Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Once Upon a Time...

I am spending some time reading previous blog posts by James Howard Kunstler, the suburban sprawl critic who I have mentioned many times on this blog. Kunstler does a great job in tying our lifestyle to the depletion of energy that is going to be a major predicament for us in the future, if it isn't already here (I could definitely see the ripple effects). It isn't only a treat to read his past blogs (these are from 2005), but the quality of the comments left behind are truly outstanding, and a far cry from the comments being left there today.

I am posting one of those comments. Mind you, it's from 2005, but it's still fresh and the person who left the comment (a fellow named Mike Harrington, might not be his real name) really nails it dead-on on how tragic our lifestyle really is, and how it wasn't always this way:

It's okay to talk about better vehicle mileage, but until the need to drive everywhere is reduced, meaningful energy savings are going to be elusive.

How many times have you heard, "you have to have a car to survive?" Or something to that effect. Well, sixty years ago, that wasn't true. In 1945, there were over 5 people for every auto in the US. Now there are about 1.5 people for every car. Sixty years is a long time in an individual's life, but it's a pretty short time even in US history.

Here's a typical example of how screwed up the US has become. In 1945, if your kids wanted to go to the movies, they either walked to the neighborhood theater or paid a nickel for the streetcar or bus to take them downtown. Now, since we no longer have mixed-use development and public transit has practically disappeared, you have to load them up in your Ford Explorer, drive 5 miles to the nearest freeway, drive another 10 miles on the freeway, and dump them off at the cineplex. And when the movie's over, repeat the whole process. Or take them to sports events, or concerts, or shopping, or to visit friends and family members. People were able to do these things less than a human lifetime ago without using anywhere close to 25 barrels of oil a year per person in the process.

Letting the urban cores and mass transit systems go down the tubes was a pretty dumb thing to do. It was done intentionally to sell more cars, more gas, more tires, more concrete, etc. It's just a scam. The quality of life isn't any better, nor is intellectual achievement. Because we're slaves to our cars (Read: Elephant in the Bedroom), our quality of life has deteriorated. Now we have to work harder just to be able to do the same things that people just three generations ago were able to do for practically nothing by today's standards.

The second largest expenditure of households in the US is for their automobiles. The largest is for housing, which has always been the highest cost for people. But people pay more to keep their cars running than they do for food, clothing, education, and entertainment. Here in the Houston area the tab for the family cars came $9,996 per year in 2000. Middle and lower class people are already so overextended by this drive-everywhere lifestyle that household budgets simply can't tolerate much increase in the cost of driving.

And this is a "social and intellectual advance?" It sounds more like just a scheme to get people to pay a lot more for something they already had. Kunstler's absolutely correct when he says it is the greatest misallocation of resources in history.

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