Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Cars - Killing Locally, Killing Globally

This is a presentation that my husband and I gave in 2005 at a Bioneers satellite conference and then again this year at a peace meeting.
Imagine that Obama goes on TV to warn us of yet another threat to our survival. He speaks on prime time and tells about a substance that foreigners-even worse, Islamic fundamentalists- have infiltrated our country with. It kills over 40,000 people every year in very painful ways. It leaves thousands of others paralyzed and brain damaged. Its side effects choke others to death. It causes 2 children a day to be crushed to death by their own parents. It pollutes the air, kills millions of animals and causes our farmland, necessary for our very existence, to be paved over. It’s causing our earth ecosystem to be destroyed, possibly beyond repair. And worst, of all, it makes us fat! By the end of Obama’s speech, Americans would be willing to bomb any country he pointed to on the map. And yet, Obama will never give that speech, because the US government is controlled by the suppliers.. And the only thing that makes the American people angry about the substance is when the price goes up. You’ve probably guessed the substance I’m referring to.

I like the slogan that many people use to give hope for a better world: Another world is possible. It implies that we can make a better world than we have. And yet, the implication that it may be possible to not have another world, that things can remain the same, is wrong.40,000 years ago, Southern Illinois was covered in ice. 500 years ago, the land was covered in forest and a vast diversity of animals, and the skies were filled with birds. Small groups of native Americans hunted and foraged for food. 150 years ago, the native Americans had been disposed of, and farmers spread over the land, some with slaves. 100 years ago, America had open borders and immigrants flocked to Southern Illinois to work the coal mines. 60 years ago, the federal government made the decision to change to a war economy and invest in a sprawling highway system, and Southern Illinois picked up war jobs and sent many into the military. 20 years ago, under Reagan, America started exporting factory jobs at an increasing rate, and made the decision to increase the amount of prisons and prisoners in this country, employing the sons of bankrupt family farmers to guard the sons of unemployed factory workers. In 1980 there were 3 prisons in southern Illinois, but by 1998 there were 14. 10 years ago, SUVs became popular sellers. Now we have people who commute 50 miles to their prison jobs in their SUVs and can’t imagine any other way of living in southern Illinois.My point in reciting this abbreviated history is to show that another world is not only possible, but inevitable. The only question is what kind of world we have next. Are we going to continue to allow ruling forces to shape the new world into the order they would prefer, or do we fight to make a kinder, gentler world in which we live in harmony with the ecosystem and our fellow humans?In order to make a better world, we need to get over our addiction to oil. We should start now anyway, because the supply of cheap, easily available oil is gone. From now on, it will become more expensive and more environmentally destructive to obtain. Are we going to destroy the wetlands, the Alaskan wildlife refuge and our coasts to root out the last American oil? Are we going to continue to invade other countries to loot their oil? You betcha we are. That is exactly the plan of the oilmen in power now. The House of Representatives just passed the so-called energy bill which hands out billions in subsidies to oil companies who already have more profits than they can spend. It also specifies that if an oil company wants to set up a refinery in your community, and you want to sue to keep it out, you have to pay the legal costs of the oil company, even if you win! And the US government is openly eyeing Iran and Syria as the next targets of invasion. Isn’t it ironic that the US people, who live in the most class divided industrialized society on the planet, justified by the ethos of the rugged individualists who refuse handouts, overwhelmingly believe that the people of the middle east, Venezuela and the former Soviet Union owe us their oil? And isn’t it ironic that people who read News of the Weird, and scoff indignantly at the stories of criminals who break into people’s homes to steal and are shot at and then sue the homeowners, also indignantly proclaim that citizens who shoot back at the US army when it invades their homes are "terrorists."People here probably do not hold those beliefs. And most everyone can probably agree with the vague assertion that we need to stop our addiction to oil. And some of it would be easy. Saving oil by stopping overpackaging in plastic and making cars get better gas milage would be painless to our lifestyles. We would all support bringing back jobs to our communities rather than shipping supplies across the world and shipping back finished products. Well, in that case, I can hear corporations saying, "What do you mean, ‘we’, Kemo Sabe". We, the people, would be for that, not the rich. And of course, Bush shouldn’t be allowed to use Air Force One as his personal campaign and vacation commuting vehicle. But where I would probably lose most of the US and some of you is in my belief that in order to have a better society, we must give up our car dependence. Most people cannot conceive of a society without cars, although, of course, as recently as 50 years ago, and in cities today, people lived and do live, very well without cars.But the rest of our country is built, and I mean this literally and figuratively, around cars and trucks. And this is the problem and the solution. We’ve only been dependent on cars for about 50 years, and our dependency has specific causes, and therefore, cures.The causes are the billions of dollars spent on roads and the building of communities built on car use. Once the superstructure is built, individuals must conform or be immobile. The cure is to change the superstructure. When the superstructure is changed, individual behavior will change. No coercion is needed. I grew up in LA, as did my mother. When shse was a child, LA was a group of small cities, with orange groves in between. She could take a RedLine trolley to Long Beach for a nickel and spend the day at the beach. But a small group of plotters were already conspiring to rip out the trolley lines that every city in America with over 