Part of the reason corporate capitalists are addicted to selling automobiles is the fact that, once the inherently sprawling, alternative-discouraging infrastructure for cars-first transportation is fully built, that infrastructure renders car ownership almost literally necessary. To forgo a car is to add extra risk and time constraint to lives already unfolding amid insecure and decaying economic and social conditions.
I mention this because of this interesting story from today’s edition of the mighty USA Today.
Seems that, among the population who incur both forms of debt (and the rich pay cash for cars, by the way), people are four times more likely to make late payments on their mortgages than on their car loans.
Felicia Young of Tampa says paying her auto loan became more important in the last two years.
“When my credit scores declined and I was facing removal from my house, my car suddenly became the only item I had worth anything,” says the 45-year-old, who holds both full- and part-time jobs as an administrative officer.
Young adds that she needs her car “to get to work and make money. Period.”
“If push comes to shove, you can live in your car,” Becker says. “But you can’t drive your house to work.”
No wonder the overclass insists that the current American lifestyle is non-negotiable.
Hence, the unchanging nature of the “greatest spectacle in American sports,” the Super Bowl. Like both the National Football League and the whole of American television, it remains, first and foremost, a behavior-modification project whose main sponsor remains the automotive-industrial complex, which itself remains the indispensable heart of the capitalist economic order.
According to this piece from The Huffington Post, there were 60 commercials — not counting five ads referring viewers back to the NFL and this year’s Super Bowl broadcaster NBC — run during yesterday’s broadcast. (Note: If the widely reported cost of $3.5 million per ad — almost 100 times the rate charged for ads during Super Bowl I — is correct, that means the 2012 Super Bowl show generated $210 million of advertising revenue for NBC, not counting any ads promoting the game in advance.)
By DbC‘s count, 21 of the 60 Super Bowl XLVI ads were for cars, tires, or cars.com.
As for the content of these ads, there was, of course, zero acknowledgment that anything has changed since the days of the Studebaker. Indeed, none other than Clint Eastwood, after a couple decades of decent movie making, took his opportunity to jump his own personal shark by appearing as a mindless tough guy in a Chrysler ad assuring everybody that it’s merely “halftime” in the great American project of cars-first living.
Wanna bet, Dirty Harry?
Mike Accavitti, the former head of Dodge who became American Honda’s vice president of marketing in August, describes the current luxury market as “too much machine and not enough humanity.”
Replace the phrase “the current luxury market” with “the automobile.” Does anything change?
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?
It’s a bit cruel to pick on people who still think the Democratic Party serves a human purpose, but it’s nonetheless interesting that the Daily Kos is fully on board with the practice of publishing blatantly unfounded promises of impending physical miracles bound to rescue cars-first transportation from its own massive internal contradictions.
The latest example is from Kosnik Keith Pickering, who yesterday ran his piece, “The Edible Battery That’s Too Good for Electric Cars.” Reporting on “aqueous sodium batteries,” Pickering would have his readers join him in thinking that these items could be put into “electric” cars, save for the fact that doing so would be a waste of the batteries’ potential.
Problem? There is no existing sodium-ion battery that could be used in an automobile:
Researchers have looked into sodium-ion batteries in the past, although typically they have used high voltages and organic electrolytes. Using lower voltages reduces the amount of energy the batteries can store–a problem for electric vehicles, where space and weight are limited.
“I hope [the] DOE funds the nonaqueous [potentially usable in cars but presently non-existent] work, too,” [comments an interested professor.]
So, the proper title for Pickering’s article is “The Non-Existent Edible Battery That’s Too Good for Electric Cars.”
Well, when it comes to cellulosic ethanol, one of the handful of major candidate “alt” fuels, guess how new that process is? Chemical engineer Robert Rapier reports:
I don’t think I have ever had the privilege of using a literature reference from 1819, but here it is. In 1819, Henri Braconnot, a French chemist, first discovered how to unlock the sugars from cellulose by treating biomass with sulfuric acid (Braconnot 1819). The technique was later used by the Germans to first commercialize cellulosic ethanol from wood in 1898 (EERE 2009).
But believe it or not, commercialization also took place in the U.S. in 1910. The Standard Alcohol Company built a cellulosic ethanol plant in Georgetown, South Carolina to process waste wood from a lumber mill (PDA 1910). Standard Alcohol later built a second plant in Fullteron, Louisiana. Each plant produced 5,000 to 7,000 gallons of ethanol per day from wood waste, and both were in production for several years (Sherrard 1945).
To put that in perspective, Iogen claimed in 2004 that they were producing the world’s first cellulose ethanol fuel from their 1,500 gallon per day plant. (While 1,500 gal/day is their announced capacity, if you look at their production statistics they have never sustained more than 500 gallons per day over the course of a year; 2008 production averaged 150 gal/day).
Many companies are in a mad rush to be the “first” to commercialize cellulosic ethanol. The next time you hear someone say that they will be the first, ask them if they plan to invent the telephone next.
As DbC has reported before, contrary to prevailing mythology, automobiles are one of the most stratified product categories in corporate capitalism’s core areas. As apologists prattle on about how cars “unite us all,” the reality is that the rich live in a different automotive universe than the rest of us.
I mention this again because, with help from the Supply-Side Bailout, makers of overclass chariots are enjoying record profits during this Great Recession.
So what are the products being delivered to the moneyed elite’s detached, heated, multi-car garages?
Here is Automotive News‘ description of the low end of the luxury market:
In the U.S., the entry-level [Mercedes] S class is a $91,850 hybrid that combines a 3.5-liter engine with an electric motor, while BMW’s base 7 series goes for $71,000 and has a standard 3.0-liter engine. Audi’s A8 comes with 4.2-liter engine and starts at $78,050.
Above that come things like Mercedes’ “$114,100 CL coupe” and “$189,600 SLS gull-wing supercar.”
How many of these monstrosities get sold each year?
Mercedes has typically been the leader at the upper end of the luxury-car market, which is crucial to its image and bottom line. Last year, the manufacturer delivered 80,000 vehicles from the S-class line, including the CL coupe and SL roadster, beating the 65,800 7-series cars sold by BMW and the 17,000 A8s by Audi, according to company figures. [source: Automotive News]
Mercedes’ “gull-wing supercar,” by the way, gets 13 mpg in the city. In a ruling class that is collectively unwilling to admit the ecological and geological limits to its insane reign, everyday life reinforces the obliviousness, as excessive wealth encourages increasingly criminal inattention to reality by elite individuals. “Let them eat MPG!,” snarl the entrepreneurs, as they cash their dividend and bailout checks.
Tom Murphy provides yet another invaluable analysis of yet another “cute solution” to the crisis of cars-first transportation. According to Murphy, here are the actual potential contributions of three ballyhooed recycling-based alternative fuel sources for automobiles:
Used restaurant cooking oil: <1 percent of current oil usage (71% of which goes into moving cars)
Recycled plastic containers: 0.5 percent of current oil usage
Reprocessed human feces: 0.25 percent of current oil usage
Demonstration, or proof of concept, is often taken as enough evidence to satisfy our skeptical nature. And even if half of the things we hear about are over-hyped, we hear enough of them to placate our worries. The result is that we do not have an all-hands-on-deck effort to plot our energy future. Reliance on market forces, human ingenuity, and a track record of successful substitution short-circuits our ability to get serious.
“Market forces,” of course, are the key. Capitalists are quite unwilling to permit seriousness on this topic, despite its obvious importance and foreboding. Hence, ignorance and delusion are the only games in town.
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