Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Is This the End of the Age of the Automobile?

Is This the End of the Age of the Automobile?
by Harvey Wasserman

As a dominant form of transportation, the automobile is dead. So is GM, which now stands for Gone Mad.

But the larger picture says that the financial crisis now enveloping the world is grounded in the transition from the automobile---and the fossils that fuel it---to a brave renewable world of reborn mass transit and green power.

If GM lives in any form, it must be owned and operated by its workers and the public.

But the larger transition is epic and global, based on a simple structural reality: the passenger car is obsolete. Auto sales have plummeted not merely because of a bad economy, but because the technology no longer makes sense.

Franklin Roosevelt took GM over in 1943-5 to make the hardware to beat the Nazis. Barack Obama should now do the same to beat climate chaos.

Make streetcars, not passenger cars.

Hybrids are too little, too late, with problems of their own. Solar-powered electric cars will help phase out the gas guzzlers.

But in the long run, the automobile itself needs to be dismantled and re-cycled, not retooled or rebuilt.

Cars still kill 40,000 Americans/year, and thousands more worldwide. No matter how much less gas each may burn, they all consume unsustainable resources to manufacture, operate and terminate.

We need to dig up roads, not build more. We need rails and coaches, bio-diesel buses and self-propelled trolleys, Solartopian super-trains and in-town people movers, not to mention windmills, solar panels, wave generators and geothermal piping.

In America's corporate-conceived “love affair with the automobile,” our first spouse---mass transit---was murdered. Now the unsustainable obsolescence of the private passenger car is collapsing a global financial system built on the illusion of its constant growth.

Mother Earth can’t sustain the old four-wheeled carry-one-person-around-the-block paradigm, be it hybrid, electric or otherwise.

If the automobile and its attendant freeways continue to metastasize in India, China and Africa as they did in the 20th Century United States, we are doomed.

Our true challenge is to envision, engineer and build a Solartopian transportation system that moves people and things cleanly around a crowded planet with diminishing resources and no margin for ecological error.

For that we need every cent and brain cell devoted to what’s new and works, not what’s failed and could kill us all.

Harvey Wasserman ... is senior advisor to Greenpeace USA and the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, and writes regularly for www.freepress.org, where this article first appeared.

"The car has become a secular sanctuary for the individual, his shrine to the self, his mobile Walden Pond" -- Edward McDonagh

Is it any wonder we're disconnected from each other? We spend 2 hours a day in a car ... alone. As we are driving, we listen to mind-numbing talk radio that further panders to the glorification of the one over the many (Beck, Hannity, Rush, etc.). When we get home, we pull into our attached garages and immediately close the garage doors, never to converse with our neighbers. Many of us don't even know our neighbors.

Think of all the money, lives and sanity that would be saved by plowing under all of these bloated highways and parking lots and replacing them with parks. Are cars really adding anything to our lives? They are endless money pits that are wasteful and polluting. They had their time and undoubtedly hastened a lot of the prosperity of the past century, but at what cost ... sprawl, pollution, etc.? And are we really more prosperous? We work more than ever and spend less time with our families. When we replaced one of our cars with a scooter, it was one of the smartest and most satisfying things we have done. If we were to lose our remaining car tomorrow, I wouldn't shed a single tear. I really don't get people's fascination with the automobile. I have an inkling on the male fascination with cars (as would Dr. Freud). But it's time to get over it. For everyone's sake.


CyberKitten said...

I think that a personal transport is going to be around for a while. What form that transport will take in the future.... I'm not sure.

The days of the petrol engine are numbered though.

But just think... the end of the daily commute. Wouldn't that be great!

dbackdad said...

I'd have to agree. I guess things like electric cars and hybrids are the lesser of two evils. And, hopefully, they are stepping stone to a time without cars at all.

Laura said...

I think in urban areas, the personally-owned automobile will become less and less common. Car sharing programs like Zipcar are taking hold and people are realizing that the cost of maintenance, insurance, parking, and the hassle of having a car you rarely use is more expensive than renting a car for a couple of hours to run to Target once a month. Unforunately, our suburban sprawl society was built ON the car and most suburban areas lack public transit infrastructures that make it possible to do without cars.

Ironically, my captcha word was "Movit" :D

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