Driving in Circles
Your letters about our three-part automobile series showed that Grist readers are all over the map on this issue. Here’s a taste of the letters we received about Detroit Sucks, Bush Sucks, and Enviros Suck.
The consumer sucks for not demanding more fuel-efficient vehicles.
In his book, Culture Jam, Kalle Lasn talks about the “uncooling” of the automobile and offers what I think is a novel, though not unrealistic, plan for the reduction of automobiles. What we should do about these destructive beasts, he says, is to offer them and the fuel that runs them at a “true-cost” price. The true cost would factor in emissions pollution, manufacturing waste, etc. He estimates that an average car would then cost about $100,000 and a tank of gas, $250. You could still buy cars, but most people wouldn’t. Gradually, the cost of owning a car would push most people into using mass-transit or getting jobs closer to home and riding a bike to work.
We can dream.
I conclude that the American people are the group that leads in this race of sucking. The enviros always seem to try to blame the automakers or the government for the lack of progress in cleaning up our act. The problem is the public. The public has the power to change things by what we purchase. If America greatly increased its buying of fuel-efficient Hondas and Toyotas, Detroit would be very quick to jump on the bandwagon. The government doesn’t need to be involved at all. The public can make the market what they want the market to be.
Why does Jane Holtz Kay stop at cars? How about people? All that oxygen in, carbon dioxide out. What’s the greenest way to take ourselves out? Is suicide “littering?” How about a column entitled, “The Greenest Way Out: A Guide to Your Eco-Friendly Suicide?”
Laguna Beach, Calif.
The idea of pollution-free vehicles is truly wonderful. However, not if they come at the expense of size, power, comfort, style, and safety. Americans obviously want large, powerful vehicles, and we should have them! The marketplace, driven by consumer demand, should determine what types of vehicles are available to the consumer. Government and so-called environmentalists should not be involved in forcing folks to drive vehicles they don’t want. Today’s cars are so small, ugly, and underpowered that consumers are now purchasing trucks and SUVs to escape them.
Bryan F. Carlson
Some of us Earth First! wildings are looking to descend on Motor City at some point en masse to make the following point: Get green, get real, or get out! However, we’d like to hear some noise from the unions first about the surge of job opportunities that such a shift would create.
Beyond the seemingly impossible task of trying to convince Big Auto and Big Oil to clean up their miserable acts, we’d like to see the government and society at-large get real about public transportation. This car culture business is bogus! It’s a 19th-century technology with a 16th-century mentality. People in the U.S. have to own up to the reality that they can no longer get their kicks on Route 66.
Jane Holtz Kay has it dead right. The automakers are responding to a demand, and as long as the demand exists, someone will be around to fill it. Thinking that we can solve the problem by building greener cars is akin to thinking we can do away with the drug problem by burning more poppy fields in South American and Asian countries. We are the problem! We need to control our population. Specifically, the world needs fewer resource users (we Americans are the biggest), and we need to get used to doing things much differently. Detroit will build anything we wish to purchase.
Oklahoma City, Okla.
New, beautiful, green cars with no emissions and no ties to the oil industry? Sounds like a dream. However, this dream might unexpectedly cause another whole bag of worms — one that hasn’t been mentioned yet. New green cars would create a giant refuse heap of existing vehicles. A better solution would be to create technologies that convert existing vehicles to greener ones. We take for granted that cars are replaced and thrown away every day. The greatest problem related to this issue is that consumers like “new”. They are ignorant that mass consumption leads to large amounts of waste per person and that big industries rely on this throw-away mentality in order to sell their products.
Get real, Jane Kay. Your article is great at the easy part — pointing to all the problems — but really short on answers. America isn’t going to give up its addiction to the automobile just because you and a few reactionary enviros think everyone should walk or ride rail. Right, everybody is going to sell their cars and use them less if rail or mass transportation is available — the whole country would have to be covered with rail and bus lines! I can’t see Americans biking and walking more when they already feel they don’t have the time.