2500 people had. General Motors, along with Standard Oil and Firestone Tires, bought up the trolley lines in city after city and ripped them out. The Federal Government spent billions to pave over millions of acres of America and the "love affiar" with cars that we are told we have began, although the documentary "Taken For a Ride" shows footage of outraged citizens protesting the loss of their public transportation. But by the time I was born, LA's orange groves were mostly paved over. I lived in San Gabriel Valley, but the only time we could see the mountains was just after it rained, for a few hours a few days a years. By eyes burned, my lungs burned and I coughed all the time. I have had 6 family members and 4 dogs killed by cars. This is personal.I. Why the Oil-Automobile-Based Transportation System Must Go – Now, Before the Oil Runs OutA. Deaths Directly Caused by Auto Use – Crashes, public health impactsWhy should we give up cars? To paraphrase an older slogan, cars kill locally and they kill globally.There are over 4,000,000 car crashes recorded a year. Thanks to Ralph Nader and his campaign for auto safety, only 40,000 people are killed. Thousands more are paralyzed and brain damaged. Over 5,000 pedestrians are killed each year by cars. 2 children a day are killed by their own parents backing over them. From birth to age 44, the number one cause of death in this country is by car. After that, it’s heart disease, which 44 years of riding in cars instead of walking contributes to. People in urban areas are thinner and healthier than people in suburbs or rural areas. Pollution from automobiles also kill about 30,000 people a year from respiratory illnesses.B. Loss of CommunityUrban planning and suburban planning is now under the dominion of the automobile, with plans designed to accommodate traffic, not human beings, with living spaces separated from workplaces and places of commerce. Between 1982 and 1997, the U.S. population grew 17 percent, but the amount of land area that became "urbanized" grew 47 percent. Little wonder that more and more of Americans’ precious time is being swallowed up commuting to and from work. In 1983, the average family drove 22,802 miles per year. In 1995, that figure skyrocketed to 34,459 miles a year (enough to circumnavigate the Earth about one and a third times). Today, there are over 200 million cars in America, and Americans spend 8 billion hours per year stuck in traffic. In 1982, the average rush-hour commuter spent 16 hours per year stuck in traffic. In 2000, the average rush-hour commuter spent 62 hours per year stuck in traffic. In short, the auto-based transportation system leads to more human isolation and alienation, more lost time – and more loss of human community.
C. DiscriminationThe average US family spends 19% of its household budget on transportation. It’s surely gone up more in the last year. Orienting our physical existence around the automobile leaves out those who cannot drive. The young, the old, the disabled and the poor are all disadvantaged and at the mercy of those who can give them a ride. (We just had a graphic demonstration of that during Hurricane Katrina.) Even if we had enough oil, what happens when 78,000,000 baby boomers become too old to drive and yet need to? It’s not that far off, folks.D. Environmental EffectsAutomobiles account for about one-half of all air pollution emissions in the United States and are the biggest producers of carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming, emitting about one-quarter of the total. Global warming is already having an effect on our planet. Glaciers and permafrost are melting, and ice packs are breaking up. Polar bears are drowning because the distance between ice floes and land is more than even they can swim. Scientists predict increased rains, floods, droughts, tornadoes and stronger hurricanes. Sound familiar?One count in the 1960s showed 1,000,000 animals a day killed by cars. A more recent count showed 500,000 a day, attributed to there being less animals to kill now. There has been massive loss of habitat due to the automobile, both by paving highways and by people invading remote areas made accessible by the car. We are losing wild space and farmland. One source showed 365 acres an hour are being paved over in the US. And other threats to our land environment include toxic runoff, oil spills and loss of rainwater retention due to paved areas not absorbing water the way forested or grass areas do.E. Effects of continued reliance on finite fossil fuel1. Further environmental devastation will be one obvious and unavoidable consequence.2. Imperialism – terrorism – warObviously, since domestic sources of recoverable oil are no longer sufficient to supply our 200 + million automobiles and a transportation system that is geared to using cars and trucks as our primary mode of transport, the ruling elite in this country is driven to control other sources of oil. They have obviously turned increasingly to militaristic means of controlling access to those sources, now even going so far as to invade and occupy sovereign nations – at a terrible human, social and environmental cost. Some folks in these countries, especially in the Middle East, are not real happy about the U.S. military presence there, and have turned to terrorist means to strike back. This in turn has provoked further reaction by our government, and now a deadly cycle is dominating our foreign policy. Although resisting the imperialistic designs of the ruling elite that now dominates our government, and hopefully replacing it, is an end in itself, we must also make sweeping changes in our mode of transportation if we realistically hope to overcome the drive toward domination of other nations, and the drive toward war.So what would it take to make Americans change their habits? We all know some of the 40,000 people a year killed by cars. Too bad, we say. And more dramatically, 3,000 people were killed on September 11, 2001 by men who were paid with oil money. So sad. 100,000 Iraqi civilians and 1,900 American soldiers have been killed in Bush’s attempt to take over Iraq’s oil. It sure sucks to be them. 500,000 people were displaced and their homes destroyed by a hurricane fueled by warm Gulf of Mexico waters. What a shame.Americans should be outraged, demanding an end to our dependence on this substance! We should be demanding zoning changes, public transportation support, insulated housing, and alternative sources of energy. We should question why pork barrel spending invariably is on roadbuilding. Congressman Jerry Costello was here