How will we move, Chelsea?


Once upon a time there was the electric car. General Motors produced it, called it EV1 and took it off the market after a few years. At the time Chelsea Sexton was just one of the employees laid off after the EV1 assembly line was closed. Instead of looking for another job in the car industry, Chelsea decided to keep researching and campaigning for alternative fuels. She co-founded Plug-in America, appeared in the documentary "Who killed the electric car?" and now leads The Lightning Rod Foundation. Our Transport issue couldn't do without her opinion.

Just to warm up, tell us at least one scary statistic that explains how inconsiderate is the way we move to cover short distances.

It takes roughly 20 years for the US vehicle fleet to turn over. We simply cannot afford to delay making changes in the cars we drive and how we move around in general.


Do you think that in 50 years time we will be going to work in the same way that we are today? If not, why?

No, things are evolving on a number of fronts. We are starting- just barely, but starting- to get out of our cars. There is increased interest in mass transit, as well as car sharing and other new ownership models that decrease the ratio of vehicles to people. Telecommuting is starting to gain more acceptance, particularly with better technology to enable it. And of course, we’re focusing quite a bit on vehicle technology as well- particularly on alternative fuels and propulsion systems. So chances are that if you are still driving to work in 50 years, it won’t be on gasoline.


Describe your journey to work in 50 years time. Indulge in the details, please.

I work from home now, so my journey to work is about 15 feet. Particularly in 50 years when I’m 85 years old, I hope it’s still that easy!


Tell me 5 solutions to the problem of short-distance travelling in the post-petroleum era, focusing your thought on alternative fuels.

We need to re-think short distance travel in general. Even if we made every car electric tomorrow, our freeways would still be massively overcrowded. So for environmental, economic and energy security reasons, we need to change our habits. But it’s also an issue of time and sanity to reduce vehicle miles travelled. Much of this can be done now simply by consolidating errands into one trip, walking and biking more, and using mass transit. But we also need to take a long-term view about urban planning, and make neighborhoods and cities more conducive to these better choices.

To the extent that we are using individual vehicles, we need to focus on alternative fuels. Today, that generally means electrification of some sort: hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric vehicles. Tomorrow, it means more widespread use of biofuels, made particularly from non-food feedstocks and waste materials. But we also need to continue to implement new business models that allow people access to a car when needed, but not require each driver to own one or more vehicles on a full-time basis. There are ways to provide all of the freedom and individuality that Americans in particular associate with cars, but without many of the current downsides.