Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Clusterf--k nation

I always liked James Kunstler. I saw him speak at the National Building Museum years ago. His cutting and intelligent (even witty, at least never boring) books, particularly The Geography of Nowhere and Home from Nowhere, resonate totally with my visceral feelings about suburbia versus quality urbanism, among other things. He's become somewhat of a ranting gloom-and-doomer about peak oil and our national obsession with not facing reality about where we're headed as a country. But that doesn't make him wrong. More like the only one in the room willing to say certain things.

I usually read his, ahem, 'Clusterfuck Nation' blog pretty regularly via RSS. Here's a sample bit from the most recent post. A lot of his recurring themes, nothing about bikes per se but still has everything to do with a national dilemma that bikes - ok ok, yeah, along with a fundamentally revamped national physical landscape and a mass conversion away from suburban sprawl and auto-dependency - would go a long way toward helping to solve. (I actually find his general silence about bicycling puzzling, since I believe he bikes around the town in upstate NY where he lives...)


Here's something to chew on: we run about 250 million cars in the USA. Let's say we ramped up an electric vehicle fleet of 10 million cars - which, by the way, is a purely hypothetical and wildly optimistic number. Do you think it might be a political problem if 10 million lucky Americans get to drive electric cars while everybody else either pays through the nose for gasoline, or can't even afford to own a car anymore?

There are a few things you can state categorically about the US energy predicament and the national conversation we're having about it - including the leaders of that conversation in government, business, and the media. One is that we are blowing a lot of green smoke up our collective ass. None of these schemes is going to work as advertised. The disappointment over them will be massive and probably lead to awful political consequences.

Another is that we are ignoring the most obvious intelligent responses to this predicament, namely, shifting our focus to walkable communities and public transit, especially rebuilding the American passenger railroad system - without which, I assure you, we will be most regrettably screwed ten years from now. Mr. Obama had one throwaway line in his speech about public transit and nothing whatever about walkable neighborhoods.

The reason for this obvious idiocy is that it's all about the cars. That's all we care about in the USA, the cars. We can't get over the cars. We can't talk about anything except how we'll find magical new ways to run all the cars. This is a very tragic sort of stupidity and if we don't change our thinking about it, from the highest level on down, history is going to treat us very cruelly.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post Bill.

    I just read tonight that the US, with 5% of world population, and 30% of the world's cars, emits 45% of the world's automobile pollution. This is a very uncivilized way to live. Long live the chain guard revolution.

    E. Hilton