Wednesday, handing out millions of dollars to waste on paving Southern Illinois. Why can’t we throw dollars on rail projects, or bike paths, or affordable mid city housing? We should switch to local farming, using labor intensive methods instead of petroleum intensive. Trains are far more energy efficient than cars, trucks or planes. Plus tracks are cheaper to maintain than highways and are much less destructive to the environment.Rich will talk more about solutions, but I hope I’ve alarmed you as much as Bush tries to do. But I don’t want to terrorize you or paralyze you with fear, I want to energize you to take action. Because if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention!Rich:II. Alternatives to the Oil-Automobile Transportation SystemA. Non-oil-based autos: Limited potential and many pitfallsIn recent years, we have heard a lot of hype about "the future hydrogen-based economy" and hydrogen fuel cells being the energy wave of the future. We have also heard a lot about biodiesel, ethanol, E-85 and other bio-based fuels as providing an alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles. And of course, we have hybrid cars in existence now. And other means of powering automobiles that are sometimes proposed as alternatives include natural gas, all electric and compressed air.There is a lot of debate and controversy over these various schemes for providing alternative means of powering automobiles and it is not our purpose here today to provide a definitive or comprehensive resolution to this controversy. We neither have the time nor the scientific expertise to do that. Certainly, research and investigation into all of these technologies is warranted and it may be that one or more of these technologies may eventually live up to some of the hype. But what deserves emphasis now is to recognize some of the obvious pitfalls to these alternatives and recognize that none of them, in and of themselves, is a panacea. The idea that 15 or 20 years from now, we can all be driving around just like we are today, only in non-polluting cars run by hydrogen fuel cells, and this will solve the problem of global warming, and all of our transportation and energy problems will be solved, is not only unrealistic; it is a delusion and a dangerous one at that, insofar as it may distract us from more practical and attainable and superior means of addressing our transportation needs in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.First, let’s state the obvious: Even "clean" cars would not address many of the problems just outlined by Paula: the deaths caused by accidents; the loss of community; the discriminatory impact, the public health impact of constantly driving. But it goes further than that: Even "clean" cars would still consume energy to produce – the steel, plastic, numerous parts, transported from all over the world. Then there’s the taxpayer costs and social costs of our extensive system of highways – the oils used in road construction and the coolants from millions of individual air conditioners that still destroy the ozone layer.In the U.S. today, there are over 38.4 million acres that are now paved over with roads and parking lots, more land devoted to cars than to our homes. That’s more land covered in asphalt than the size of some entire nations. We are losing 1.5 million acres of arable land a year to roads and sprawl. Every day, the United States loses 3,000 acres of productive farmland to sprawling development – the equivalent of Delaware every year. Parking spaces alone add more than $600 to the cost of a home and $1,200 to an apartment. Government subsidies for highways and parking alone in the U.S. amount to 8 to 10 percent of our gross national product. Add in the costs of pollution clean-up, related medical costs and about $300 billion a year in direct and indirect subsidies to the trucking industry – if these costs were borne directly by motorists at the pump, they would be paying about $9 per gallon in taxes. (Again, that statistic probably needs updating now.)Excepting for possible alleviation of pollution costs, most of these social costs would not be alleviated by so-called "cleaner" cars.Hybrid cars, are of course, a proven technology and, insofar as they consume less gas per mile, that’s wonderful. But that of course only means that they slow down the rate of degradation of our environment, relatively speaking.Hydrogen-fueled vehicles pose a number of problems. Among the problems detailed at a American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco in December 2004:! Hydrogen is a very "leaky" gas that could escape from cars and hydrogen plants into the atmosphere. This could set off chemical transformations that generate greenhouse gases that contribute to atmospheric warming.! The extraction of hydrogen for cars from methane, which is currently the richest available source of hydrogen, will generate carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas. It would be more energy efficient to use the methane itself.! Hydrogen can also be extracted from ordinary water via a process called electrolysis. However, using current technology, mass electrolysis of water would require intense sources of energy. If those energy sources burn fossil fuels, they, too, would generate greenhouse gases.Granted, electricity, derived from wind or solar, is another potential hydrogen source. There are some researchers and proponents who make persuasive arguments that this can work – see, for example, The Phoenix Project. ( But the practicality of that remains to be demonstrated, and a related problem is there is no good way to store and distribute hydrogen. Hydrogen must be liquefied or compressed to be useful. Hydrogen tanks are very expensive and heavy in either case. Hydrogen liquefaction or compression requires considerable energy. Moving hydrogen via pipeline or truck is also impractical.In sum, I think the right balance was struck by Jason Mark, director of the Clean Vehicles Program, and David Friedman, research director for the Clean Vehicles Program, Union of Concerned Scientists, in a recent statement on the subject of hydrogen fuel cells:
"Despite their promise, waiting for hydrogen fuel cells to deliver us from the economic and environmental perils of driving would be irresponsible. Pollution and oil use for the next decade or more will be dominated by the cars that are being bought today, and fuel cell vehicles will not make a significant national impact for at least two decades. We need to pursue immediate, readily available improvements using conventional and hybrid technology.
