A convenient lie

We saw An Inconvenient Truth two days ago. I’m still processing it, but my dominant thought is that we’re inescapably screwed. It felt like watching my child’s and grandchild’s death in slow motion, not to mention everybody else’s, and that whole civilization thing too. The film does a very good job at laying out just how incontrovertibly real and present the danger is, and how criminally insane or just plain evil are the ExxonMobil-funded naysayers and their dimwit believers. It can’t do any harm to expose that.

I can clap with only one hand, though, because while Gore does drive home what’s at stake, he pulls the same punch so many other US environmental activists do in terms of appropriate mitigation. He wants us to buy compact fluorescent lightbulbs and hybrid cars, and keep the tires pumped up, amid many other little things. Add up all these mitigations and, sure, it’s a tick in the right direction, sort of like getting people to move their beach chairs a yard higher up on the sand as the tsunami approaches. It will be a major political achievement to upset all those dozing sunbathers and make it happen. Think of the sacrifice: drinks will spill and hundreds of square inches of mayonnaise surface will be fouled with sand. But tens of lives could be saved.

Are people, en masse, really so pathetically stupid that they need to be told a progression of less and less bold lies before they’re ready for the inconvenient truth? Is it moral to bill a palatably convenient lie as the inconvenient truth, if the real truth were more likely to be rejected out of hand? Yes, Al is probably right on that one. He’s still a politician who understands that the wheel of a message needs traction before torque can do any good. Pressed specifically on advice to buy hybrids, he says obliquely “right now, the political environment in the country does not support the range of solutions that have to be introduced.” But right now is when we need to act.

I have a bumper sticker on the back of our child’s bike seat that says “environmentalists don’t drive.” It’s not a boast of environmental virtue (I bike for other reasons mainly, and I do drive several times a year); it is a rebuttal to the absurdity of environmental bumper stickers on actual bumpers. It also identifies me, in the eyes even of many self-identified liberal environmentalists, as a completely unreasonable person, or at least a political liability. That’s just sad, because I think times like these call for more unreasonable people.

Reasonable people of the world, wake up: hybrids and high-tech lightbulbs don’t go together because the energy it takes to drive a hypothetical “environmentally friendly” 60 MPG hybrid car is enough to run six-hundred (600) “wasteful” incandescent 60-watt lightbulbs (36kW/h). If you drive to the store in a Prius to upgrade to compact fluorescents, you are likely to cause more carbon emissions than if you bike to the store to get bad old incandescents.* In fact, every single hour that greener-than-thou car operates, it expends about the amount of energy necessary to ride a bicycle about 1,250 miles. (37.5kWh = 1,250mi @ 15Wh/mi, 25% metabolic efficiency). This doesn’t take into account the energy required to manufacture and dispose of a hybrid vehicle, which by some accounts is comparable to its lifetime operating energy costs. Gore’s tip to “reduce the number of miles you drive by walking, biking, carpooling or taking mass transit wherever possible” is like advising people who suffer from crippling headaches to “reduce the number of nails you drive into your forehead by taking up yoga, eating well, and getting enough sleep instead ‘wherever possible.’” Stop driving nails into your forehead altogether, and the other items turn from feeble mitigations into just plain good living. Looking at all household energy consumption in the United States together, driving accounted for nearly 60% in 2001: 1.5 times the cost of heating and air conditioning, lighting, cooking, appliances, etc. combined. Now consider that heating, cooking, lighting and so on are pretty basic conditions of civilization, while the institution of driving, shuttling around strapped into 4,000-lb personal cages at speeds unknown before the last century, is an entirely novel consumer asylum. It doesn’t need optimization; it needs to be phased out.

Now, the energy used by cars isn’t the same as their greenhouse gas emissions, except in reality, and non-realities about how to package enough energy to run anything like a civilization-scale car fleet without vast emissions depend on numerous not-yet-invented technologies and are extremely capital intensive; they depend on wishing. That’s why it floors me that any kind of regular car use can be advocated in the same breath with better lighting (or similar personal energy expenditures) as part of a solution.

Prius, Hummer, and Hypercar are pot, kettle, and Schroedinger’s cat in the dark box, and they’re all pretty black when your perspective of their relative harm isn’t distorted by being a regular driver, an addict among addicts, whose parents, doctors, ministers, teachers, colleagues, employers and employees, neighbors and friends all shoot up with barely a moan every time the needle slouches toward “E.” The moment your idea of a reasonable response to the threat of extinction lets go of common household car dependence is the moment it lets go of wishing, and passes the clean and sober sniff test.

The only kinds of analyses that attempt to sketch out a sustainable future for car culture are the ones that start with cars as a must-have, and sustainability as a nice-to-have. Pull your head out of the last century and make a real choice. The challenge of the present century is not to sustain, but to recover from the devastation of having found a way to squander untold millions of years of petrified solar energy in less than a century, from having invested most of the wealth thereby created in infrastructure dependent on ongoing inputs of similar magnitude, and from having come to believe that lower-energy lives are somehow less advanced, a step backwards.

We must learn to live close to one another again, with the remaining cheap energy we have. Contrary to popular belief, cities aren’t more crowded than they used to be, not even thriving residential areas; they are more sparse because it is no longer typical for several generations to dwell together under a common roof; family values start with home economics, not holiday tripping, shopping, and shipping. Cities appear overcrowded today because their public spaces — their streets — have been given over to large dangerous private vehicles, in motion and at rest. We need to stop investing in automotive infrastructure, and in utility subsidies to automobile-dependent development. We need to revive our light and heavy rail systems, and deploy ubiquitous broadband to support telecommuting for those industries it can support. We need to reform zoning to promote walking commutes and corner groceries. We need local agriculture. We need to replace “minimum required parking spaces” in development codes everywhere with “maximum permissible parking spaces.” Taxing carbon instead of income sounds like a good lever to reward these kinds of changes.

