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?
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.
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.
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.
As Carl Sagan once explained, the odds for the existence, out there in the cosmos, of intelligent life-forms we might someday meet or talk to can be guesstimated using the so-called Drake Equation.
Ironically, at least in Sagan’s view, the main determinant of whether there are probably millions of existing advanced extraterrestrial civilizations or few-to-none “comes down to economics and politics and what, on Earth, we call human nature.”
On those planets that yielded intelligent life and complex civilizations, did the smart beings we might someday encounter manage to avoid destroying themselves, in the heady and naive early days of their sciences, with their own clever inventions?
Such self-destruction might be, Sagan observed, “the overwhelmingly preponderant fate of galactic civilizations.” And our own collective life-course could certainly not yet be taken as evidence against this thesis:
“And it is hardly out of the question that we might destroy ourselves tomorrow.”
Carl Sagan, Cosmos, pp. 318-319
TCT holds that one of the cardinal technologies that seems quite likely to embody the kind of deadly species adolescence that worried Sagan is the supposed freedom machine we call the automobile.
Barring the invention of a truly sustainable technology for turning sunlight into electricity or liquid fuels on the needed scale, the idea that every individual commuter ought to maintain for their own personal use a complex and fragile two-ton machine has certainly always been a rather wild gamble with the universal laws of physics.
And yet, led along by our capitalists, we have — especially in this, the world’s dominant society — watched this wager be built into the very stuff of our social, economic, and geographical affairs. If we are ever to retract this living bet, it will cost us very dearly, as it will require a thorough-going reconstruction of our spaces and places, as well as our social relationships.
Most likely, the Democratic Party’s ruling elite (meaning its big donors, office holders, and back-officers) will again succeed in staving off Bernie Sanders (meaning the actual preferences of the majority of its voters).
Here’s a prediction about what will take place in that process: The Green New Deal will not disappear, but merely get repackaged and used as a DP marketing tool.
It isn’t hard to see coming, if you look. Consider, for example, the contrast between these two items:
The Green New Deal leads with bold action to zero out Los Angeles’ main sources of harmful emissions: buildings, transportation, electricity, and trash. Our accelerated goals and new targets include:
Building a zero carbon electricity grid — reaching an accelerated goal of 80% renewable energy supply by 2036 as we lead California toward 100% renewables by 2045.
Creating a Jobs Cabinet to bring city, labor, educational, and business leaders together to support our effort to create 300,000 green jobs by 2035 and 400,000 by 2050.
Mandating that all new municipally owned buildings and major renovations be all-electric, effective immediately, and that every building in Los Angeles — from skyscrapers to single family homes — become emissions free by 2050.
Achieving a zero waste future by phasing out styrofoam by 2021, ending the use of plastic straws and single-use takeout containers by 2028, and no longer sending any trash to landfills by 2050.
Recycling 100% of our wastewater by 2035; sourcing 70% of our water locally — a significant increase from our existing pathway; and nearly tripling the maximum amount of stormwater captured.
Planting and maintaining at least 90,000 trees — which will provide 61 million square feet of shade — citywide by 2021 and increasing tree canopy in low-income, severely heat impacted areas by at least 50% by 2028.
Garcetti, whose pappy’s O.J Trial fame allowed him to grow his very own big wig, is clearly positioning himself for a future run at being Babysitter-in-Chief in the Clintonian, big money, BAU D-brand manner.
So, let’s ask: Can you spot the rather obvious omission in The Mayor’s “bold” new policy?
The intro does mention “transportation” — in second, not first, place, of course — but then…crickets.
Meanwhile, it’s really quite clever for history’s single greatest municipal emitter of automotive pollution to select now and 50 percent as its baselines, isn’t it?
California aspires to obtain all its electricity from renewable sources, 27 years hence. The great fly in the ointment? As always, corporate capitalism’s lifeblood commodity, the private automobile.
The reality is that the U.S. automotive fleet is now the nation’s #1 domestic GHG emitter, out-GHG-polluting not just each of the economy’s other four end-use sectors (farms, retailers, factories, households), but also the entire electricity-generation industry. And the gulf will only widen.
[W]e are living in the most explosive era of road and infrastructure expansion in human history – from the plains of the Serengeti to the rainforests of Sumatra. By 2050, [experts] estimate, there will be an additional 25 million kilometres (15.5 million miles) of new paved roads globally, enough to circle the Earth 600 times.
Warren Buffett is probably the U.S. overclass’s last and best claim to still possessing some measure of sanity and, therefore, legitimacy. Buffett, after all, is observant and honest enough not only to admit that his class conducts war on it subordinates, but that it tends to win that war.
Ah, but this is corporate capitalism, and, as such, only certain things are thinkable and doable. Building a genuinely sustainable transportation system, as DbC readers know, is not among such things — meaning the system is doomed, not too far hence, to crash on its own contradictions.
Can the great and powerful Wizard of Omaha see and plan for such a fact?
Apparently not. Not only has his Berkshire Hathaway investment empire just completed the biggest take-over of a car dealership conglomerate in American history, but here is how Buffett gushes about this transaction:
Cecil and Larry [Van Tuyl, the now-former owners of the selling enterprise] have given us the ideal platform with which to build an auto dealership business that will be thriving and growing 50 and 100 years from now. The fun has just started. [Source: Automotive News, March 10, 2015]
There is very close to a zero percent chance that anybody will be selling automobiles to ordinary households 100 years from now. The reasons for this inhere in the extreme mismatch between the automobile as a devourer of resources and planet Earth’s limited supply of resources. Obviously, this mismatch does not register on even the sharpest of corporate capitalist minds.
To amplify Upton Sinclair, it is impossible to persuade somebody to understand something, when that somebody’s fortune depends upon not understanding it.