"Just as the promise of hydrogen should not lead us to ignore practical near-term solutions, the challenges facing hydrogen should not lead us to abandon efforts to achieve a renewable hydrogen future. Efficiency alone cannot wean us off foreign oil or provide the dramatic cuts in global warming gases that must be achieved. More sustainable travel will ultimately require the use of non-petroleum, zero-carbon fuels. Renewable-based hydrogen is one of the most promising long-term options for transportation. Because the transition will take decades, and will face many challenges, we must start today down the road to the future."
Ethanol is also questionable as a long-term substitute for gasoline. When the energy used to produce the crops is factored in, as well as the energy used in creating ethanol, it may not to be a very efficient means of creating energy. In fact, some scientists calculate that it is a net energy loser; for example, Cornell University scientist David Pimental has estimated that it takes 123,696 BTUs to make one gallon of ethanol, which contains only 99,119 BTUs of energy. On the other hand, a study by the Argonne National Laboratory found that on a full fuel-cycle analysis, ethanol was more energy efficient than gasoline and resulted in substantially lower greenhouse gas emissions. Again, I am not a scientist. On balance, ethanol probably does have some positive role to play in the struggle to meet our transportation needs while decreasing the rate of deterioration of our environment. But that is only buying time; it is not a solution.BiodieselAccording to one assessment, plant-based B100 (biodiesel) resulted in over 75% less carbon dioxide emissions than conventional diesel in a full lifecycle assessment.2 Although tailpipe carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are similar for diesel and biodiesel operated engines, biodiesel provides a distinct advantage in a full lifecycle assessment in which emissions from fuel production and fuel use are considered. In the case of plant-based biodiesel, carbon dioxide uptake by plants during respiration offsets the CO2 emissions produced from the combustion of biodiesel.Similarly, biodiesel is something of a mixed bag, with respect to other pollutants. Replacing conventional diesel with B100 reduces most tailpipe emission pollutants, but increases emissions of nitrogen oxides, resulting in a small overall increase of smog forming pollutants. These pollutants are responsible for the urban smog that reduces lung function, increases incidents of asthma and can aggravate chronic lung disease. Increases in NOx emissions could be minimized through engine modifications, fuel additives, or exhaust after-treatment devices. Although tailpipe hydrocarbon emissions are reduced, in a full lifecycle assessment, smog forming hydrocarbon emissions were 35% higher than conventional diesel. The emissions are attributed to the farming and soy processing components of biodiesel production. B100 has shown about a 50% reduction in particulate matter (PM or soot) emissions. Other emissions benefits of B100 include a reduction in air toxics on the order of 60-90%.Air toxics, such as formaldehyde and benzene, can cause a variety health risks including cancer, immune system disorders and reproductive problems.Production of biodiesel creates approximately 95% less hazardous waste than petroleum diesel production but more than double the amount of non-hazardous waste. Hazardous waste generally comes from chemical products associated with petroleum refining. The majority of non-hazardous waste from biodiesel is attributed to unprocessed plant material from the soybean crushing stage.Of course, biodiesel and ethanol are not the only possibilities for using biomass as an energy source. Diesel cars can also be run on waste vegetable oil, reportedly with a reduction in CO2 emissions. Certainly, that is to be encouraged – but again, it remains to be seen how practical such technologies will prove to be on a large scale.With respect to all biomass fuels, the environmental impact of use must take into account all the processes used to produce it, from planting to refining. We will not greatly benefit from a transition to such fuels if we do not also insist on sustainable agricultural practices at the same time. Large volume biomass use could raise concerns about genetically modified crops, pesticide use, petroleum-based fertilizer use (undermining some of the benefits of replacing fossil fuels at the gas pump) and land-use impacts common to all plant-based fuels. Waste vegetable and animal fat resources are estimated to be able to sustain production on the order of 1 billion gallons of biodiesel per year, or less than 3% of current diesel use.Widespread use of biodiesel would require more virgin plant oils or other waste stream sources to meet larger demands. Crops for biodiesel must be grown in a manner that supports wildlife habitat, minimizes soil erosion, avoids competition for food crops, and does not rely on the use of harsh chemicals and fertilizers.B. Human Power – With proper urban design (discussed below), human-powered transportation – walking & biking – supplemented by sensibly planned systems of extensive mass transit, can play a tremendous role in supplanting the automobile. The benefits to human health and the environment are obvious. Walking is non-polluting and bicycles obviously use relatively little energy and resources to produce. New forms of human-powered vehicles, using better designs (recumbents, velocipedes, row-bikes, etc.) show that there is still untapped potential in this form of transportation and that, with continued innovation, it may be able to play a larger role in our transportation future than mainstream American can presently envision.We may all be a little skeptical about this – it may seem unrealistic to expect