H/t to Eleanor Wynn, roving social scientist.
Cars-first transportation, the world’s #1 source of greenhouse gas emissions, is yielding its historic consequences, as nobody — not even greens — talks about it with any degree of seriousness:
The United States Department of Transportation “is requesting proposals from applicants to form an initial network of multiple proving grounds, focused on the advancement of automated vehicle technology.” Why is the public doing the automotive corporations’ job for them, to say nothing of the question of why THIS, this subsidy to one of human history’s worst, most dangerous technologies, rather than to test sustainable transportation/societal reconstruction/ecological survival projects?
It’s all iced with the usual Orwellian pronouncements. “Safety is our top priority,” says the Transportation Secretary, despite the sheer impossibility that any conceivable cars-first transportation order will ever approach the safety and fitness of the civilized, walking-and-bicycling-and-rail arrangement that has always been anathema to our market-totalitarian overclass.
“Electric motors are good for acceleration and for the stop-and-go of urban duty cycles. Internal combustion engines are great for highway driving because gasoline is an incredibly dense power source,” he said. “What you’re seeing at this show is that automakers are combining the two, in a wide variety of ways, for the benefit of consumers.”
“The EV strategy is still alive and well,” he said. ”Fuel is a finite commodity” and prices “will go up again.”
None other than The Economist magazine says that “America’s freight railways….are universally recognised in the industry as the best in the world.” Our passenger rail, of course, would have to greatly improve to reach the level of a sick joke.
How ironic and telling, then, is this news, as reported by Automotive News?:
Railroad companies are struggling to keep up with surging U.S. demand for trucks and SUVs, frustrating Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp.
The rail industry’s struggle to keep up with the car industry’s growth was felt last year, when unusually harsh winter weather forced companies to slow down locomotives and run shorter trains. That led to backlogs for commodities that make up a bigger share of cargo, including fuel, coal and grain. The disruptions left automakers with as much as about 250,000 vehicles waiting to be shipped by rail, according to TTX Co., the rail-car pooling operator. The typical industry standard is having about 70,000 shippable vehicles on the ground and waiting to move.
Once again, our grandchildren, should they somehow inherit a livable, hsitorically-aware world, will debate whether to laugh or to cry over this Orwellian technological inversion. As we squandered the planet’s last stocks of easy fossil fuels, the main engine of that squandering overwhelmed one of the main alternatives to the whole terrible charade.
May our descendants somehow forgive us…
Google has announced it is working on a driverless car. As usual, mainstream journalists, always breathless and brainless about “tech” stories, are reporting on the project as if it is somehow a portent of major change in our wildly expensive and unsustainable transportation order. Google co-founder Sergey Brin, naturally, eggs them on, speaking of the project as if it’s somehow “in keeping with our mission of being transformative.”
The reality? As reported by Automotive News, GCars “will be electronically limited to 25 mph and will never go on highways. They will be designed as ‘neighborhood’ vehicles.”
In other words, GCars, if they are ever actually viable, will be GTaxis. As such, they will be taking riders away from existing, driver-employing public transit systems and taxi businesses, as well as further stymieing cyclists and pedestrians in the nation’s most walkable and rideable places.
Not quite transformative, is it?
The least surprising possible news from today’s New York Timess:
New legislation to pay for transportation is a priority for both parties because the nation’s Highway Trust Fund is nearing insolvency. Anthony Foxx, the transportation secretary, has said the trust fund could begin “bouncing checks” by this summer. That would force a halt to construction projects around the country, officials have said.
Note the equivalence between “transportation” and “the nation’s Highway Trust Fund.”
Roughly 68 percent of the taxpayers surveyed have either received a tax refund check or expect to receive one this year, according to eBay. The average overall refund amount is $2,900. The average refund amount going to auto related purchases is more than $1,000.
Cars: The ultimate wallet drainer.
His latest gesture is even nuttier than the windmill tilt against the Keystone XL pipeline. Now, the proposition is to get universities to “divest” from “fossil fuel” corporations.
ROFLMFAO, Bill. Divesting from things that depend on subsidies and special treatment — things like the not-so-great state of Israel — makes powerful sense. Divesting from the world’s most internally profitable organizations is, well, a pointless gesture.
