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 mission of the Energy Department is to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.”
Of course, in market-totalitarian America, “America” means corporate capitalists. Hence, we find the U.S. Energy Secretary out pimping for extension of the reign of human history’s most wasteful lifeblood-to-a–ruling-system product. As reported by Automotive News:
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Energy wants auto suppliers to know that it still has $16 billion in low-interest financing available to support efficient-vehicle programs, and it wants them to step forward for a share of those funds. The department’s lending authority comes under the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program, which Congress created in 2007. Early in the Obama administration, the Department of Energy used the program to lend about $8.4 billion to Ford, Nissan, Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive. Suppliers were always eligible, but none secured funding. Now, under Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, the program is being overhauled to make it easier to fund production of technologies such as lightweight materials, efficient engines and low-friction tires.
The changes that Moniz announced today include legal clarifications to show that suppliers are eligible for the program, a promise to respond more quickly to applicants and the creation of a new online application portal.
Moniz announced the program changes on Wednesday during a speech to the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, or MEMA, a trade group representing auto suppliers.
“Today we are presented with an opportunity to hit the accelerator on U.S. auto manufacturing growth,” Moniz said.
To restate: In the year 2014, the person in charge of solving the nation’s energy challenges is bragging about “hitting the accelerator” on making automobiles.
Orwell was an amateur.
Per the WHO, via Harper’s magazine:
Number of deaths in traffic accidents for every 100,000 vehicles on the road in developed nations : 11
In Ethiopia : 3,865
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?