auto-addicted Americans to suddenly embrace walking and biking. Yet a combination of incentives, positive and negative, may do the trick. In nations like Japan and some in Europe, the combination of much higher gas prices, and better systems of mass transit, have led to bicycles playing a major role in transportation. Walter Hook of the Institute for Transportation and Development, an international think tank, has argued that bicycling has made Japan more competitive. The Japanese walk and bike more, and pay three times our gas tax; we (as a nation) don’t walk and bike so much, and subsidize the car. The Japanese pay about 9 percent of their gross national product on transportation; we pay 15 to 18 percent. This makes for a healthier economy as well as a healthier people. After all, the money saved on not maintaining an automobile is that much more disposable income to be spent on other areas of the economy.C. Mass transitLet’s consider the advantages of railway transit over that of the automobile:! Greenhouse gas emissions: On average, the emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, for rail transit per passenger, are 4.5 times lower than those of a car and 7.5 times lower than those of an airplane. More importantly, there is greater potential for using renewable energy systems to run electric-powered rail than there is to run individual automobiles. Electric locomotives powered via 3rd rail or catenary wires will require no modification to be able to use power from renewable energy sources like wind, solar, hydro or biomass. Automobiles and airplanes will require complex redesign to be able to use gaseous or cryogenic hydrogen and the technology will require significant advances to be cost-effective. In addition, the natural environment is not disturbed to a great extent by the rails, and the dependence on air travel, the most polluting form of transportation, would be alleviated.! Other Air Pollution: Fuel-powered vehicle engines, all of which use some type of petroleum, primarily emit three types of harmful gases: Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), carbon monoxide CO), and nitrous oxides (NOx). Rail transit produces far fewer of each of the emissions than cars, and less of VOC and CO than airplanes. With respect to freight, railroads transport more than 40% of our country’s intercity freight "ton-miles" (one ton hauled one mile), but account for just 9% of NO2 freight emissions. That’s because a typical truck emits about three times more NO2 than a typical locomotive per ton mile.! Energy Efficiency: Rail travel is more energy efficient than air travel and reduces our dependence on fossil fuels and foreign sources of oil. Even when it was using a fleet of old, energy-intensive engines and cars, Amtrak was up to 45 percent more energy-efficient than domestic commercial airline service (2,351 Btu's per passenger-mile vs. 4,304). Even if we were to just complete the high-speed rail project on the Chicago to St. Louis corridor, the priority proposed by the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, projections indicate that we would save more than 6-1/2 million gallons of fuel each year. Per ton-mile, various studies have shown that a freight train uses between one-third and one-ninth as much fuel as trucks.! Effective Use of Existing Assets: The existing Amtrak network provides a foundation upon which to grow a stronger system. Existing stations can handle significantly more passengers with relatively little investment. Existing trains can handle more people more simply adding more cars. Simply removing railroad bottlenecks can add capacity at a low marginal cost.! Lower Construction Cost: Upgraded track is 6-7 times cheaper to build than highways. New track is almost 4 times cheaper. In Northeastern Illinois in 2002, adding one lane of new highway to an existing road cost $7.3 million per mile. Building a new railroad track on land already owned by the freight railroads cost between $1 million-$2 million. Upgrading existing track and signaling to handle 110 mph service ran about $1 million per mile.! Better Land Use: Rail requires 10% the amount of land as Interstate highways. Example: Between New York and Boston, a distance of about 210 miles, the main highway is Interstate 95, which is between 4-8 lanes wide the entire distance. The total amount of land devoted to I-95 is about 25 square miles. If new high-speed dual track were built from scratch between the two cities, the total land required would be about 2.5 square miles.! Congestion Relief: Rail reduces airport and highway congestion and the associated pollution. Expansion of high speed rail in particular would reduce costs associated with highway and airport expansion as well as productivity lost in travel time.! Speed: For distances of 500 miles or less, rail travel can be as fast or faster than other modes of transportation when all factors are considered (highway congestion, parking, airport security, travel to air hubs, etc.) Of course, this advantage will be heightened if we make the commitment to high-speed rail.! Weather Tolerance: Rail travel is often more tolerant of severe weather conditions than air or highway travel.! Diversity: Passenger rail provides a transportation alternative to older and disabled people, who either cannot because of disability or age, or who simply do not want to be forced to drive or fly. Rail travel is also more accommodating than air travel by virtue of it's larger seats, wider aisles and relaxed pace.! Aesthetic, Safety and Productivity Advantages:Rail travel is much more comfortable than air or bus travel, with plenty of leg room and the ability to walk around or eat at your leisure. Everyone gets to enjoy the scenery. Rail terminals in large metropolitan areas are located in city centers (where the action is), eliminating the need for long drives to crowded