I was fuming (figuratively) about all this while riding my son home yesterday. Coming the other way on one of Portland’s original hundreds of miles of 30-foot-wide multiple use paths (called “streets”) was a woman who looked to be in her forties, on an older bike. She had one child in a child seat, and was hauling a trailer with two more children in it. Behind the trailer were two more kids, perhaps six and eight years old, on their own bikes. I smiled, waved, and passed. About a block later I turned around and caught up to them, and started praising and thanking this stranger. “You must think I’m crazy!” she said. “O no! no!–well, you might be crazy in general, but at this instant you are the sanest person in a radius of several miles at least!” She laughed the laughter of Sarah–even at this late crossing, her line might survive to become a blessing to all nations–and I thanked her again, with a depth of sincerity my voice is incapable of conveying.

Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race. H.G. Wells

*The math gets hazy, help me out here… how far to the store? How many bulbs? How much closer could the store be if it didn’t need a parking lot, auto-engineered access routes and associated zoning? Precision isn’t necessary when the comparisons span orders of magnitude.

126 thoughts on “A convenient lie”

  • fred

    I recently viewed the video on google’s collection of short movies. Cycling in Copenhagen
    and it was incredibly humbling to see.



    Watching so many commuters and travelers and mom-bikes in that video brought tears to my
    eyes.

    Todd, I agree with you even without the math to “back” things up. My velomobile has become
    my preferred mode of transportation. Daytona Beach, FL, USA isn’t the most bike-friendly
    part of the world, but I enjoy not driving everywhere I possibly can.

    Every time I hear some politician suggestion alternate fuels, or hybrid autos, or even
    fully electric automobiles, I think how these people are micro-mis-managing the solution. I
    also think how our society changed so drastically when the automobile and oil industries
    bought out the light rail and trolley and bus systems that were in place in the early
    twentieth century.

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  • Jim

    At this point, I don’t know whether to root for Peak Oil or global warming. It’ll be interesting to see how these two processes align themselves in time, and the effects of both more or less simultaneously. Of course, there is no political will whatsoever, even on the so called “Left”, to actually DO something about either problem. So your first thought, about being inescapably screwed, seems to be right on the money.

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  • Todd

    Jim, I think Peak Oil means that we’ll be burning a whole lot of dirty coal. Anybody have cheery news on the CO2 sequestration idea that has any credible chance of scaling up in the big way necessary to reduce net emissions while sustaining industrial society at even its present scope? I mean until we run out of coal of course.

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  • Diane

    I read your entry and my first thought was: Whoa, what a cool bumpersticker! Where can I get one?

    Yeah, I know. Get the bumpersticker, and you’ve done your part: no more need to worry!

    I felt the exact same way you did when watching the movie: we’re really screwed, aren’t we? That our national dialogue still includes arguments about whether this is happening, rather than what to do about it, only highlights how seriously screwed we are. By the time my daughter is my age, forget suburbia: she’s going to be living Beyond Thunderdome. It’s almost upsetting to the point of wanting to crawl into a ball, but then I remind myself that “despair is a sin” and ask myself what little can I do right here, right now.

    Mind you, I still want that bumpersticker. Although I fear that might make someone aim for my bike…

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  • Ken Heronheart

    Do you now of anywhere that has the numbers on the Hypercar? I tend to agree that private automobiles are just plain uncivilized but would like to be able to do the math on Hypercar efficiency. The biggest thing is that higher gas mileage seems to just encourage people to drive further.

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  • Spence

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’m a little less pessamistic about the future. Yes, the “Oilty” has control now and we are doing little about the coming challenges of both Peak Oil and Global Warming. Where I think we have a chance is in new technologies and USES of technologies (thank you Todd) that I believe will be driven by consumer demand. Now a consumer-demand driven eco-future requires a slow decline of fossil fuel availability and no sudden panick drops, but I feel that if we’re going to get through this thing, we MUST be positive and think forward in a positive way as well as work for positive change.. there. I’ve gone and used the word “positive” three times in one sentence. People like you, Todd, are making my kids future better.

    Keep it up man,

    Spence.

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  • aidee

    The benefits of CFL’s over normal incandescents is another arguement worth picking apart. It’s fine enough mandating a western society to move towards this technology, but telling the developing world ?? The issue is the vast technologies required to manafacture CFL’s; electronic, fluorescent tubes, rarefied gasses, etc… Consider how simple it is to manufacture a normal lightbulb in a developing country; low tech, no licencing fees and no added infrastructure dependent on inaccessible technology. What ultimately is the energy and resource costs of setting up two factories (CFL versus incandescent), versus the longterm benefits of each of these disparate technologies ?? On another note; has anyone ridden from Portland to San Fran ?? I’m over from Australia in August and wonder the feasability of this and time i’d need to devote. Portland seems to be an intriguing cycling city… i’d love to vist if you’ll have me !!

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  • Todd

    aidee, i rode that way solo 6 years ago; it was fabulous: /bike/paccoast/pages/100.html . we’re on the warm showers list; touring cyclists are welcome in our guest room, generally.

    diane, the sticker came from http://www.microcosmpublishing.com/ , but it appears no longer to be in their catalog. try a sharpie?

