COVID: Transit Killer?

Here’s a recent Bloomberg headline about what’s happening now with transportation in Wuhan, China:

wuhan headline image

This is, of course, disastrous news, if it holds — which it probably will. A flight into still more mobile privatization is entirely logical for the individual, of course. And China, like the United States, is literally built for it, given its eager facilitation of automobiles. But what of the collective problems on the horizon — the ones the present pandemic might, barring a simple return to normalcy, have helped us ponder with new maturity?

Whatever the implications of an intensified attachment to cars might be for supposed communists, here in the United States, the coming ridership crisis is going to put environmentalists and transportation activists to a stern test. Will we finally summon the brains and guts to start talking adequately about the way our towns and cities are built around automobiles, or will we continue to whimper and special-plead as our public transit schemes grow even more pathetic and our overall design remains an overclass ukase?

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.