C. Wright Mills complained of the U.S. left’s “liberal practicality,” by which he meant a tendency to sell out at the first chance, a “kind of democratic opportunism.”
Consider the pathetic lawsuit just filed by Public Citizen and allies. The goal? To force car capitalists to make back-up cameras standard on all car models sold in the United States. The alleged reason? Such cameras “would prevent 95 to 112 deaths and 7,072 to 8,374 injuries each year.”
Now, let’s take 112 deaths as a real number. In 2012, a total of 34,080 people were killed in U.S. automotive collisions. 112 divided by 34,080 equals 0.003. That’s three-tenths of one percent.
And, of course, one major question is how much good a back-up camera actually does. If a child darts in front or back of a moving car, how much does the camera speed driver reaction time? It certain can’t be 100%, and might well be close to zero. Meanwhile, according to the Naderian logic of lawsuit, once the cameras are mandatory, the inherent dangers of automobiles to darting children are just fine and dandy.
Such tragi-comic flea-fucking, is, alas, the beginning, middle, and end of what passes for transportation militancy in this market totalitarian society, despite the times.
From 1/1/2002 through 12/31/2011, National Highway Traffic Safety [sic] Administration statistics show that 392,621 people were killed by motor vehicle collisions in the United States. So, that’s about 100 9/11s. (And it does not count those who died from automotive air pollution and physical deconditioning.)
The all-time death toll from car crashes, going back to 1899? 3,547,113.
The news reporting on this topic? Such as it is, it’s all just a series of terrific news, especially now that the deaths-per-miles trick has been swallowed and adopted by the corporate press. (See the typical packaging of the story in the second link above.)
“The International Center for Automotive Medicine.” Savor the flavor of that for a few seconds.
Bold medical scientists, having sworn “I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure,” are now dedicating themselves, with the generous support of automotive capitalists, to tweaking the bandages with which they so lucratively adorn the gaping public health wound that is cars-first transportation.
One might contrast the oath to prevention with the statement-of-purpose governing ICAM:
Our team at the International Center of Automotive Medicine is uniquely positioned to marry the exceptional medical, engineering, and educational resources of the University of Michigan with the unmatched automotive technical and industrial resources of southeast Michigan. The center’s mission is to foster synergistic research between medical specialties, and biomedical and automotive engineering-efforts that translates quickly into new technologies, medical treatments, education, and policies that prevent injuries and improve care.
Building a (slightly) better guillotine! Thank you again, you saints in surgical garb! Keep on “marrying” the Grim Reaper, and we’ll keep on shoveling mountains of cash your way.
In the not-necessarily-news department, guess what the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says about its members’ move to put such vital activities as Facebook and Twitter on the dashboards of future car models, despite the well-proven fact that 10 percent of all automotive crashes, including the tens of thousands of fatal ones each year, are already caused by distracted driving:
Yes, and by the same logic, we know for sure that people are going to drink alcohol and then drive cars. So, what’s the harm in having a keg-cooler and drinking hose come stock in each new auto? After all, they’re going to do those things whether it’s through the vehicle or through a handheld bottle that they bring with them in the car.
Never fear, though! Our valiant regulators are busy striking pained poses as the mass murder proceeds.
Yes, how true. Indeed, you might say we’d have saved 32,885 lives in 2010 alone, if, as in Ms. Hersman’s fantasy, car capitalists weren’t car capitalists.
Then there’s Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has obviously abandoned any glimmer of principle he once possessed on this issue:
“We don’t have to choose between safety and technology,” LaHood now says, parroting the industry’s defiant Big Brotherism.
Thank the gods we have President Obama… Oh, wait.
University of Illinois outcomes modeler Sheldon Jacobson estimates the dimensions of two of the ways in which cars-first living pumps up allied industries by generating the obesity epidemic in the United States:
After analyzing data from national statistics measured between 1985 and 2007, Jacobson discovered vehicle use correlated “in the 99-percent range” with national annual obesity rates.
“If we drive more, we become heavier as a nation, and the cumulative lack of activity may eventually lead to, at the aggregate level, obesity,” he said. “When you are sitting in a car, you are doing nothing, so your body is burning the least amount of energy possible, And if you are eating food in your car, it becomes even worse.”
Ultimately, Jacobson said, we are going to have to rethink the way we use our automobiles if we want to address obesity.
“We have had 60-plus years of infrastructure that has facilitated the obesity epidemic,” he said. [Source]
The resulting boon to the medical-industrial complex? A twenty to fifty percent increase in per capita medical spending among obese people, according to Reuters.
The boost to the much over-blamed oil industry?
Some costs of obesity reflect basic physics. It requires twice as much energy to move 250 pounds than 125 pounds. As a result, a vehicle burns more gasoline carrying heavier passengers than lighter ones.
“Growing obesity rates increase fuel consumption,” said engineer Sheldon Jacobson of the University of Illinois. How much? An additional 938 million gallons of gasoline each year due to overweight and obesity in the United States, or 0.8 percent, he calculated. That’s $4 billion extra.