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  • Cara Lin Bridgman

    Isn’t it ironic that more people worldwide know about and are concerned about Bird Flu than Global Warming? ‘On global issues, the survey found what it called an “extraordinarily high level of attentiveness to bird flu disease”, with more than 90 percent of respondents in all countries except Pakistan (82 percent) saying they had heard about the disease.’ For global warming, the awarness was mainly 50% (range: 12-80) (http://www.commondreams.org/headlines06/0614-07.htm)

    To me, the problems of population, consumption, peak oil, and global warming (as well as current species extinction rates and habitat destruction rates) are tightly linked. I started going into the global warming-peak oil stuff when I began to teach Environmental Science at a nearby college. Researching for my class has gotten me to commute by bike, start a humanure compost pile, and look into alternative ways of getting clean drinking water (pasteurization). Part of the point was to practice what I preach (although biking home uphill in the heat of the sub-tropics still wipes me out for the rest of the day and I still fly from Taiwan to the US once a year). My main conclusion, rather later than my ecologist classmates who looked only at human population growth which has doubled from 3.3 billion to 6.6 billion in my lifetime, is that we, as a species and a civilization, are truly in trouble. Even the little that filters into mainstream media has been enough to get my dad seriously concerned about the futures of his two grandchildren.

    My family knows what life at carrying capacity looks like. My dad lived in China during the revolutions of the 1940s and my family lived in Bangladesh in the late 1970′s (when one cyclone killed hundreds of thousands directly from flooding and afterwards from cholera). I now live in a country with the second highest population density in the world, Taiwan. Taiwan is rapidly replacing its croplands with buildings. It is not self-sufficient in food. It has to import oil and coal (but it does have lots of natural gas).

    I don’t know how well Americans (or even most Taiwanese) will adapt to life without oil. How will today’s children, who do not know hardship, adapt to the intensely physical nature of life without oil? (In Taiwan, they are called the ‘strawberry generation’ because they are so easily bruised.) It is very obvious that the American oil habit is a global warming disaster for the Third World, if not for itself. On the flip-side, it is those in the Third World that have the skills and the habits to survive life without oil, if they don’t drown in tsunamis or lose their land to soil erosion and desert first.

    Yes, the recommendations for conservation posted in the US, even by the Union of Concerned Scientists and WorldWatch, have always struck me as hopelessly inadequate. Have you noticed how the recommendations almost always have to do with buying something new? How is the life-time carbon production and energy use of your current car going to compare to that of a new hybrid car? The current car is already here. Maybe it is better to reduce mileage and keep the car maintained (as Cuba has had to do) than to upgrade to something more efficient.

    On the bright side — the Ozone Hole IS shrinking and the RATE of population growth is slowing. So, we have evidence that if we put our minds (and hearts) to it, we truly can do something about these problems.

    Reply
  • Mike C

    My favorite Microcosm sticker (found via Kent Peterson’s blog):

    http://www.microcosmpublishing.com/catalog/stickers/571/

    Reply
  • [...] i haven’t had a chance to see an inconvenient truth yet (omg who can even afford movie tickets in l.a. anyway) but this post articulates my thoughts on the whole environmentalism-global-warming-peak-oil ball of wax better than i can. [...]

    Reply
  • [...] A Convenient Lie at Clever Chimp is quite a depressing post about just how screwed we potentially are. Everyone who drives should be made to read this. Today I had to take a heavy and awkward package to the post office for delivery to one of my out-of-town customers, at the same time I was watching my daughter. Juggling errands and child-rearing is one of the most commonly cited examples I hear for why the bicycle/car-free lifestyle isn’t realistic. [...]

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  • Keith

    Holy shit; so this is where all the cool kids hang out! I have to say this post sums up my feelings with way more eloquence than I can ever muster. I’ve often used the analogy that we’re driving straight for the edge of a cliff. With the conservatives at the wheel we’ve got it floored at 80 mph, the “left” would have us driving at 75 mph and feeling good about it… but there are a few of us kooks in the back seat screaming to turn the car around. sigh Screwed we are.

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  • Mauricio Babilonia

    Recently, I was reading a book of essays by Wendell Berry titled What are People For? In it, something (among a lot of things) from his 1989 essay Word and Flesh really rang a bell:

    In his essay on Kipling, George Orwell wrote: “All left-wing parties in the highly industrialized countries are at bottom a sham, because they make it their business to fight against something which they do not really wish to destroy. They have internationalist aims, and at the same time they struggle to keep up a standard of life with which those aims are incompatible. We all live by robbing Asiatic coolies, and those of us who are ‘enlightened’ all maintain that those coolies ought to be set free; but our standard of living, and hence our ‘enlightenment,’ demands that the robbery shall continue.”
    This statement of Orwell’s is clearly applicable to our situation now; all we need to do is change a few nouns. The religion and the environmentalism of the highly industrialized countries are at bottom a sham, because they make it their business to fight against something they do not really wish to destroy. We all live by robbing nature, but our standard of living demands that the robbery shall continue.
    We must achieve the character and acquire the skills to live much poorer than we do. We must waste less. We must do more for ourselves and each other. It is either that or continue merely to think and talk about changes that we are inviting catastrophe to make.
    The great obstacle is simply this: the conviction that we cannot change because we are dependent on what is wrong. But that is the addict’s excuse, and we know that it will not do.
    How dependent, in fact, are we? How dependent are our neighborhoods and communities? How might our dependencies be reduced? To answer these questions will require better thoughts and better deeds than we have been capable of so far.
    We must have the sense and the courage, for example, to see that the ability to transport food for hundreds or thousands of miles does not necessarily mean that we are well off. It means that the food supply is more vulnerable and more costly than a local food supply would be. It means that consumers do not control or influence the healthfulness of their food supply and that they are at the mercy of people who have the control and influence. It means that, in eating, people are using large quantities of petroleum that other people in another time are almost certain to need.

