Logistics

How will climate change affect the trucking industry?

climate-change
Written by Kate Lopaze

If you go into nursing or teaching, your career probably won’t be affected much by changes to the environment around you. After all, your job is contained within four walls, usually in a stable, temperature-controlled environment. Wild changes in climate or weather are unlikely to do much to your career in the long term. But what if you have a more outdoor-facing job, where environmental changes can impact what you’re doing, where you do it, and how you do it? That’s one of the reasons that climate change has the potential to make a big impact on the trucking industry in the years to come.

It might seem like truck drivers won’t be majorly impacted by environmental changes—after all, freight will still need to get from point A to point B, regardless. But changes in climate, temperature, and even the trucks themselves are all likely to affect how drivers do their jobs. Although there is still a good deal of disagreement about the causes of climate change and its probable impacts, let’s look at some ways climate change could potentially affect the trucking industry.

Some types of trucking will become much more difficult.

If you’ve ever seen an episode of the show Ice Road Truckers, you know that it involves transporting cargo in the far north’s most frozen, treacherous areas. According to Scientific American, the roads and routes used for this style of trucking are in serious danger if warming trends continue. It will be unsafe to create the roads that these truckers currently use, limiting the places these roads can go. And the season for driving in these arctic regions will be even shorter, affecting schedules and key routes, as well as truckers’ ability to get in and out.

Fuel prices may rise.

According to AllTrucking.com, this is one of the more immediate consequences of climate change and warming. For real-world examples of how this works, see how fuel prices have risen after major catastrophic weather events like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Many climate scientists expect that intense storms like these will continue to be more common and frequent as climate change progresses. This growing unpredictability means that truckers and logistics professionals should expect to see significant fluctuations in fuel prices. This has a direct impact on business for trucking companies and drivers themselves and will likely lead to more innovations when it comes to making trucks and transportation less expensive and more efficient.

Trucks will need to become more fuel-efficient.

To counter rising fuel prices and shortages, much of the trucking industry’s current focus is on creating more fuel-efficient vehicles for transporting freight. Emissions from vehicles, including trucks, are seen as one of the leading contributors to climate change issues. In order to make trucks have less impact on the environment and ensure that they’re using fewer resources to get the job done, that means refining engines, tires, and other truck components to maximize trucks’ efficiency. And it’s not just trucks themselves—drivers may need to adapt for fuel efficiency as well, adjusting speed and idling time to increase fuel economy and decrease carbon emissions.

Trucks of the future will need sustainable technology.

“Sustainability” is the buzzword that applies here. Trucking is a very fossil-fuel-heavy industry, relying on gas and diesel to power the logistics. And while it may seem silly to think of a big rig driving by with solar panels on top, this is a very real possibility in the future. “Green” transportation technology is growing more popular (think Tesla), and companies are trying to find ways to make existing vehicles like trucks run on hybrid power sources (like gas and electricity) or entirely on green energy sources like electric, clean domestic fuels, and maybe even solar power someday. The U.S. government’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) is focused on developing next-generation technologies that will make the trucking industry more sustainable.

Supply chain logistics may change.

It’s likely that trucking changes will happen as part of broader changes in the logistics industry. Warehouses, shipping hubs, and garages may see increased initiatives around recycling, environmental sustainability, emergency preparedness, and other policies that focus on reducing the carbon footprint of the industry. And depending on whether some regions become more prone to extreme weather, it could affect planned routes and lead to different travel patterns for truck drivers. And it’s not just trucking-specific concerns—disruptions in electrical power and communications in general can have sweeping effects on the transportation industry in general. As the transportation industry tries to compensate for these potential issues, the trucking industry will follow suit.

Emergency preparedness will be even more important.

Truckers need to be prepared for anything that happens on the road—mechanical issues, traffic issues, blocked routes, the works. When something does go wrong, it’s often just the trucker and his or her rig stuck troubleshooting until they can get safely to the next place. And with a potential increase in extreme weather events, that means having solid emergency plans in place. Trucking companies and individual drivers will be tasked with ensuring that everyone is fully trained on how to respond to any event safely and efficiently.

An example of this kind of step up in emergency planning is how the TSA has responded to security and terror threats, developing sophisticated screening and preparedness plans in case of emergency. Because so much of trucking depends on the weather and ability of the drivers to get from Point A to Point B, we could see the industry develop similar large-scale plans to compensate for weather disasters.

Truckers may need more and different training.

In order to become a truck driver, you already need a basic Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). On top of that, drivers have the option to get “endorsements,” or additional certifications for different kinds of driving. Right now, these endorsements include things like double trailers, passenger vehicles, tank vehicles, and hazardous materials. Some experts believe that in the future, with increased regulation and a global focus on environmental sustainability, there may be climate change-inspired endorsements related to environmental standards and contingency planning. Because each state has its own CDL program, they can tailor these standards to the environmental issues most likely to impact their state. For example, warming in Alaska would lead to different environmental concerns than, say, increased hurricanes in Florida or along the Gulf Coast, so any changes in state-specific CDL certifications would be connected to geography and likely possibilities.

U.S. road infrastructure will change.

Extreme weather like major storms and flooding can cause major damage to the infrastructure roads and highways that truckers rely on to keep freight moving around the country. Deteriorating roads can increase traffic, which means increasing fuel use and carbon emissions, not to mention throwing off scheduled and logistics. One of the more intriguing options for fighting this infrastructure erosion is self-fixing roads. It sounds super-futuristic, doesn’t it? But some materials scientists are already researching ways that common materials like steel wool can help roads “heal” themselves when they suffer damage from flooding or general deterioration. Better roads mean better day-to-day results for truck drivers, making it easier to transport cargo and reduce wear-and-tear on the trucks themselves. Improvements to infrastructure that compensate for future damage will help the trucking industry maintain efficiency (or even improve on current levels of efficiency).

Truckers will become data analysts.

Truck driving will still never be that 9-to-5 job in a cubicle, but drivers may find themselves becoming better acquainted with environmental data—like emissions statistics and the impact of their truck and routes on the immediate environment in order to make sure they’re meeting set environmental standards while delivering their freight in the most cost- and time-effective ways.

Innovation and flexibility will be key.

The ability to adapt and change no matter what the environment throws at us is going to be crucial in every industry moving forward, but even more so in industries where the elements outside have a direct impact on the bottom line. Trucking is an industry that has the potential to align its environmental concerns with its business concerns and prepare for an uncertain environmental future. Even if some of the more dire climate change predictions never come to pass, this shift toward environmental responsibility and adaptability are still likely to affect the trucking industry in the years and decades to come.

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