I will buy a new car (since my 1983 Nissan isn’t going to last much longer) and it will be a hybrid or a Honda Civic and I won’t accept less than 40 miles per gallon. I will try to drive less. I refuse to buy an SUV of any kind. If the majority of Americans strongly demand better mileage laws and more hybrids (which can get an amazing 70-plus miles per gallon), we will soon be on our way to at least holding the line on our contribution to global warming.
Daytona Beach, Fla.
Seven years ago, I gave up my car. Ever since then, I’ve relied on mass transit, cycling, and good, old-fashioned feet.
I feel that car-free living is where vegetarianism was 30 years ago. In those days, only weirdos gave up meat, and when mainstream people imagined a vegetarian meal, they imagined the typical American meat and potatoes meal, only without the meat (just instant mashed potatoes and canned string beans). They didn’t realize that vegetarianism involved rethinking the whole concept of what constitutes a meal and actually led to a more satisfying and interesting way of eating that has influenced the dining habits of even us semi-carnivorous types.
Similarly, when people imagine giving up their cars, they imagine being stuck in the typical American suburb without wheels. I have purposely lived in two transit-frien
dly neighborhoods since selling my car, and I feel that my life is richer for it. I save tons of money, see things about my community that completely escape the notice of drivers, and am prevented from the mindless “running” from here to there that seems to afflict so many car-dependent types.
I say we give the “sucks the most” award to Bush. In the short term, the automakers do not stand either enough to gain by converting to green, or enough to lose by failing to do so, unless given a governmental incentive. Since we know that competitive market forces can’t accomplish the switch without help from government, Bush is the one to take the credit if tougher standards are enacted, or the blame if they aren’t.
Unfortunately, Bush’s perspective for the planet is about as long-term as his potential time in office. It amazes me that “conservatives” with “old-fashioned values” don’t see that an environmental “stitch in time, saves nine.”
I think your article and many others miss an important point. You make all the problems out to be an SUV vs. a Hyundai-like econo-box, when the real problem is total gas consumption. I drive an SUV all of four miles round-trip to work. I use a lot less gas than most of my coworkers, some of whom commute over 100 miles round-trip. My kids walk the one block to their school. The real answer is logging less miles!
I have two words for the car situation: public transportation. I think people (enviros included) tend to ignore this because Americans are so set in their car-driving ways. I think that improvement and expansion of public transportation services and advertising to encourage the use of subways, buses, and trains would help the situation more than “clean cars” would.
I can claim with metaphysical certitude that green-coded consumption and pseudo-environmentalists who think they can greedily go about enjoying all of the frivolous comforts of neo-imperialistic American consumer culture are what truly suck. The myth of “environmentally friendly” automobiles only diverts attention from working on a real solution: having people live within walking distance from work, eating, and cultural areas.
I agree wholeheartedly that Detroit and Bush suck, but I only agree partially that enviros suck. Certainly we must direct new development to walkable communities supported by mass-transit. I am promoting this heavily where I live in Loudoun County, Va., the third-fastest-growing county in the U.S.
However, the vast majority of suburban communities are already established and cannot be converted into walkable communities without starting over from scratch. These communities will benefit from having fuel-efficient, clean cars, because there is no real mass-transit solution. In addition, clean cars mean our country would be far less dependent on foreign oil.
Paeonian Springs, Va.
Bush sucks! It is incredible to me that we have as our leader a person who truly believes that we should drill (for more fossil fuels) our way out of the energy crisis.
I agree that the clean-car phenomenon is no real solution to the environmental problems created by our outmoded transportation system. The internal combustion gasoline engine and the concept of the individual automobile and road system are primitive. If we applied the same technological know-how, research and development, and reconstructive vigor to transportation as we do to other aspects of the economy (e.g., technology, pharmaceutical development), I think we could come up with a more enlightened and less damaging infrastructure. What’s needed is a radical departure from what we have now toward a system that is electricity-based, computer-controlled, bio-fueled and lubed, reusable, and recyclable.
Lake Oswego, Ore.