    Of course, Berry is writing about farming, but the same applies to many, if not most of predicaments we find ourselves in at this late date. He sums it up even more succinctly in this quote:
    The “environmental crisis” is a misnomer, since it is (of course) a crisis of ourselves, not of the environment.

    To me, the crisis is that we are driving without asking where we are going (and why we’re in this handbasket.)
    Cara Lin’s observation about consumerist problem-solving is right on target. Why is it that the question always seems never to simply be “how can I solve this problem,” but rather “what can I buy to solve this problem?” I have an example posted on my blog.
    Great post Todd…

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  • Andrew

    I saw Gore’s slideshow when he was in town, and although I haven’t yet seen the movie I imagine it is much of the same material. One thing I found particularly striking was that the mandated average fuel efficiency of cars sold in the US is way below the mandated fuel efficiency of cars sold in China. As Gore put it, “you couldn’t sell US cars in China. They are too inefficient.”

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  • Keith

    Andrew-

    The point is though: car fuel efficiency doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. The car itself, its manufacture, the infrastructure, etc… those are far larger problems. We can never have a sustainable transportation structure with cars… even magical ones that run forever on nothing.

    The fact that our fuel efficiency is so poor here in the US is really depressing though… because it’s indicative of the mindset of the general populace. It tells us that the vast majority of consumers in the US don’t even care enough to buy fuel efficient cars… so we could never expect them to make a “drastic” change like riding a bike or walking. Apathetic zombies.

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  • Erik Sandblom

    Getting out of cars is also about urban planning, specificly higher densities. Urban renewal, like building homes on old inner-city factory grounds, is a good example of increasing density and thus shortening transportation routes.

    Sprawling suburbs are often thought of as a lost cause in this case, but why? Residents can change this by shopping locally. If you live in a sprawling area, think up ideas for erecting more buildings in the area, and contact the local newspaper and authorities. Maybe additional schools or office space would make the suburb more self-sufficient and less dependent on freeways.

    Adding apartment buildings to an area with only single-family houses not only increases density, but also lets people remain living in the same area even if they are young, old, or don’t want to live in a house. This potentially also reduces family-induced transportation. It also makes it easier to provide high-quality public transportation to those unwilling or unable to walk or ride.

    Getting back to the topic of cycling, I feel it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking “my bike can do anything a car can do”. I think it’s better to adapt to the limitations and advantages of a bike. I’ve learned to bike around the hills here (except downhills :-). My folding Brompton does uphills fine though, in a tram :-)

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  • Andrew

    ” It tells us that the vast majority of consumers in the US donââ?¬â?¢t even care enough to buy fuel efficient cars”

    Hopefully that will change as fuel prices go up. Maybe it is different now, but years ago I
    remember noticing that gasoline was the cheapest liquid you could buy, followed by beer.

    Reply
  • The Future of Energy…

    BoingBoing just posted a link to a Popular Science special section: The Future of Energy, 10 Steps To End America’s Fossil-Fuel Addiction. I notice that the photo illustrating step #2 shows a guy with a bicycle, but it’s not what I thought …

    Reply
  • OhBloodyHell

    > as a completely unreasonable person, or at least a political liability.

    Oh, come on. Let’s not mince words. You’re a complete LOON. A nutjob. An undoubtedly well meaning but totally incompetent-to-have-an-opinion fool.

    A) You live in an area which, year round, is “bicycle friendly” (i.e., very little, if any, snow).

    B) You utterly fail to grasp the value of HUMAN TIME in the entire equation — That, even in the best of circumstances, bicycles are MUCH slower than cars, and, spread across literally hundreds of millions of people, that difference adds up to not just weeks or months, but MAN-CENTURIES — time that could be spent DOING far more productive work and doing far more effective things than pushing pedals up a hill. This applies not just to bicycles, but mass transit, for the most part, too — most people GRASP how much their lives are worth, and how much time they save using a car in most locales (very huge cities — NYC, LA, Chicago, the like — being an unargued exception).

    C) You also clearly don’t grasp the number of relatively infirm people in this nation — outright handicapped as well as marginally so (riding a bike is hard on the knees. Some people who don’t have knee problems WOULD have them if attempting to bicycle everywhere).

    I’m not even going to argue about all the other idiocies that follow from your position, you wouldn’t listen for a minute anyway because you’re sure that it’s all an eeeeeevil conspiracy by the Big Corporations to keep us all enslaved to their awful goodies.

    Just a warning — you DO realize that Reynolds and Alcoa have been surrepetitiously putting microcircuitry into their aluminum foil for decades, so as to secretly transmit messages to those wearing tinfoil hats?

    LOL

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  • OhBloodyHell

    > Hopefully that will change as fuel prices go up.

    Fuel prices will top out at ca. US$5 per gallon at current $ values.

    At that price point, it becomes profitable to extract the mass of oil found IN THE USA and North America in the form of Oil Shales and Tar Sands (do a search yourself, you wouldn’t believe me — the amount in this form in the USA and Canada is somewhat comparable to the amount ALREADY TAKEN OUT OF THE GROUND in the last century Worldwide ).

    Mind you, once there is experience extracting these, they price of gas at the pump will go DOWN due to inventive improvements in extraction technologies.

    This offers a considerable additional amount of time before the oil “runs out” for us to invent still more new techs which will finally offer an alternative — a REAL ONE – to gasoline as an energy storage medium. The tech IS getting there, but it’s at least a couple decades from being practical.

    I won’t detail that here but there is plenty of commentary to be found over on IMDB in the message forums about that equally lamebrained “Who killed the electric car?” fake-but-accurate documentary.

