Weekly rant 25.2.2012
Sometimes I write rants that make everybody nod in agreement, rants which are almost a consensus in the general public. This is not going to be one of those times.
This time I am going to attack one of the strongest, most powerful, most lobbied, most adored industries the modern world has – cars. I don’t like cars. Well, not like other people like cars. Or should I use the word love? I believe that might be more accurate. Personally, my driver license expired around fourteen years ago. Never really saw the need to renew it.
I am a big advocate of public transportation, and live happily in a big metropolis where it is not only available but comfortable and quite cheap, but the praises of the public transportation as the way to a better future will have to wait for another article, this one is about the private cars industry.
Moving is part of our lives and moving great distances is a problem human kind have confronted from the invention of the first wheel and the first dirt road. We need to get to places, we need to move merchandise, and we need to travel. We do. It's part of life.
But, as is the case with everything that we do, the real question is not whether we should do it or not, but how we do it.
And here lies the rub, as mankind have proved once and again we never take the most effective route or even the most logical one. Usually we take the route they tell us to take. We are not trail blazers, we just say "well, that is the way it was always done". Well, maybe it is time to rethink how we do things.
Let me tell you what I see. And I do mean it in the most personal way because I have found so few people who seem to agree with me on this one (or even care). The way most people transport themselves these days is thus – you take a person, you put him in a steel box weighing half a ton and you use finite extremely expensive pollutant energy method to push that box, trying not to hit other boxes, to the other side of town. Then you spend an hour trying to find a place where to put that box while it waits for you to use it again. Oh, but not to worry, parking lots are the only thing that the human race seems to efficiently grow these days. It's not like we REALLY needed that city garden that was there before.
But let's tackle the arguments one by one. Big steel boxes. In my early days I got a degree in industrial design, and as it was from a serious school and not a trendy "creative" hub, we were taught that good industrial design has to be not only pleasing to the eye and mind but effective and practical.
Are those steel boxes practical? Why are they made out of steel? Oh, so when we hit another steel box we will not die. And if we hit a pedestrian it will not even leave a mark. 3200 people die each day of vehicle accidents. Tens of thousands more are crippled , disfigured and lose the life they knew. Every day. yes, more or less the same amount of people who died in the twin towers die every day in car crashes. Every day.
Maybe we should make the steel stronger and heavier? That seems to be the way we think. Just look at American tanks. Oh, sorry, SUV's. I always get confused. The next step will be huge cement blocks on wheels where we can sit safe and sound as we zoom through traffic.
I am a pedestrian. Which means I am a second rate citizen in this oh so modern world. And I shake every time I have to cross the street, especially these days knowing that the steel boxes are guided, if you can call it that, by someone who is LOLing right now. I don’t have children yet, but if I knew my son or daughter had to cross two normal streets on the way to school every day I would never sleep at night. Yeah. Home schooling For sure.
And then there is the energy we need to push these steel boxes around town. That black gold that is turning the world upside down, causing wars and destruction, that black heroine we are all addicted to. If you calculate the REAL cost of your gas tank, you would never leave the house too. And here is the real problem.
Drugs will always be there. Since the dawn of history. Addiction will always be part of human experience. But, in the end of the day, you will find that the lion part of the damage, the spreading of the disease ,is the work of the addiction merchants ,the pushers, the dealers. Not us.
And here comes the part you were all waiting for, my usual slam of America (somehow it always gets to that part…I should ask my shrink what it means. I suspect It means I am completely sane)
Oil is what runs in the veins of America. That is obvious, and when you leave in such a vast land, with houses miles apart from each other, I can completely understand why you need a stable reliable means of transportation . this is the reason for all those "horse thieves will be hanged" signs in the old west. Without a horse you are nothing. Without a car you are nothing.
But again, the question is not if to do, but how to do. Fossil fuels are an economic monster, and with the black gold rush the whole mentality was changed, and not in coincidence, but as part of the government and big companies basic business plan. Why would they want to stop making money out of something they find in the ground (even when it is not actually their ground…as an American once told me, it is the fault of the Iraqi people who decided to put their country on top of all our oil…). Why would any politician go against oil consumption when it is the oil people who pay their election costs? Why should they let any competition be developed. If there is one thing that really scares the American business world is the small chance somebody will actually develop free energy. That would bring the whole economy down in a matter of days.
I am happy to say that these days there is a small hint of an alternative. The electric cars. (don't give me that condescending look. It has past the phase of being a 'fad') but it is still a long way from being efficient. It is.
Ahm…the electric car is less than efficient? Well, isn’t that surprising. Maybe it has to do with the fact the whole idea was brutally killed by the establishment for half a century and it is only in the last two or three years there is any real commercial development in the technology? Saying they are not effective is like saying that oil driven cars are not effective based on the ford model T from the beginning of the last century. Pure demagoguery.
Another "small" advantage of the electric system is that it reduces the pollution inside the cities. True , the power plants still burn fossil fuel to supply electricity, but at least, and for a pedestrian like me it is a huge 'at least', we will be able to breath as we walk down the street. I am a smoker. Have been for the past fifteen years. Not proud of it, but it is a fact. Now, if for a long time smoker the air pollution is one of the most disturbing facets of city life, I can only imagine how a non-smoker feels when he needs to breathe in the stench of death and polluted fumes that come out of each and every passing car. (Which reminds me, if you own a car, don’t even DARE to talk to me about secondary smoke. Believe me, trying to do so will be extremely hazardous to your health.)
And this is why I don ’t like private cars. Not for the car fault. Hell, my design studies were in Italy, and they sure have some tremendous car designs there. I am more partial to the Alpha Romeos of the late seventies, but even today the designs are quite impressive.
It is not the cars that are the problem. As usually is the case, it is us. How we see transportation, how do we see efficiency, how do we see the real cost of things.