Friday, September 26, 2014

Why DO We Drive?

I just realized after reading a short semi-graphic book (short in size too), sent to me by my son Jesse, that America is not just a car culture, it's also an oil, gas and coal culture just to run our 254.4 million passenger vehicles. Our car culture began with Ford's assembly-line produced Model A's and T's at the turn of the century, as if the petroleum and steel industries weren't big enough already. Then came WW I and II, and the massive expansion of those industries to build (necessary), war equipment. All those production plants had to be used for something, and so the great leader of GM, Alfred P. Sloan made it his mission to "reorder society" -- "to alter the environment where automobiles are sold."

So the push for autos and roads became a national obsession. After WW II tens of thousands of 25x30 foot wooden boxes were built by Bill Levitt, here in Willingboro NJ for example, or Levittown PA just across the river -- mazes of roads and homes that directly created suburbia and -- sprawl. And all governments, federal, state and local, established Departments of Transportation with huge powers to fund and build those roads, along with turnpike authorities. But toll roads didn't cut the mustard so motor fuel taxes were established by these conglomerates, with taxing authority granted by legislatures across the country - to build more roads and more sprawl. 

I can attest to that sprawl. As early as 1979 I drove from Costa Mesa California north 42 solid miles to Los Angeles and did not know what town I was in except for small signs. It was one continuous swath of residences, businesses and strip malls, and roads - freeways paid for by tax dollars, not free at all (and they shouldn't be). The NJ Turnpike is marked by exits every 10 miles or so with urban or suburban sprawl at each terminus. The NJ Garden State Parkway, from Central Jersey to the far north is one continuous city full of roads. 

You get the picture because you are the picture. We're a country of roads that go somewhere, and vehicles to get us to that somewhere. I'm not proposing we level Willingboro or Levittown to build bike paths, 3 or 4 story condos, and parks. But...

I do strongly recommend you take a few minutes and order Why We Drive by Andy Singer from Amazon for only 6 bucks used. 8 new. It's an eye-opener. It builds the strongest case yet for a transition away from petroleum vehicles, and I will say we should immediately only produce hybrid vehicles (electric/gas), then finish technologies like hydrogen and fusion to eliminate these harmful pollutants forever. Yes, I believe the dire warnings, all ready to late, that we are destroying humanity and the planet, "The Climate Change Problem" if you will.

I for one vow right now not to buy another car unless it's a hybrid. I'm still researching benefits of all electric, what with their need for more power plants and added infrastructure, but, but, even that is better than producing CO2 and living in smog like I did when visiting L.A., with their daily "Smog Index" number.

Just to be purely selfish about all this, I don't want to end up visiting our grandaughter in Manhattan and wearing a breathing mask like they do every day in Bejing - unable to take her outside for just a walk or park visit.

How about you?

Best, Rod

Copyright Rodney Richards 2014

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