“Clean” cars sprawling & wasteful

I must have written this in 2001 or so; it was posted to the Critical Mass list.

My deep hatred of cars stems first from having grown up in ugly,
inaccessible suburban sprawl. (Only later did I realize the magnitude of
the environmental damage wrought by cars.) Sprawl was *enabled* (note: not
“caused”) by widespread automobility; cars allowed people to exponentially
increase the distance that they could live from train stations,
workplaces, shopping areas, even friends and family. “Clean” cars, even if
they have limited ranges, won’t do ANYTHING about traffic congestion,
about sprawl, about parking woes, about dooring. To fight those, we need
*fewer* cars, not necessarily *cleaner* cars.

Also, “clean” cars still require far more materials (for construction)
than mass transit or bikes or Rollerblades or scooters or even Manolo
Blahniks. “Clean” cars are still far heavier than the pedestrians they’ll
run into (and thus kill). “Clean” car motors are still nowhere near as
energy efficient as a pair of human feet. (Even a very efficient, tiny VW
is one-twentieth as efficient as a bike – mostly because of the added
weight, but also because car engines are notoriously inefficient. Only 1%
of the energy a car burns goes to move the driver!) “Clean” cars are
currently heavily reliant on nonrenewable fuels like methane (CNG), but
cyclists use renewable (and tasty) fuel.

this was my comment from another thread on this topic a few months ago
(thanks to Jim Redd for helpfully putting it on the CCM website): “Even if
every car on the road was powered by corn oil, cars (and SUVs) would still
be cutting us off, dooring us, running us over, recklessly accelerating,
clogging up city streets (in motion and while parked), consuming tons of
nonrenewable resources in their construction, fostering the continued
growth of suburban sprawl, shutting people off from each other and from
fresh air, leaking nasty fluids into parking lots, and in general making
life miserable. That’s why the only ‘clean’ car is… a bike.”

If we completely get rid of cars, what are you going to tell all those union
workers who want to preserve their automaker jobs?
What jobs are you going to give them if they aren’t going to make
alternative cars? The auto industry employs a lot of people.

they can make BICYCLES, naturally. I’m not kidding, either. This “what
about the economic impact?” straw-man argument is always held up whenever
someone wants to do something good for the environment. I’m sorry, but
economics is not a zero-sum game. If demand for a certain product suddenly
and precipitously drops, then the money spent on that product will
reappear elsewhere in the economy. Indeed, given the immense social
*costs* of automobiles, one could probably make a pretty good case that
their production and consumption is a net loss or (at best) only a
marginal gain to the U.S. economy — especially if one factors in the
enormous opportunity costs involved. The $billions that automakers spend
every year on advertising, for instance, could be more productively used
feeding the hungry — but the twisted logic of capitalism misallocates
those resources to an endeavor of dubious ethical or economic merit.
(Advertising, after all, exists to sell otherwise unnecessary goods to
otherwise unwilling consumers.)

Besides, auto production is not very labor-intensive. Hundreds of
thousands (if not millions) of American jobs in auto production have been
moved overseas or eliminated due to technological change. Bikes, solar
cells, and adobe walls (just three examples of sustainable technologies)
use less *energy* in production than cars, nuclear power plants, and
drywall, but are more labor-intensive. As energy prices increase from
their currently absurdly low levels, that trade-off will make more
economic sense. More jobs, less energy, a cleaner environment. Aaah.


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