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Global environmental change links

Improving Public Transportation Facilities

The personal automobile is, by far, the preferred mode of travel in the United States This is due to a number of factors, but chiefly to the great convenience of the private auto, compared with other types of transportation in many parts of the country. Using private autos, however, puts a greater burden on the environment than does using public mass transit. An environmentally beneficial objective, therefore, is to enhance the attractiveness of public transportation so that it will more often be the preferred means of transport, especially in major urban areas.

This is, in part at least, a human factors problem. We need to better understand why people choose the modes of transportation they do when other modes are also available. Such knowledge could be applied to making public transportation more attractive, and, to the extent that the preference for private transportation is based on a lack of understanding of the prosPage 165Suggested Citation:“5 Environmental Change.” National Research Council. 1995. Emerging Needs and Opportunities for Human Factors Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4940.×SaveCancel

and cons of the alternatives, it could be used to guide programs aimed at informing the public in this regard.

Substituting Resource-Light for Resource-Heavy Technologies

To the extent that needed or desired services can be provided by technologies that make relatively light demands on energy and other resources, the interests of environmental preservation will be well served by using such technologies. In particular, when the transmission of information can be substituted for the transportation of people and material, the environment benefits in a variety of ways.

Finding ways to substitute resource-light technologies for resource-heavy technologies is especially desirable in view of the rapidly increasing demands that underdeveloped countries are expected to put on resources by attempting to catch up, economically, with the more developed parts of the world To the extent that these countries could be enabled to adopt energy-and resource-efficient methods of delivering desired goods and services, without first appropriating inefficient methods that have been utilized in much of the industrialized world, the benefits would be global as well as regional.

Telecommuting and Teleconferencing

Telecommunications technology has the potential to make it possible for more people to work, at least part of the time, from their homes rather than commute to offices. It also has the potential, via teleconferencing facilities, to reduce the need for travel to meetings. Although these possibilities were recognized by the earliest promoters of teleconferencing and telecommuting they have not yet been realized as much as might have been expected. Why that is so is not entirely clear, but there can be no doubt that many human factors issues are involved in the question of how to make these technologies attractive and effective from the user’s point of view.