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  • Todd

    It appears I’ve been introduced in a far pole of the blogosphere as representative of the tin-foil-hat wearing ”granola-eating father-knows-best Birkenstock set” who wants to force cripples to bicycle in the snow, by a guy who ranks Ayn Rand right behind a post-911 Jesus as the big finds in his life. He also likes living in The Matrix. Play nice now, y’hear?

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  • OhBloodyHell

    Yeah, I know, none of you want to hear it, but cars are not going away. The reason for their popularity is because they MAKE SENSE in a nation as large as this one, and they are far more environmentally friendly than building enormous megastructures (Face it — HIVES) to keep people in close proximity where they don’t NEED personal transport — you can amply design eco-friendly systems to support 100 people per sq. mile than 100,000 — but the counter is that you still need personal transport systems to deal with that.

    Further, GUESS WHAT – most people don’t LIKE to live in HIVES. They LIKE having a back yard, a front yard, and neighbors far enough away that their blaring music doesn’t keep them up at night.

    Grow up — TRUE solutions require you to acknowledge the reality of the way people ARE, not pipe-dream absurdities based on your own biases and agendas of “future man”. More human misery has resulted from fools attempting to shoehorn everyone else into some vile one-size-fits-all mold than any other cause in history. See the Soviet Purges. See Cambodia. See the innumerable Chinese Purges.

    See all the relentlessly failed attempts to do the same on a smaller scale in various places in the USA, Europe, and other places in the history of mankind.

    Oh, right. You don’t pay any attention to history, either… right?

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  • OhBloodyHell

    > It appears Iââ?¬â?¢ve been introduced in a far pole of the blogosphere as representative of the tin-foil-hat wearing ââ?¬Å?granola-eating father-knows-best Birkenstock setââ?¬Â? who wants to force cripples to bicycle in the snow,

    Todd, what’s your alternative, hey? What are people who live in snow to do?

    What are people who don’t have the capacity to bike everywhere due to simple age and infirmity to do?

    Interesting how you poke fun at those suggestions, but don’t seem to see fit to actually respond to them.

    Well, that would require you to actually have an alternative, yes.

    LOL.

    No, I’m not KM, either.

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  • Ken Heronheart

    People who live in the snow (I live in Wisconsin)get studded tires for their bikes. People with demonstrably bad knees get “Handicapped Driving” permits the same way we now have “Handicapped Parking” permits. Everybody moves closer to their jobs. Grocery stores get built closer to where people live. It’s not that hard to figure out. We don’t need new technology, we need to make choices about which already present technologies we’re going to use.

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  • Todd

    OhBloodyHell, I can’t find a whole lot to respond to in the four abuse-strewn comments you so thoughtfully shot off in the course of 23 minutes, because I don’t recognize anything resembling my position in the cloudy focus of your attacks, least of all the references to purges and similar exercises of force. Who’s driving around Iraq in Hummers with guns until the flow of car fuel seems safe enough for us to clear out? You should consider reading more and typing less.

    I don’t have a program; you’re the one with the dumb certainty about how we and our children will cook oil out of rocks with our remaining natural gas, swinging tenuously from vine to vine of not-yet-invented technologies just in time until we get cold fusion worked out and can transmute us enough copper to equip a couple billion households with electric cars before we evacuate to Mars. I’m a lot more conservative than you are. You have a lot of temerity to talk about the history of mankind in close proximity to protestations of ignorance about how people should deal with snow and age without cars, and to describe traditional human-scale settlements as insectlike. As drivers we are aberrant freaks in the supposed ~195,000-year history of homo sapiens, and it seems to have made some of us soft, unimaginative, confident, and rude. Are your knees as bad as mine, too?

    I think bicycles are semi-magical technology, but I don’t think that they will ever meet all household transit wants all the time, nor have I ever so indicated. I do think it’s wise, as a matter of public policy, to extend the practicality of the bicycle to the greatest extent, which I suppose over a couple generations of development can support easily well over 50% of households (>90% in many places, <10% in the most hostile) in a higher material standard of living than car culture ever could.

    I have a different, less modern idea of the value of ”productive time” than you do. Read this and we’ll have a place to start talking: http://www.davidtinapple.com/illich/1996_illich_speed.pdf

    And I don’t bike because I live in Portland. I live in Portland because I bike. Where have you chosen to live, and how does it compel you to manage your income, time, and bodily need for exercise as you move about?

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  • Cara Lin Bridgman

    OhBloodyHell, in addition to ignoring ancient and recent human history, is ignoring the conditions (imposed and chosen) of the 95% of the human population that does not reside in the USA.

    OhBloodyHell is ignoring the fact that the American standard of living can only be sustained by ripping off second and third world countries, by draining those countries of their skilled labor and raw materials, and by dumping on those countries American castoffs of toxic and semi-toxic waste.

    OhBloodyHell is ignoring the fact that the American standard of living can only be sustained by making American’s own mountains into dessert (mountain-top removal in Appalachia), by turning national parks and protected areas into wasteland (drilling and mining for oil), by draining precious topsoil into the Atlantic ocean (soil erosion in America’s heartland), and by pauperizing America’s own working class (re: tax cuts for the rich and service cuts for everyone else).

    OhBloodyHell is also ignoring the fact that obesity in the USA is now an epidemic ââ?¬â?? indicating that Americans desperately need more exercise than they currently get. Americans that commute in cars and stay fit through fat farms, liposuction, and memberships at gyms, are likely to be wasting as much time and money as the Americans that, by biking and walking, combine fitness with commuting.

