Is this the end of the age of the automobile? by Harvey Wasserman

Crossposted with permission from The Free Press.

Dandelion Salad

by Harvey Wasserman
The Free Press
March 9, 2009

As a dominant form of transportation, the automobile is dead. So is GM, which now stands for Gone Mad.

But the larger picture says that the financial crisis now enveloping the world is grounded in the transition from the automobile—and the fossils that fuel it—to a brave renewable world of reborn mass transit and green power.

If GM lives in any form, it must be owned and operated by its workers and the public.

But the larger transition is epic and global, based on a simple structural reality: the passenger car is obsolete. Auto sales have plummeted not merely because of a bad economy, but because the technology no longer makes sense.

Franklin Roosevelt took GM over in 1943-5 to make the hardware to beat the Nazis. Barack Obama should now do the same to beat climate chaos.

Make streetcars, not passenger cars.

Hybrids are too little, too late, with problems of their own. Solar-powered electric cars will help phase out the gas guzzlers.

But in the long run, the automobile itself needs to be dismantled and re-cycled, not retooled or rebuilt.

Cars still kill 40,000 Americans/year, and thousands more worldwide. No matter how much less gas each may burn, they all consume unsustainable resources to manufacture, operate and terminate.

We need to dig up roads, not build more. We need rails and coaches, bio-diesel buses and self-propelled trolleys, Solartopian super-trains and in-town people movers, not to mention windmills, solar panels, wave generators and geothermal piping.

In America’s corporate-conceived “love affair with the automobile,” our first spouse—mass transit—was murdered. Now the unsustainable obsolescence of the private passenger car is collapsing a global financial system built on the illusion of its constant growth.

Mother Earth can’t sustain the old four-wheeled carry-one-person-around-the-block paradigm, be it hybrid, electric or otherwise.

If the automobile and its attendant freeways continue to metastasize in India, China and Africa as they did in the 20th Century United States, we are doomed.

Our true challenge is to envision, engineer and build a Solartopian transportation system that moves people and things cleanly around a crowded planet with diminishing resources and no margin for ecological error.

For that we need every cent and brain cell devoted to what’s new and works, not what’s failed and could kill us all.


Harvey Wasserman’s SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth is at http://www.solartopia.org. This article was originally published by http://freepress.org.

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One thought on “Is this the end of the age of the automobile? by Harvey Wasserman

  1. I’ve been trying to convince people all along that we should stop trying to bail out GM, instead take over the facility, with all it’s incredible engineers, 252k specialized workers, facilities, robotic welders, massive stamping presses, dealerships and distribution, and use it exclusively for intensive R&D and production of electric vehicles.

    GM could be converted into a NASA for transportation, and it’s available for pennies on the dollar! You can even buy whole houses in Detroit for nothing, to house workers in what can only be a growth industry.

    It’s so misguided to think of bankrupting them, or letting it fail, or trying to string it along hoping it will adjust– it can’t adjust, it’s broke, the only option is liquidation, and everyone including all the suppliers will be bankrupt and out of work, the repercussions will go on for decades, and it will be just another relic of the rust-belt.

    Just take it over, temporarily nationalize it, use it to make exactly the vehicles we need, everyone else will be forced to compete, transportation will be revolutionized faster than any other way.

    After that you can always sell it back to private owners/investors in its new form, or allow the UAW to own its own factory (why not revolutionize the worker/management model while we’re at it? What an opportunity to try a whole new approach to industrial production!) and the market for the new electric or fuel cell vehicles will take care of itself, but it needs to be set on the new path in a big way– this is an amazing opportunity to do just that, with a state-of-the-art facility complete with great employees.

    Could some one of you MBA’s please offer this to Obama, and fill in the details and propose it?? Sometimes solutions come from the strangest places, this one from the ether. This is an inspired vision, outside the box, now flesh it out and offer up the option…

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