It’s also, of course, a misdiagnosis. Fossil fuel corporations are where they are today not because of simple corruption, but because of the reign of cars-first transportation policy. To peddle the notion that you can somehow do something about the former without fighting the latter is just plain stupid. It is also, alas, the hallmark of McKibbenism.
“Do the math” indeed. This kind of shallowness and misdirection — C. Wright Mills called it, aptly, “liberal practicality” — is worse than good old inaction. There is only so much time and energy available for organizing and political action. To spend that time and energy in ways that are patently hopeless and silly is a major sin against the future.
Given global warming’s impact on established farming patterns, the federally mandated diversion of a huge chunk of the United States corn crop into automotive gas tanks is under some unusual scrutiny. If present, late-stage trends hold and the estimates are correct, the corn-to-ethanol mandate will require using about half of this year’s crop on cars. Among the assured impacts of that will be sharply higher food prices and increased rates of malnutrition in areas of the world where food access is unreliable.
Under such circumstances, any decent, democratic society would obviously recognize the foolishness of the corn-to-cars rule and cancel it without delay.
The left-liberal blogosphere is rightly abuzz over the fact that such recognition and cancellation are not only not being done now, but appear to not be in the cards at all. Indeed, President Obama has gone out of his way to travel to none other than Iowa to appear to be taking sides with beleaguered corn farmers as he upholds the corn-to-cars mandate.
Amid some attempt at sorting through the “debate” over the topic, which pits corn farmers and ethanol refiners against the (usually vilified) oil industry and hunger activists, the overwhelming opinion on the left is that the failure to cancel the corn-to-cars mandate is some combination of mistake or scam, a failure of insight and honesty in national government. More generally, that mistake/scam tends to be explained, in this piece by George Monbiot, as a matter of the rich world versus the poor world, with “the rich world” being defined as all of us who reside in automobile-intensive societies, as if cars-first transportation is of equal importance to all of us “rich worlders.”
Even those who have a great deal of useful information about energy use tend to talk in such “Oops, we did it again!” terms. Consider Robert Bryce, whose piece today on Counterpunch explains the practical implications of the corn-to-cars rule, but then chalks it all up to bumbling and simple corruption:
Last year, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the chairman of the Swiss food giant Nestle declared that using food crops to make biofuels was “absolute madness.”
He’s right, of course. But what is so maddening about the madness is that all of this was so easily predictable. The leaders in Congress who foisted the ethanol scam on the American people should have known that droughts happen, that corn crops cannot, will not, grow to infinity.
The only question is whether the feckless bureaucrats in the Obama administration and their willing enablers in Congress will finally put an end to the ethanol madness.
Such naive analysis forgets that cars are the lifeblood of the entire corporate capitalist order, and the “biofuels” ruse is vital to preserving the strategic lie that cars-first transportation is sustainable on planet Earth. It also forgets, as somebody once said, that some portion of the role of politicians is to serve as the executive committee of the overclass, i.e., to make decisions that preserve the conditions required to keep profit-making maximal and maximally secure for all business factions.
Obama is certainly a sell-out, but the world “feckless” simply doesn’t apply to this highly skilled and calculating social climber. As he himself admitted, he is the main pitchfork catcher for the status quo, and he knows it. That’s where the money for elections and wealthy retirements comes from.
Cancellation or even suspension of the corn-to-cars rule is certainly a matter of contesting interest groups and pressing social concerns. But, at the larger level, even a temporary withdrawal of the ethanol mandate would constitute a very bad precedent within overclass-owned political marketing operations, aka government and public policy as we now know it. Without complete freedom to push cars-first transportation above all else, the system enters a zone of serious potential risk. Allowing any consideration — including ballooning food prices and mass starvation — to become a higher priority, even for one year, than that freedom is something close to anathema for the powers-that-be.
Hence, DbC hereby predicts that the Obama (and Cameron) strategy of preserving the corn-to-cars mandate while raising food aid expenditures will continue to win the day, unless and until the public enters the scene and demands a change.