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  • Jim

    OhBloodyHell, aside from the disjointed abuse and such, makes some rather good points. I don’t really agree with them, but I think s/he represents the intellectual other side, to an extent. Of course it could be true that oil shales will become profitable (if they can be energy positive) when gas hits $5. But then we’re still stuck with gas at $5, with one fewer option in reserve, and, of course, we’ll need to build up an infrastructure to extract/process/transport/deliver the product. Last time I read the newspaper, people with big cars and long commutes are feeling “pain at the pump” at less that $3/gallon. I’d imagine $5/gallon is suicide time, given the way they moan now. But some of them, an instant before squeezing the trigger, will see some yahoo riding by on a bike, and will experience a moment of clarity through the smog.

    As for people “choosing” to live as they do now, that’s harder to pin down. I get the feeling that most people spend an entire lifetime inside a narrow comfort zone, whether they are happy there or not. Ask anyone who has been to prison; you can get accustomed to anything, even comfortable with it, no matter how horrible it seems from an outside perspective. In grad school, I had a lot of Chinese friends who were fearful about trying any restaurant but McDonalds. Few of us in the USA would like foreigners to judge our cuisine by McDonalds alone. So I took these friends to a variety of what I would consider better restaurants, showed them how to order, what foods I liked, etc, and suddenly they stopped going to McDonalds, and started trying less familiar (and usually better) dining establishments.

    As for riding a bike in the snow, well it’s actually pretty easy, and fun. I’ve gotten around by bike for two Minnesota winters now; I know lots of people who do likewise. We all enjoy it, and I don’t know anybody who tried it and subsequently gave it up. Sure there are hardships brought on by snow. Two winters ago, my evening commute time roughly quadrupled one time because the snow was so deep, but car traffic wasn’t exactly moving any faster. But then, that was two years ago, and I’m still talking about it. In general, however, give me a location within five miles of my home during any weather, and I can get there as fast or faster than a law-biding driver can get there in a car.

    But I don’t get around much on my bike now, except for recreation. That’s because I chose to set up my living arrangement such that my house is 2 blocks from my work, and I walk. Am I an exceptional person, living in exceptional circumstances? Not really. I just wanted my life to be this way, and I made it happen through some degree of imagination, effort, and risk. I assume there’s also a lot of imagination, effort, and risk tied up in moving into one of those cookie-cutter beige houses with big yards forty miles from downtown. Now those people know how to think outside the box.

    But I guess the bigger point is that it doesn’t really matter what us granola-father-knows-best-birkenstock types (I don’t have Birkenstocks, nor do I eat much granola) think people should do, nor does it matter what “Conservatives” think people should do. There are constraints to the current system, and we are starting to bump up against several of them now. Eventually, the way one lives will not be a matter of simple choice. Despite the best pleas of the mondo-SUV driving set for the government to please, please make the bad men lower the gas prices, it isn’t going to happen. At that point, the whiners will have the option of living more sustainably or not living at all.

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  • Rian Murnen

    Oh CleverChimp, you make me laugh hard.


    ââ?¬Â¦ tin-foil-hat wearing ââ?¬Å?granola-eating father-knows-best Birkenstock setââ?¬Â? who wants to force cripples to bicycle in the snow, by a guy who ranks Ayn Rand right behind a post-911 Jesus as the big finds in his life. He also likes living in The Matrix. Play nice now, yââ?¬â?¢hear?

    Best laugh I’ve had all week. Seroiusly.
    Now as far as your anonymous devil’s advocate, Mr. OhBloodyHell wrote (emphasis his):

    You utterly fail to grasp the value of HUMAN TIME � bicycles are MUCH slower than cars � that difference adds up � time that could be spent DOING far more productive work and doing far more effective things than pushing pedals up a hill.

    While it might be true that the opportunity cost (or human time as you call it) might be steeper with a carfree society, your neglecting to assess the time your steeling from other people every time you choose to drive. And I am not just refering to traffic congestion.
    The time that might be “saved” by driving is actually time stolen from future generations. Every mile driven is shortening the life span of human civilization or the earth, or both. It is actually an ethical issueââ?¬â??an issue that requires a balancing of values. This is a fundamental problem for the majority of U.S. citizens because they are so self-centered that their value systems are based on serving their needs and preferences rather than balancing their desires against their responsibilities to society, humanity, and future generations.

    You also clearly donââ?¬â?¢t grasp the number of relatively infirm people in this nationââ?¬â??outright handicapped as well as marginally so (riding a bike is hard on the knees. Some people who donââ?¬â?¢t have knee problems WOULD have them if attempting to bicycle everywhere).

    The issue of infirm citizens versus carfree transportation is not that big of an issue. These citizens are capable of accessing alternative transportation (LRT, BRT, pedi-cab, etc). And by being intentional about urban planning based on a carfree society with around mass transit and cycling; a sustainable model exists that does not exclude the infirm in anyway.
    I would really encourage you to see An Inconvient Truth and then at least suspend criticism long enough to ponder the following:

    if the Earth’s climate is in crisis and the cause human civilization; and


    elimanting automobile emissions and drastically reducing industrial emissions could effect significant change; then


    cycling, mass tranist will be needed to supply transportation to sustain economic activity; and


    the structure of the American Dream and the shape of our cities will need to be reshaped to allow for car free living.

    So WTF does a carfree city look like? I would recommend reading J.H. Crawfords the proposal for a carfree city.
    Now if you actually suspend your criticism long enough to consider this alternate reality (where people don’t drive and surprising don’t wear tin foil hats and neglect the infirm) then your probably thinking something like, “There is no way in hell our civilization can convert enough cities to the carfree model to make a difference.”
    And that is a real concern. But the sooner everyone wakes up, admits to the existence of the inconvient truth, and actually says, “I cannot change the world, but I can change my own behavior.” Then the sooner we can start implementing wide spread adjustments on an incremental level.
    It took 100 unintentional years to reshape the landscape and culture for the automobile. So if we are intentional about changing it to a carfree model we can reshape the world even faster.

