A Moment for Natural Experiments

Jared Diamond often points out that, sometimes, human history serves up parallel events that, in and of themselves, come close to allowing the kinds of confident comparisons the simpler sciences obtain via planned experiments.

We are now inside a special time-window where this point becomes pretty obvious and extra-important, aren’t we?

Consider, for example, the news on metropolitan air pollution levels.

Here is a telling depiction of what’s happened recently above Los Angeles:

It’s interesting — and, of course, macabre — that, at least in China, reduced air pollution might save as many lives as the pandemic ends.

Some fraction of that is due to reduced automobile use in Chinese cities.

And the point also applies, at least to some extent, in de-industrialized places like the United States, where wall-to-wall cars and trucks have their all-too-obvious, yet still thoroughly unmentionable, mortality effects.

New Angles

COVID-19 arrives, despite a couple decades’ worth of their self-praise about the fit between BAU and data + information + technology, as a huge surprise, not just to us commoners, but to TPTB.

This — the discombobulation of history’s greatest power elite — ought to be among the things we progressive survivalists mull in these weird and momentous times. All is definitely not what we’ve been told.

Meanwhile, as today’s contribution to your cranial recalibrating efforts, we here at DbC would direct your gaze to this image from BuzzFeed news.

Contemplate, if you will, the utter centrality of the automobile, even in one of the most iconic spots for non-automotive locomotion in this very, very troubled and unprepared empire.

cable car street in sf jammed with parked cars

Lexus on the Moon

For reasons that ought to be obvious, flying cars are an even dumber idea than rolling cars. But the trope, which dates back to at least 1927, continues, even at this seemingly very late date. The suggestion that automobiles are futuristic, rather than sociopathic, ecocidal, and outdated, is simply too tempting to pass up.

The latest trend is to roll the “flying cars” trope up into space, in fact.

Here is Lexus trying its hand:

This stuff will horrify our grandchildren, if we manage to bequeath them a world still capable of sustaining literacy and the study of history.

Ah, the Good Old Death-Threat

In the United States, threatening children’s lives has long been a tactic for selling the product that has long been the #1 killer of children and young adults in the United States.

The shameless and ghoulish tradition continues, thanks to your friends and mine at the General Motors corporation:

“Buy a Chevy Equinox or your kids will die,” in other words.

Only in America, as they say.

The Haloware Hypothesis: Latest Evidence

DbC has long argued that “electric vehicles” are haloware – a product that exists to distract attention from continuing SUV and pickup sales.

If this thesis is correct, then it is a huge mistake for progressive forces to express enthusiasm for it.

So, what is the evidence at this point?

In 2018, about 86 million new passenger and light commercial automobiles were sold on planet Earth.

In 2018, about 1.2 million — about 1.4% — of those new vehicles were powered by battery-only electric engines.

In 2018, about 37 million new pickups and SUVs were sold on planet Earth. This was roughly 43% of total worldwide new-car sales.

A decade ago, global SUV sales were far lower than they now are.

As Automotive Age reports:

There are now more than 200 million SUVs around the world, up from about 35 million in 2010, accounting for 60 percent of the increase in the global car fleet since 2010, IEA data shows.

As a result, SUVs were the second-largest contributor to the increase in global CO2 emissions since 2010 after the power sector — ahead of heavy industry including iron and steel, cement, aluminum, as well as trucks and aviation, it said.

The standard EV apology is the claim that battery-powered vehicles are merely in their early days, and are about to explode into conquering the roads.

Leaving aside the question of whether this eventuality would be a good thing, this claim is starting to get a bit stale, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, the facts are there:

In the year 2018, for every one new battery-electric vehicle on the world’s roads, there were 30 new SUVs/pickups.

(Junk) Food for Thought

If you are seeking something to think about, ask yourself: Which is more played-out at this point: automobiles or the Star Wars franchise?

The answer, of course, is automobiles, but DbC would nonetheless point out the laughable tie-in between the hateful ecocidal operation that is Porsche A.G. and the omnipresent, increasingly incoherent mess of a Disney marketing platform.

The idea that ongoing interstellar travel might be possible from any planet that has yet to transcend war and entrenched inequality is odious and childish enough. To suggest that an objectively crappy $185,000 car has anything positive to do with such a future — to say nothing of genuinely advanced technology — is simply a symptom of our continuing drunken adolescence as a species.

Gaps, Indeed

The United Nations today issued a report on “the emissions gap,” meaning the difference between “where we are likely to be and where we need to be” to meet the probably too-weak 2015 Paris Agreement goals on world greenhouse gas emissions. The gap is big, says the U.N., and the situation “bleak.”

There is, however, a rather glaring gap within the U.N.’s own analysis and reportage: its remarkable softness-of-head when it comes to the technology that is now the leading source of GHG emissions in the society that remains Earth’s clear per-capita leader in GHG emissions.

U.N. Emissions Gap Report 2019

That technology is, of course, the automobile.

Without counting either a) heavy trucks and buses or b) all the secondary activity and material that exists or is swollen because of the automobile’s importance in the United States and elsewhere, cars, according this report itself, “contributed around 14 per cent or 7.5 GtCO2e to global GHG emissions,” as of 2018.

What is to be done, according to the Gap report’s authors, about this major GHG source?

For the United States, on the topic of transportation, it is just this:

Strengthen vehicle and fuel economy standards to be in line with zero emissions for new cars in 2030

Zero-emission automobiles, of course, do not and cannot ever exist.

All automobiles require fuel, and even solar panels, wind turbines, hydro-electric dams, and nuclear power plants produce GHG emissions in their construction and maintenance. The emissions, in these minor examples as well as in the coal and natural gas plants that are the major sources of “EV” power, merely occur at locations other than a tailpipe. But occur they most certainly still do, despite automakers’ labels suggesting otherwise. Shame on the United Nations for missing and obscuring this crucial fact.

Meanwhile, there’s also not a single word in this report about reversing cars’ centrality in transportation and urban design. Nor is there a word about the foolhardiness of relying on automobiles as a primary way of accomplishing everyday locomotion.

There is some major juju behind the continuing taboo against straight talk about cars. If we survive to tell the tale, this sponsored unknowing will likely be judged as one of human history’s greatest ideological blindnesses. First, though, it may be the death of us.