Is this self-reinforcing cycle vicious or virtuous? Depends on whether or not you’re a capitalist, doesn’t it?
Corporate capitalists are addicted not just to perpetuating cars-first transportation, but to using the car itself as a platform for peddling more and more products. Indeed, that’s a big part of why cars are so indispensable to the overclass: They are unique devices for “moving the metal,” which is trade-talk for selling people far more stuff than they actually need.
Take the case of Intel’s just-announced $100-million investment fund, which, according to Automotive News, Intel launched “to encourage hardware and software developers to develop new technologies for automotive infotainment” — i.e., to move more microchips. This is utterly logical, since the main business problem for Intel, as for all major corporate capitalist firms, is market saturation. How can we find — meaning make — new markets?
As Auto News reports, the insides of automobiles are now being exploited as one way of creating these artificial new markets:
By 2014, autos will be one of the three fastest growing markets for connected devices and Internet content, according to a recent report from Gartner Inc., a research firm based in Stamford, Conn.
Intel wants a piece of that action.
The new deployments of computer chips into cars will, Auto Age says, take forms such as Entune, developed by Intel partner Denso. Entune is the infotainment system that apparently already comes in some new Toyotas. Watch the demo video here.
Such implantations are not only a glorified way of selling people another cellular telephone, but they will undoubtedly lead to thousands of distracted driving deaths per year. They are, in other words, yet another case of big businesses killing people on behalf of their shareholders.
Highlights [via Automotive News]:
Ford has been thinking about “how we’re going to have mobility in a world of urbanization and 75 percent of the world’s population living in cities. We’re going to have 4 billion cars and 9 billion people by midcentury.
There are currently just over 1 billion automobiles, counting cars, trucks, and buses, on the planet, btw.
So, ROFL on that one.
Meanwhile, Bill Ford also told the assembled reporters that cars-first transportation isn’t like selling nicotine:
“I never wanted us to be like the tobacco [companies], where our employees would have to apologize to their family and friends for working there. If that happens, we are not going to get the best and brightest.”
It’s an interesting contrast, isn’t it? If Ford’s products are freedom vehicles and wonder machines, why this apparent slip into cigarette talk?
Perhaps it’s because Ford knows the numbers are rather comparably large and the deaths equally stupid. In the USA, lung cancer now kills about 160,000 people a year. If one assumes that tailpipe exhaust accounts for 25% percent of air pollution deaths and auto use accounts for 10% of deconditioning deaths, cars snuff out about half that amount every year.
And, of course, the era of war over access to tobacco-friendly climes has passed. Now, if there is to be a World War III, does anybody doubt it will instead have rather more to do with what goes into gas tanks?
Tom Murphy of Do the Math walks us through a topic that’s as crucial to the future of progressive, science-and-communications aided, modern society as anything could be: the comparative energy efficiency of human muscled-powered locomotion.
Corporate capitalism presumes the continuation — and, hence, the sustainability — of present mobility arrangements in at least its core areas. Under that arrangement, a large percentage of everyday, local-area travel is accomplished via automobile. This is due to the unique demand- and profit-stimulating effects (read: wastefulness) of cars-first transportation orders.
From an energy point of view, cars-first transportation means that fueling automotive engines is a major bottleneck for normal social existence. As such, the obvious question is how well does and could the cars-first arrangement compare to its major alternative, the reconstruction of towns and cities to encourage bicycling and walking?
Tom Murphy’s conclusion: On a diet of normal, mixed foodstuffs (rather than pure lard or some other means of maximizing the energy density of the comestible), short-distance bicycling yields an MPG equivalent of 290, or about 6 times the energy efficiency of a Toyota Prius. Walking, meanwhile, delivers about 160 MPG.
There is, Murphy says, one fly in the ointment here: the energy intensity of current agricultural and food delivery arrangements. Factoring that in, Murphy figures that the MPG of cycling drops to 130 and that of walking to 34.
So, even without altering the food system (via increased organic farming, localization of supply chains, moves away from food processing/packaging, improvement of the veggie/meat intake ratio, etc.), bicycles are almost four times more energy efficient than Priuses, and walking is right in the same ballpark. A blend of the two — surely a main feature of any genuinely sustainable, modern human future — would be far more energy efficient than any conceivable cars-first arrangement.
(All this, of course, leaves aside the question of the energy required to build and maintain the infrastructures involved. Cars-first requires huge streets, large parking areas, scattered building patterns, and gigantic, ornate fuel-delivery processes. Muscles-first living would imply much smaller streets, less need for parking, dense building patterns, and comparatively simple fuel-delivery processes.)
Muscles-first would, of course, also be a far healthier arrangement: Using one’s own body, rather than 3,000-pound electrical or fossil-fuel combusting machines, to achieve the desired movements, would have radically positive impacts on public health, as would the accompanying reduction in exposure to the chemicals and large collisions involved in cars-first living and breathing.
Need we mention which society would be more fun and sociable and sane?
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