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What's most urgent for transportation execs today? Not social media selfies

We need to ditch complacency. Plus, maybe it’s time to focus the development of alternative fuel solutions on certain sectors.

Sustainable Transport

Image by Sophia Davirro

As I prep for VERGE (our climate tech event in three weeks), I’m pausing to share reflections from my interactions and interviews during Climate Week NYC, when my LinkedIn feed became more like Instagram than a social network catering to professionals. A post by Alison Taylor, a clinical professor at the NYU Stern School of Business, addressed the lack of substance during the week.  

Her criticism pushed me to be more intentional with my time — who I spoke with and about what. I used the gathering to meet with key individuals representing the road vehicle, aviation and maritime shipping industries to understand what’s most pressing for leaders and decipher the pain points. Here are four themes that resonated with me. 

  • We must not become complacent: As the climate crisis unfolds and reports such as the latest Net Zero Roadmap rom the International Energy Agency show the window for action is closing, it’s not great to see climate professionals shy away from posting about achievements of substance or demanding bolder action during one of the most important weeks for the movement. I’m not saying we shouldn’t celebrate incremental progress or reward ourselves for our hard work. But we must not become complacent about the difficult road ahead in decarbonizing transport or reward ourselves too loudly for incremental or less impactful progress.

  • Maybe we should designate certain fuel solutions for certain sectors. During the many conversations I had with industry leaders, one point shared frequently was that we don’t have enough alternative fuel supply to meet the needs of all sectors that need to decarbonize. Historic government funding and private investments are helping spur a larger supply of fuels such as hydrogen and sustainable aviation fuel. But given the massive demand needed to reach net zero by 2050, maybe we should allocate certain fuel solutions for industries where they could have the greatest greenhouse gas reduction potential.

    For example, road vehicles have the benefit of many electrification options, and the technology is advancing rapidly. The North American Council for Freight Efficiency’s Run on Less Electric Depot campaign is showing some great results, with new data showing the Tesla Semi crushed expectations and was able to complete a 1,076-mile journey. Maybe we should prioritize electrification for road vehicles instead of focusing also on hydrogen, and then allow hydrogen to develop in other areas such as aviation or shipping. If it’s too early to make that decision, then when? 

  • We must approach decarbonization options with a fresh mindset.The sessions I attended during Climate Week made it clear that we have eaten up most of the low-hanging fruit decarbonization options, and it’s time to address the harder ones. The journey to net zero is difficult, but I can’t help but wonder whether we sometimes try to force a square peg into a circle hole. With enough pushing and chipping away at it, that square peg will eventually fit within the circle hole, but will it be too late and will we have exerted too much energy in the process? 

  • Financial investments alone won’t cut it. Just as money won’t bring you happiness, in the case of transport decarbonization, all the funding in the world won’t fix the emissions problem on its own. How we use that funding and at what speed we deploy it that will matter more. As an example, Revel received $7 million from New York state in 2022, which it is using to build a 20-plus-stall EV charging superhub in Red Hook, Brooklyn. That installation (coming soon per the company’s website) will contribute to the company’s larger plans to bring superhubs to every borough in New York City by 2024.

Now, I’m passing the microphone to you. What are your thoughts? Do you agree with me, disagree or have additional thoughts? Let me know by sharing on social media, and let’s get back to sharing more content that inspires, educates and drives action. 

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