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Transportation is a method or means of moving one thing from one place to another. Getting to and from school requires transportation, so does getting food from fields into grocery stores. The energy for transportation comes from fossil fuels, like coal, gasoline, and jet fuel, although researchers are looking at new fuel sources.

Food for Fuel
Getting Around
Think about all of the different ways you get around. Bikes, skateboards, wheelchairs, horseback, or your own two feet. The energy you use to work those methods comes from food. You eat a sandwich and it provides the energy you need to pedal a bike. Cars, buses, trucks, planes, trains, and ships require different kinds of energy. Most mechanical transportation requires fossil fuels.

How We Use Transportation
Think about the different ways we use cars and trucks. We drive to school and work. We take vacations in our cars, campers, and buses. We drive around town on errands. We even joyride. Trucks, because they can hold heavy items or are more rugged, are used to haul goods and equipment. Plumbers and electricians drive around in trucks. Semitrailer tractors (semis) carry goods from one location to another, often driving across country. Some vehicles are even tools themselves. Cement trucks, tractors, plows...

Trains move large equipment (refrigeration units), other vehicles (new cars and trucks to dealerships), food (corn and wheat), people (commuters, tourists), and even raw energy supplies (coal). Planes also move people (tourists, business partners) and cargo (fruit, pets, letters). Finally, we come to ships. Large oceangoing vessels haul goods from country to country, moving agricultural products (oranges and cotton), fuel (petroleum oil), and manufactured items (furniture, clothing).

An Economic Engine
One of the most important aspects of transportation is its role in the global economy. In order for us to run errands to the mall, grocery store, and post office, there has to be something there we need. The job of moving those goods and services around belongs to the role of transportation. Our economy and way of life would stop in its tracks if we didn't have the energy needed to transport goods and services.

Nearly all businesses, professions, and industries require energy for transportation. Americans don't produce everything we use locally. We have our clothes sewn in Singapore. We get our winter peaches from Chile. We get our cars from Korea. We get our wristwatches from China. And the list goes on. In fact, we import a lot of our energy. We receive natural gas from Canada, oil from the Middle East, and coal from Mexico. We also transport items out of the country. Our grain ends up in ports all over the world, including Russia, China, Japan, the European Union, among others. Transportation is at the heart of our economy.

In order to make decisions about the future of energy, the role of transportation must be considered. Should vehicles become more efficient in their use of energy? Should we conserve our use of transportation – relying on mass transit, carpooling, or just driving less? Should we look even deeper into our lives – into how we use transportation indirectly to fuel our need for over-consumption?
Decisions about the future of energy are not as simple as choosing new sources of energy. The way we use energy must also be considered.

What do you think?
Think about all of the things around you. How many of these items are local? How many have to be shipped to their destination? How much energy is required to move goods and people around? How important is energy's role in transportation?

Energy Information Administration. International Energy Outlook 2001. "Transportation Energy Use." Table 22, page 137.




Transportation's share of emissions in the United States.

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