remote air hubs.Rail travel permits travel time to be productive time or resting time, without the need to devote full attention to dodging trucks, trying to avoid traffic, finding a rest stop, etc. Rail security is generally less intrusive than airline security. Railroad accidents can involve fatalities, but rarely involve complete incineration and/or dismemberment of all passengers. Mile for mile, it is certainly far safer than travel by car.! Job creation: A billion dollars spent on mass transit creates about 7,000 more jobs than the same amount spent on road construction.III. Prescriptions for Action: From Personal to PolicyA. Consumer/lifestyle choices and changes:We are understandably cynical about the prospect of effecting change by urging people to change their habits and lifestyles regarding transportation. Lecturing people about the benefits of biking, walking and conserving fuel only goes so far, at least until the superstructure is changed, so as to encourage these practices, as Paula indicated. Still, it is a necessary part of the answer, if perhaps not the most effective part. And hopefully, as gas prices continue to climb, the message will be better received.I am tempted to say that the beginning advice to give many people is, "stop being so stupid and lazy." I realize that such a message is unlikely to get a positive response but it reflects how I feel sometimes. For example, a couple of months ago, Paula and I were walking through a parking lot to go to the Target store in Marion. We counted, I think it was 8 different vehicles, parked in the parking lot, that had their engines running, presumably to run their air conditioners. Most of them were SUVs and I don’t believe any of them were in handicapped spots. I felt like yelling at them to get their lazy asses out of their car and walk inside the store to wait if they were hot. The practice was simply inexcusable. And no doubt some of these same people are likely to be complaining now about the high price of gasoline.It may seem simplistic but there are some very simple things that we can all do as consumers that really can make a substantial difference – if we can persuade the public to go along with these common-sense suggestions. These include:! Drive more sensibly. According to the US Department of Energy, aggressive driving such as rapid acceleration, speeding and braking can lower gas mileage significantly. Sensible driving helps conserve fuel, saves money and is safer for all drivers. Some basic tips include:1. Don’t leave cars idling. Today’s engines don’t need to be warmed up. Prolonged idling creates excess emissions and wastes fuel. Start car and immediately and gently drive away.2. Turn the engine off when idling more than 30 seconds. While it does take more gas to start up a car again than to idle for a brief period, that saving is lost if you are idling more than 30 seconds. So if you are waiting at a railroad crossing for a long freight train, or if you go to a parking spot or pickup point, turn off the engine if you are going to be stopped more than 30 seconds.3. Start slowly, avoiding rapid acceleration. Jackrabbit starts waste fuel. Anticipate traffic conditions, and accelerate and decelerate smoothly—it’s also safer and reduces brake wear. Aim to maintain a constant speed—pumping the accelerator pumps more fuel into the engine.4. Drive at posted speed limits – or even below. EPA estimates a 10-15% improvement in fuel economy by driving 55 instead of 65 mph.5. Don’t drive at higher speeds with windows wide open. It increases the aerodynamic drag on the highway and lowers fuel economy.6. Under-inflated tires increase rolling resistance and reduce fuel economy. Keep tires properly inflated to the recommended pressure—this alone can reduce the average amount of fuel use by 3-4 percent.7. When feasible, carpool.! Bike or walk whenever feasible.! Take mass transit whenever feasible.! Think about the big picture when you choose a new place to live: Try to live near where you work.B. Raising mpg requirements on Big AutoI’m sorry to have to report some dismaying news: Just this last week, the EPA released its annual Fuel Economy Guide for 2006 model year vehicles. It reported that the average combined fuel economy for all 2006 models has actually declined by 1% from the average combined fuel economy of the 2005 models, from 21.22 mpg to 20.99 mpg. This came just a few days after the House Rules Committee blocked an attempt to require an increase in fuel economy standards (CAFE – Corporate Average Fuel Economy) of 10% by 2016. As Paula said, "If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention."Clearly, we are not outraged enough, because neither Detroit nor Congress seem to be getting the message.According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, and their excellent website, "Break the Chain," ("Auto companies have developed a host of new fuel-saving technologies and innovations, but for the most part they haven't put them into widespread production. Congress, the White House and state governments have the power to make them do it. As consumers and voters, so do we."American vehicles produced today get just 20.8 miles to the gallon, on average -- lower than in the 1980s. But studies by the National Academy of Sciences, the nonprofit American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy and other independent analysts show that automakers could use existing technology to raise average mileage for new vehicles to nearly 40 mpg over the next 10 to 15 years while maintaining or improving safety. Car companies have developed a host of technologies that make vehicles vastly more efficient."The NRDC goes on to provide some specific examples, in the area of engine improvements, better aerodynamics and lightweight materials, automatic shut-off and cylinder deactivation and enhanced transmissions.
