1.7 million of that number are long-haul truckers, who would be most vulnerable to displacement by autonomous technology.
Rail, trucking, and ships dedicated to goods movement could start reducing their carbon footprint by transitioning from bunker and diesel fuel to natural gas, then electricity and carbon-neutral biofuels as those sources ramp up. These moves would be powered by a revamped grid dominated by renewable power sources that are already price competitive with fossil fuels. Embedding more miles and energy in our products can no longer be the winning strategy.
In the business world there would be big losers in this shift—the powerful fossil fuel industry. But there would be equally big winners in renewables, in producers of electric cars, autonomous vehicles, and electrical infrastructure. Tens of millions of jobs would be created to convert homes, ports, logistics centers, military bases, and factories to solar, wind, and bio-power with built-in energy storage for round-the-clock use and charging of our vehicles.