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  • Erik Sandblom

    Sorry for blurting it out without reading all the responses, but Todd doesn’t live in a hive, and he has his own garden (from what I’ve seen and read on this site). And snow doesn’t stop bikes any more than it stops cars.

    Planes are much faster than cars, do we all need a personal plane because a car is too slow?

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  • Kobayashi Maru

    Todd – Fair description of my blog. Thank you for the link. With family in a bicycle-mad part of Europe, I understand and respect how things can be different given different infrastructure and culture.

    I’m also sympathetic to your personal enthusiasm for human-powered, low-impact transport. Really. I’m not being sarcastic. I am an avid cyclist (I own three bikes) and often run and/or walk miles to where I need to go. Yes, there are conservatives like myself who don’t choose to drive SUVs and smoke cigars and play golf on pesticide-laden courses and live in McMansions. I drive a Toyota Corolla when I have to. Those are my choices.

    In that vein, it’s worth picking up on a comment one of your readers (Ken H) made:

    “People who live in the snow… get studded tires for their bikes. People with demonstrably bad knees get ââ?¬Å?Handicapped Drivingââ?¬Â? permits the same way we now have ââ?¬Å?Handicapped Parkingââ?¬Â? permits. Everybody moves closer to their jobs. Grocery stores get built closer to where people live. Itââ?¬â?¢s not that hard to figure out. We donââ?¬â?¢t need new technology, we need to make choices about which already present technologies weââ?¬â?¢re going to use.

    That is a fine vision and Ken and others have every right to try and sell it, just as I have every right to find it less than compelling for reasons others have offered here and elsewhere. The place that that line of reasoning falls apart is at the phrase “we need to make choices”. The “choice” part is fine. The “we” part is not – or at least raises serious alarms. Who is “we”, exactly? My family? My neighborhood? My commune? My state? The U.S. Federal government? Some as-yet unspecified planetary authority? And how binding are those “choices” imposed on the unwilling? It’s an honest question.

    Who gets to decide that your knees are “bad” and mine aren’t and so you can go whizzing by me on the motorway in your dry, comfortable car while I slog it out in the rain? Who gets to set the penalty when I choose to cycle anyway with my two torn cartileges and sell my permit to someone with perfectly good knees who likes to smoke and listen to his CD player and get up late if he can drive to work?) Who gets to decide that because I want to take a job 75 miles away in order to provide for my family better and I’m willing to pay the extra cost of gasoline and maybe even a few externalities we haven’t internalized yet, that I can’t do so?

    Who gets to decide (as I have) that cycling – while delightful, healthful and environmentally responsible – is also dangerous (more dangerous than rock climbing, in fact) and thus something I only do at the crack of dawn. Who gets to tell me, after more than half a dozen friends have been seriously injured in cycling accidents, that my safety and personal choice on that matter are less important than the potential (as yet unproven: see Rome, Club of; see Ehrlich, Paul; see Simon, Julian) for us to run out of oil or bake the planet?

    Who gets to decide what “we” should do?

    That issue, more than any other, is the crux of this matter. It has been my observation that many touting “global warming” as one of the top prioritues for our society feel so passionately about it that they consider the case closed and are willing to embrace government control of peoples’ lives and curtailment of personal liberty to an unprecedented degree in order to ‘fix’ it. I do not.

    I recognize environmental concerns as important, make personal choices that respect them, and urge others to do likewise. I absolutely balk at top-down solutions that force those choices on the unwilling – just as I often find liberals balk at conservatives’ efforts to foist social constraints on them. I will work very hard to persuade my liberal friends that many of those social constraints are in fact important. I stop short of forcing the entire wish list on the unwilling. I urge you to do likewise with your passionately-felt but as-yet-unproven issue.

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  • Cara Lin Bridgman

    Kobayashi Maru:

    I fail to see how biking to work and the other actions implemented and proposed here are representative of top-down decisions. I also fail to see how biking to work is less hazardous than driving to work (footnote: I do think biking in the US is more hazardous than in other places, mainly because the cars do not have the habit of sharing the road with anything other than cars and trucks — the speed differential is also important).

    I think most people would prefer to live in communities designed to be communities (i.e. high-cost housing adjacent to low-cost housing and elderly couples adjacent to families with grade-school kids all interspersed with groceries and hairdressers and vets and doctors and restaurants and all within 5-10 minutes walk). We may not want to return to the 1950�s ala Leave It to Beaver or Andy Griffith or To Kill a Mockingbird, but you cannot deny that the layout and interactions of the neighborhoods and towns of that time have real appeal and you cannot deny that the energy and resource use of that time was much more sustainable. Today�s typical American sub-division is positively arid. For all the communication that occurs, they may as well be composed of different planets instead of different house&garden plots. Your latest blog celebrates diversity of citizenship, heritage, and belief. Why don�t our neighborhoods reflect this?

    As for the WE, I think it should be taken literally. Two things that have distinguished Americans from people of other countries are distrust of the government and can-do do-it-yourself attitudes. On the other hand, certain things are most easily and efficiently done by governments: social services, public education, health care, environmental protection, food and drug administration, etc. (and I would include utilities: power, water, post office, and telephones). The point is that it is our job as citizens to make our governments accountable and to ensure the governments serve US — not business or lobbyists or the highest bidder. And as people of belief, whether Christian, Jewish, or Buddhist, it is also our job to ensure that ââ?¬Ë?the least of theseââ?¬â?¢ are cared for: in the USA and elsewhere, now and in the future.

    Peter Dula, in a speech at Duke University this spring in which he discussed his recent experience with the Mennonite Central Committee in Iraq said, when the class asked how to respond to the situation in Iraq, ââ?¬Å?Ride your Bike.ââ?¬Â? (http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=news.display_article&mode=C&NewsID=5266).