Some of these new technologies are already available in some models.So what's the problem?Automakers have been able to bend Congress to avoid having to improve CAFE standards. And they have no incentive to improve SUVs at all, because of a loophole in the law that exempts many "light trucks" from the more stringent fuel efficiency rules that apply to passenger cars. (The loophole was written long before SUVs became common passenger vehicles and was intended to apply to work vehicles.)By expanding production of gasoline-electric hybrids and making improvements in conventional vehicles, automakers could raise the fuel efficiency of new vehicles to 40 miles per gallon within a decade and 55 mpg by 2020. Doing this in combination with increasing our reliance on renewable fuels and other oil-saving measures could cut our projected oil demand in half by 2020, and save consumers almost $30 billion per year. The oil savings we could achieve by that time, more than 2.5 million barrels every day, would equal our total current imports from the Persian Gulf. These fuel efficiency improvements would also cut billions of tons of global warming pollution.Even if we raised the average fuel efficiency of SUVs by 3 miles per gallon, daily U.S. oil consumption would drop 49,000,000 gallons per day – more than the 42,000,000 gallons per day that the proposed drilling of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is projected to yield.Improving standards to 40 miles per gallon (mpg) would save car owners $3,000 to $5,000 or more at the gas pump over the life of a vehicle and would create 40,000 jobs in the auto industry by 2010. A standard of 40 mpg, implemented by 2012, would avert 374 million tons of global warming pollution annually and would save more oil than the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could produce. (Source: Drilling in Detroit: Tapping Automaker Ingenuity to Build Safe and Efficient Automobiles, Union of Concerned Scientists)
C. Better urban design to facilitate human power/mass transit/energy efficiencyThis has been discussed in greater detail in other workshops here at the Bioneers Conference. So let me just summarize and state that we need to promote urban planning designs that:1. Encourage close proximity between work and residential neighborhoods (and, where practical, combined work/residential buildings or complexes – mixed use, such as retail store on bottom, apartment on top).2. Encourage pedestrian and bicycle transportation via pedestrian-friendly designs (e.g., grids, not suburban-style disconnected street networks) and pathways dedicated to non-motorists (safe bike pathways and pedestrian ways). Studies have shown, not surprisingly, that when the design encourages pedestrian and bicycle traffic, more people walk and use bicycles for transit.D. Stop hidden subsidies to big oil/start investing in mass transit:I use these words advisedly. Notice that whenever the right wing talks about Amtrak, they always refer to it as being "subsidized," whereas they claim we are "investing" or making "infrastructure improvements" in highways, roadways and airports.The reality is that all transportation systems are subsidized by government because they are vital to the functioning of society and cannot function profitably solely by private investment. This is true of auto, rail and air travel alike. So when the right wing complains that Amtrak (or a private company) can run self-sufficient rail if they were "managed properly," etc., or left to survive in the marketplace without subsidies, such talk is either delusional or disingenuous. No auto company would ever make a profit were it not for taxpayer support, direct and indirect, for highways, roadways, and our system of gasoline distribution. The airlines would not be profitable without direct and indirect subsidies to our airports, air traffic control systems and periodic bailouts. The real question is which system makes the most sense to invest public dollars in, for the public good.Much is made of the $30 billion spent on Amtrak over the last 30 years, but in that same period the federal government spent $1.89 TRILLION on air and highway modes, according to the New York Times and Washington Post.Our government’s spending on railways is pathetic. According to a study by the International Railway Journal, the United States ranks between Bolivia and Turkey in mainline railroad spending per capita at $1.64. The average is $21.85, with a high of $228.29 for Switzerland and a low of $.29 for the Philippines.In fiscal year 2003, Amtrak served more than 24 million passengers, an all-time record. Each day, approximately 66,000 passengers travel on Amtrak. In 2003, Amtrak had $2,077M in revenues and $3,206M expenses (50% for salaries) for a $1,281M net loss. Amtrak is also increasingly burdened by a debt load incurred to cover inadequate Federal funding.Amtrak gets around a third of it's $3 billion budget from a federal subsidy. By including no money for Amtrak in their proposed 2006 budget, the administration is trying to fulfill the longtime rightwing dream of ending a 150-year tradition of long-distance passenger rail service in the U.S. The $1.2 billion FY 2003 Amtrak subsidy divided by 300 million Americans works out to under $4 per citizen. Certainly less than the $300 billion and thousands of lives expended thus far to ensure access to cheap oil in Iraq.In contrast to the inadequate $1 billion expended annually to subsidize rail travel, consider:* The FAA Budget for 2004 detailed $12.561billion in outlays and $9.372 billion in fund receipts, meaning that taxpayers subsidized air travel $3 billion ABOVE AND BEYOND taxes and usage fees payed by air travelers directly and through fares paid to airlines. (FAA).* Boeing, the sole remaining U.S. manufacturer of passenger airplanes, receives around $23 billion in federal and state subsidies each year, not counting losses offset by Federal spending on military aircraft. (USA Today)* Highways also recieve a signifigant amount of public funding ABOVE AND BEYOND fees and taxes directly paid by drivers. In 2001, the $133 billion spent on highways included gasoline taxes (35%), vehicle taxes/fees (20%) and tolls (4%). Non-user subsidies included general fund appropriations (15%) and property taxes (5%).