Crossposted with permission from The Free Press.
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But the larger transition is epic and global, based on a simple structural reality: the passenger car is obsolete.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.