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Impact of Climate Change on the Trucking Industry

Although we do not know the exact impact humans are having in connection with transportation and climate change, we do know that the Earth’s climate is behaving in ways we did not prepare for. The nation’s roadways are the perfect example of how you can make a prediction, but reality is usually much different. Climate change is already having an effect on almost every industry. From renewable energy to recycling programs, humans are looking for ways to preserve and protect the environment, no matter what the science says.

According to Kleinfelder, an engineering organization based in San Diego, climate change will have a negative impact on America’s roadways – the blood vessels for our trucking transportation industry. They state that our transportation systems were usually constructed with a 50-year lifespan projected for each project. This included the ability of the construction to handle the weather and wear and tear of the future decades.

But with the changes in our climate, they say, the predictors are no longer reliable when forecasting construction projects going forward. Two examples they cite are Hurricanes Katrina and the Perfect Storm. They “were considered 100-year storms–even though they occurred within a seven-year interval.” In other words: we’re in for some nasty weather. We may be talking heat waves, rising sea levels, and other extreme weather. All of this, of course, will impact all forms of transportation industries.

But what could climate change mean for America’s truckers?

We don’t really know how to determine the exact effect of climate change and trucking jobs. We only know what scientific journals, studies, and other academic materials can tell us – and sometimes those findings include conflicting information. So we’ll do our best to paint a scenario that could be seen as a worst-case scenario. But, please note: the human race has a long history of figuring things out. And with the pace innovations in technology are happening, it might be more interesting than scary to see how these challenges are overcome.

Let’s look at the environmental impact of climate change on our roadways…

You live in California in the not-so-distant future, and it’s an extreme heat wave. Your boss calls you and says you can’t come in. The heat index would violate union rules. Meanwhile, the traffic, including the trucks transporting our goods get slowed down for longer periods of time as construction becomes delayed. Which raises the cost companies spend on fuel, not to mention longer travel times, irritable customers.

Extreme weather does more damage to the roads and shortens their life span, which means there will be more construction crews slowing down and waving through traffic. The EPA also says that extreme heat causes pavement to soften and expand, which creates those potholes that you try to avoid. There may be a lot more of them in driver’s futures.
An increase in flooding is also expected, according to the EPA. This may have the biggest impact in coastal areas that are vulnerable to more frequent flooding and may have to deal with the rise in sea levels.

Is the trucking industry ready to handle climate change?

A report called ‘Potential Impacts of Climate Change on U.S. Transportation’ states:

Little consensus exists among transportation professionals that climate change is occur- ring or warrants action now. Addressing climate change requires an examination of plausible future scenarios, a long-term perspective, the capacity to deal with uncertain and changing information, and responses that may extend beyond jurisdictional boundaries and trans- portation modal responsibilities. These are significant challenges for transportation professionals.

Trucking industry challenges with transportation and global climate change

So what could life for a trucker in the year 2100 look like?

For one thing, we are already hearing buzz about asphalt technology that could include self-repairing roads. Click on that link and watch the video of the TED Talk where the creator of a “magic asphalt” gives a demonstration. As far as tire technology goes, the industry was already making changes as far back as 2009, in producing tires that had improved engineering to leave the smallest carbon footprint possible. Look for tire companies to promote the ways their products help save fuel with their improved physical qualities, such as shape, tread, and tires that are made from less petroleum based products than others.

Fuel prices are going to go up, this will be one of the first effects of climate change.

Integrated industries and cooperation can help companies be more efficient in every aspect of their business. According to planetfreight.com, today’s trucks are more fuel efficient than ever. Even so, how long will it be before we see the first crowd-funded solar engine that could pull an 18-wheeler? Can’t you just see big rigs rolling down the highway with solar panels across the top? And why not turn those shiny silver trailers into energy collecting cells. Drivers would still be paid according to mileage, while a company’s investments in the solar-driven trucks would replace fuel costs.

A new approach to supply chain management

In order to plan for the effects of climate change, the trucking industry is going to have to focus on sustainability and emergency preparedness and response. This is basically the equivalent of the Transportation Safety Authority after airline travel came under heightened security in the past 15 years.

These changes will need to be organized around the truck driver’s position, and all the areas associated the industry. This could mean warehouses and trucking company headquarters institutes energy efficient lighting, recycling programs, as well as employee policies that reduce carbon footprints. Maybe there are incentive programs that reward owner operators for having more fuel-efficient trucks?

What does the Department of Transportation have to say about climate change?

According to the DOT, the best way to plan to combat climate change contains several steps, including:

  • Establishing a vision – such as preparing for excessive flooding
  • Setting goals, objective – such as sustainable roads, increased fuel efficiency, and if we really want to go Hollywood and look 100 years ahead, can we get a truck that transforms into a barge that crosses large bodies of water that used to be coastal cities?
  • Develop alternative plan scenarios – because if one thing the weather has taught us in recent years, it’s that it is very unpredictable, and unforgiving
  • System monitoring – with the growing addiction to the insights of data analytics, get ready to see innovations in how we monitor our efficiency levels and spot opportunities.

Competition from robots is already on the way – but don’t worry…

No matter how many drones Amazon buys, we think the American trucker is going to be a major component of the American transportation industry for a long time. After all, would you trust a drone with a 2,000-pound pallet? (Not yet.) And with over 3.9 million miles of public roads that will need upkeep and innovation for sustainable use, expect trucking and transportation-related construction jobs to keep up with national employment trends. Put it this way, in 2015 the value of the public and private transportation construction industry was over $273 billion. To give you a comparison, wireless communications companies were worth less at $254 billion.

Americans have a long history of loving their cars, road trips, and taking the scenic route. With the physical and financial costs associated with climate change, higher fuel prices, and a cash-strapped economy, there are many challenges that will require commitments to change and innovation. But you can believe that no matter what happens with the climate, our need for trucking transportation will continue – but the job isn’t gonna get any easier.

There will be a need for more training

With climate change, the trucking industry will become more regulated and implement all types of changes over time, including new kinds of climate change trucking endorsements will be required for truckers. Maybe it will still be a “CDL” program, but you may have to earn particular endorsements that relate to environmental standards and how to respond to unexpected situations. Each region of the US where different types of weather threats are more common may have their own standards and requirements. For instance, drivers in Florida may have to prove they can respond and work in hurricane and severe flooding situations.

The examples of how the trucking industry could be affected by climate change were based on current research, happenings, and what specialists are predicting for the near future. If you look too far ahead, it’s too easy to get a scary Mad Max type prediction for the world. And that’s no fun, except in the movies. So our money is on the transportation industry working together with climate scientists and other experts to minimize the impact of these environmental challenges.

Have your own cool predictions about climate change and trucking?