* Gasoline is a very heavily subsidized commodity with hidden costs in government subsidies to the oil industry, military costs for protection of production and shipment services, and environmental costs. The true cost of a gallon of gasoline may be five to fifteen times the cost actually paid at the pump. (Center for Technology Assessment)As you can see from the chart we have provided from the National Association of Railroad Passengers, (, we have been going backward as a nation in terms of the scope of intercity rail service. The scope of service today is pathetic even in comparison to what was available just 40 years ago.The Midwest High Speed Rail Association is a broad coalition that is seeking to reverse this trend throughout the Midwest. It has a comprehensive proposal for refurbishing existing rail lines to connect all major cities throughout the Midwest, with Chicago-Detroit, Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison and Chicago-St. Louis being the first priority projects. The plan envisions trains that will reach a top speed of 110 mph. As far as the Chicago-Carbondale corridor is concerned, once a new track is added back to the system along the existing lines, which would eliminate time-consuming delays for freight trains, there would be a local service train that would go from Chicago to Carbondale in 4 hours, 12 minutes and an express that would make the trip in 3-1/2 hours.The plan is modeled upon several North American success stories in improving rail service that demonstrate that, once sound investments are made, and quality service provided, consumers really do choose rail, in big numbers. Some examples include the highly successful Windsor - Toronto - Montreal system in Canada, skyrocketing ridership in California, and the Pacific Northwest, where new high performance trains took 25 minutes off the Portland- Seattle trip, and, combined with modest track improvements and more frequent runs, resulted in 521% increase in ridership between 1993 and 2002. 68 percent of the people taking the train would have driven their cars had the train not been available.The argument that no one wants to ride trains cannot be defended based on the experience of the current underfunded system. European and Japanese rail systems provide an even better demonstration that if you build it, they will come.The Midwest High Speed Rail Association has made completion of the Chicago – Springfield – St. Louis system a priority. The State is theoretically committed to this project and has committed some funds to it, but needs more of a push. Please push your local state representative – or elect a new one – to get behind this project. A lot of lawmakers and lobbyists travel from Chicago to Springfield. A successful demonstration project like this can do a lot to pave the way for future successes.E. Mobilize against senseless road projects for "public works"/pork barrel purposes.If we want to devote more tax dollars to sustainable transportation, we also need to resist the waste of tax dollars on ill-considered road projects. For too long, politicians in Washington and Springfield alike seem to think "public works" is a synonym for "road project," and constantly push road projects as the way to dole out pork and public works jobs to their constituents – whether the project makes sense or not. Experience has proved that simply widening roads and highways does little or nothing to relieve congestion, since it actually encourages more traffic along the widened thoroughfare, usually in a matter of just a few years. This is not the way to deal with traffic problems and encouraging people to drive more will cause further deterioration in our environment and quality of life.Locally, CARE has mobilized against two main projects: The proposal to expand Highway 127 to a four-lane freeway between Nashville and Murphysboro, and an even more offensive proposal to build a new Inter-State Highway 66 between Cape Girardeau, MO and Paducah, KY, a path that would cut right through the Shawnee National Forest. Fortunately, both of those proposals appear to be on hold for the time being, not so much because of our opposition but due to funding constraints. Still, we will take victories where we can get them. We have not been as effective in mobilizing opposition to a foolish proposal to expand Highway 13 to six lanes between Carbondale and Marion, although perhaps there is still time.We also may be too late in mobilizing opposition to a proposal to build a new connection between Reed Station Rd. and Highway 13 in Carbondale, for commercial development, a proposal for more "sprawl," if ever there was one. However, an even greater priority for us right now is to mobilize against the propose Wal-Mart Supercenter on Country Club Road, between Carbondale and Murphsyboro, which is mainly being resisted by another coalition, Friends for Fair Growth. The plan is to build the Supercenter in the middle of a completely undeveloped, semi-rural, quiet neighborhood. It would entail massive taxpayer support for new roads, traffic signals, new water and sewer connections, etc. It would definitely encourage more driving because it’s right in the middle of nowhere, and it is designed to attract SIU students to drive to obtain cheap alcohol as well as attract shoppers from both Carbondale and Murphysboro. At last night’s workshop, Steve Gough rightly described it as a "poster child for urban sprawl." If you live in this area, please join our efforts to oppose this monstrous proposal.F. Strategies:As usual, I’ve talked way too long, but let me quickly say a word about strategy and tactics for effecting change. These include education, lobbying, electoral action, mobilizing as workers and mobilizing as consumers. I’m sure you are all familiar with these strategies but let me just highlight a couple of things. First, education is obviously a priority, because there is still so much ignorance out there as to how the lack of transportation alternatives affects our everyday lives. Let’s help disseminate the kinds of information we have shared here today.Mobilizing as workers is a strategy that deserves more attention. When the giant corporations that dominate our economy today blackmail communities, and relocate to take advantage of sweatshop conditions in other countries, perhaps we could take a lesson from what workers in Argentina, Brazil and other countries are doing – mobilizing to take control of abandoned factories and facilities, and operating them as worker cooperatives and/or state enterprises. Here we might petition our state and local governments to exercise their right of eminent domain to facilitate such takeovers. Where corporate America is not being responsive to the needs of the people, the people ought to exercise control over the facilities they have built and subsidized, to use them for the public good. If the private sector isn’t getting the job done, perhaps we the people can be building fuel-efficient cars, sustainable mass transit systems and other energy-saving products. It’s food for thought. This may seem like a "radical" proposal at first but it really isn’t – not considering how radically corporate America is reshaping the global environment and destroying our quality of life. Reclaiming government of, by and for the people always seems "radical" to some, as it was in 1776, but it’s still a good idea.And as for mobilizing as consumers, let’s send corporate America a message through that channel as well – by making more responsible choices as consumers and voting with our dollars in the marketplace, just as the "free market" ideologues say they want us to. Don’t buy a car unless you have to, and if you do, make it a hybrid. Ride the train whenever you can – show support for mass transit. Set a good example for friends, relatives and neighbors.None of these strategies are mutually exclusive. We need to employ all of them – fighting for more responsive government and better policy choices as well as more responsible corporate and economic behavior. Now let’s get out there and do it. Thanks for listening.


ryk said...

That's good stuff.

Anonymous said...
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