It’s time to kill the car 🔥🚗💨… Yeah. I get it, electric cars are the future. Sorry, @Tesla, you’re trying to solve the wrong problem.
Electric vehicles have been around for a long time… the 1830s. They were solving the problem of horses, things that needed care, food, and tired with use. Fast forward 60 years, these things were everywhere; yes the horses too. Twenty — 20, years later, roads became useful and we needed something that would go great distances. Enter petrol.
By this time, they’d been around for quite a bit too. They were dirty, their fuel was hard to obtain, and a little dangerous. Not to mention noisy.
If you started your car, today, let it run in an enclosed space, say, a garage, and sat with it; it’d kill you. Not to mention the explosive nature of the fuel that goes into it. You’re sitting on top of this:
How did we get here?
It wasn’t that cars always owned the roads. It started with these menacing moving objects in the street… yes, horses were a bit to blame, but there were all these PEOPLE in the streets… all the time, getting into the way of cars, even colliding with cars!? (was this the first significant effort to blame the victim? not sure, but perhaps a post idea)
We needed a lot of pro-car laws (and subsidies) to get these things popular. After all, lots of folks had transportation (their legs), horses, or **trigger warning** socialized (AHHH!!!!!) public transit (more on that later).
Enter, the AD MEN. The folks who made cars sexy sold sex & cars, and cars. The 50s, 60s, and 70s, the good old days of the car. You know, after all of that **trigger warning** socialized (AHHH!!!!!) road and interstate highway building. Most people didn’t care for venturing out on dirt roads, especially in the rain. They needed to be paved and expanded so folks could drive places.
A man, a car, and a (heavily government-subsidized) road. Blah, blah, blah how great are cars…
Yep. At this point, if you’re still reading, you’re probably thinking this is quite an abbreviated and weak argument. Maybe I’m some barely illiterate hippie that seems to hate cars.
What I think most people fail to realize is how much the car has shaped and shapes our lives; how much control our cars have over us.
Let’s expand. Before the car, there were horses, buggies, and wagons — mass transit was just a lot of people out for a walk. As cities grew, and the population got denser, paths that accommodate one or two people grew to accommodate a cart, grew to accommodate a cart and person; then people. Soon multiple carts and many people. Paths became alleys, became roads. Dirt became stone, became paved.
Ever wonder why old cities have very narrow roads; roads evolved with and around the city. This also tends to create traffic problems, but why? — we use to design cities around people, not automobiles.
Ever wonder why LA traffic is horrible? It was designed for and around the automobile; not, people.
“The most famous — and most infamous — buildings in Los Angeles aren’t buildings. No one lives or works in them, but they have had an extraordinary impact on the city, its people, and the world as a whole. LA’s most important buildings are its freeways…”
It’s the past, but it’s also our future. No, I’m not talking about automating existing cars (seems simple, but think infrastructure). Mass transit is faster, and cheaper overall… there’s a reason cities are rebuilding (Kansas City) or expanding rail, bus, and ferry service. They move more people, more efficiently, cheaper.
What about the value of convenience and/or time?
What about it? Automobiles have an upfront cost (purchase price), monthly (fuel/insurance) and/or yearly costs (maintenance: oil, tires, breaks, license, etc.). Most people don’t calculate those ‘differed’ costs of owning. Not to mention, indirect tax dollars to support roads, bridges, traffic control…
Let’s put it this way. Just concerning pollution, your automobile (100% electric cars have indirect pollution) literally spew toxic chemicals for your convenience. Thought experiment: if you and I were in an elevator, you don’t smoke but I do, and I start smoking; does my smoking connivance impact you? In my mind, I’m serving my selfish need for a cigarette, the convince of sparing me until I get outside.
Your toxic auto does the exact same thing to the air we all share; the atmosphere, just happens to be almost unfathomably larger than the elevator, so we have a hard time seeing our impact.
SLOW THE FUCK DOWN. More on that in a future post. #bemindful #behumble
It’s not just fuel
The net energy impact of the personal auto is staggering. The material has to be sourced, moved, prepared, assembled, transported, and sold. There are the replacement parts, each has to be sourced, processed, delivered, sold. Then, all the time energy and resources to create the roads, bridges, and support infrastructure for these things. Have to find the oil, drill it, transport it, refine it, transport that, store it, sell it, use it. It’s tough to pin a number on private auto ownership, let alone multiple.
A lot of this design was done for a simpler time when fewer people had more time. It’s not clear anyone thought the world would continue to evolve around the automobile, and probably far surpassed anyone’s vision of the future (flying cars, again, solving the wrong problem).
“Berners-Lee estimates that a rough guide to the carbon footprint of a car is 720kg (~1587 lbs) for every £1,000 (~$1290) you spend on it.” — The Telegraph
“A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.” — United States EPA
The starting price for a Ford F-Series (America’s #1 selling auto) is ~$30,000. Using the numbers we just learned, that’s ~47,610 pounds of carbon footprint plus 4.7 metric tons of 10-year ownership, for a grand total of ~70 tons of carbon. Is that a lot, it is a big number? That’s maybe 9 medium, single-story houses worth of carbon (compared to the transportation on average one person). That’s 1 auto over 10 years. Close to 1 million Ford F-Series were sold in 2016 alone. These numbers are huge and really hard to visualize, let alone understand the impact.
We have one earth. It’s, really, really, really…. Big. It’s also insanely complex. So complex, one incredibly importing thing is one of the smallest. It makes oxygen, something I like quite a bit; hopefully, you do too. Too much of a good thing is sometimes a bad thing.
Combustion engines make a lot of CO2 (super toxic to us, oxygen loving Earth people). It also traps the sun’s rays and makes the planet keep the heat instead of reflecting it back to space (ocean’s soak it up, and become warmer). The warmer climate means less snow (white reflects), also more intense and less well-distributed rain and snow (mega stormes, flooding… also the inverse). Even creating electric autos is very toxic. This is basic climate understanding, something that I don’t understand how is constantly disputed in America.
Mass transit & personal transit
It’s really simple. If people want to keep moving around, we need mass transit, we need to slow our lives down to accommodate flexible schedules (less stress is better for overall health too). Kill the car 🔥🚗💨…
Yep, this turned out to be a rather unfocused rant against cars 🤷🏽♂️.
Originally published 11/26/2018.
About the author:
Andrew lives in Portland, OR and has worked in tech for over 15 years. With a foundation in philosophy, political theory, and communications, he is an avid thinker & tinkerer, constantly learning and exploring the world around us.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License © 2019.