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  • Andrew

    Here I was expecting a flamewar to erupt and instead there is intelligent discussion. Woohoo! Todd, your response to OhBloodyHell is inspiring in its wit and calm rationality. I’m glad you took the time to respond to him.

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  • Erik Sandblom

    KM, put aside for a moment the issue who decides, and think of what a sensible decision would be. Also assume for a moment that the USA needs to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions and/or dependance on oil.

    As a pedestrian and cyclist, you seem to buy the idea that walking and biking are as good as cars for most of the day-to-day trips of commuting and shopping. By extension, you also think it’s silly to advocate hybrid cars and special light bulbs as a way of achieving these/this goal(s), when biking is cheaper and a much more powerful means to the end(s). I think you’ll also agree it’s not a lower standard of living to bike (even if it’s not always an option for 100% of people and 100% of trips made today).

    If you don’t think the USA needs to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions and/or dependance on oil, well then I can see having a discussion about that. But if you do, there appears to be no disagreement.

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  • Todd

    KM, the only means I have ever pursued to promote independence from automobiles are (a) personal example, (b) advocacy such as this blog, © small contributions to local bicycle advocacy organizations, (d) developing a product that extends a bicyclist’s capabilities, and (e) preferentially doing business with merchants who lack parking lots or otherwise rely on non-automotive access. Least of all, I have voted consistently for whatever candidates seem least hostile to the possibility of developing into a car-independent society, which so far has been a grim exercise in discriminating dim from dimmer. I find compulsion generally abhorrent, and I think these feeble means pass your libertarian standard.

    None of my thought experiments in how a pure libertarian society could work make it past the context of a frontier society with practically unlimited physical resources, though. We certainly don’t live in such a society today. I don’t see as great a threat to personal liberty from change as from continuing commitment to our high-energy model of personal transit, perpetuated by an enormous knot of zoning laws, highway subsidies, government backing of loans for car-dependent development, tax breaks for automotive commerce of several sorts, and military expenditures (blood and fortune). The insurance industry is like so much shellac holding the knot together. I’m sure I’m forgetting a couple dozen more layers of effective compulsion to pay for a system I suspect may kill me or my family as only my most selfish concerns.

    So, while my default hope will be to succeed in effecting change by the above-listed means, I would probably support some forms of top-down compulsion contrary to those long prevailing in this country, should fuel costs and public opinion about, say, global warming call for a renegotiation of our non-negotiable way of life.

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  • Jim

    “I absolutely balk at top-down solutions that force those choices on the unwilling…”

    Of course, if your next door neighbor had a big tire fire every evening in his back yard, and the thick, noxious smoke entered your house and made you and your family sick, I think you might welcome a top-down approach, even if your neighbor is unwilling to quit having tire fires. I fancy myself as a libertarian, and I don’t see a problem with tire fires being unlawful. One man’s right to do as he pleases can be curtailed in a libertarian society when his actions negatively impact others’ rights to an unacceptable degree. While you, and everybody else in town, might object to the tire fires, I doubt most people would object to your neighbor enjoying a cigarette in his back yard.

    I assume that KM, who appears to be quite sensible, can get on board with the idea that a tire fire and cigarette are basically the same type of behavior, differing only in degree, and that one may well require top-down regulation while the other requires virtually no regulation (believe me, there is a good reason why tire fires are generally illegal). So the debate here is not whether a major problem brought about by human behavior requires a regulatory solution, but whether or not that problem is really big enough to warrant any attention at all. So we’re back to arguing (in an intelligent sounding way) whether or not global climate change is real, and whether our behaviors have caused or contributed to this phenomenon. Those who don’t believe in global climate change, or that humans have caused/exacerbated it, can cloak their concerns in libertarian fears of big government – or in some cases, libertarian fears of big government cloud one’s judgement in evaluating the evidence presented by the scientific community. Meanwhile, those of us who would like to see a more relaxed and sane world (starting with fewer cars on the road) grab onto the threat of global warming as just a bigger nail to tack into the coffin of the car culture.

    At any rate, as for top-down solutions to this problem, I’ll take ANY solution that works, and I’ll care not about these petty disputes about where the solution originates. What our government is doing now, from what I can see, does not include any solutions to either global climate change, peak oil, dependence on foreign oil, etc. As usual, a lot of talk, but not much meaningful action, and usually not even enough talk. But I am confident that the solution to the problems of the car culture, if there ever can be a solution, will be bottom-up rather than top-down. Sure, some decree may eventually emerge out of Congress, mandating a sensible use of our remaining resources and protection of our global ecosystem, but that will only come after a groundswell of grassroots action. And widespread grassroots action, unfortunately, isn’t likely until we’ve gone too far.

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  • obloodyhell

    > you�re the one with the dumb certainty about how we and our children will cook oil out of rocks with our remaining natural gas

    1) LOL, OK, so, go ahead and demonstrate utter, absolute ignorance right from the start. Heh. Thanks for proving my point, you don’t have a-one clue.

    Go do a search on these technologies. That’s not how they work any more. Already, without any real impetus (i.e., direct immediate demand for them), they’ve been radically improved from twenty-five years ago — the target price THEN was US$5 a gallon for it to be profitable. 1980 dollars. It’s still the same. That tells anyone with a clue a lot.

    2) So “some” people get special treatment for being “handicapped”?

    Swell, so all I have to do is bribe some official and a doctor or two and I can ignore your absurdist agenda? Good. No problem. Have fun on your bikes in the rain and snow and blistering heat. I’ll wave to you from inside my nice warm/cool and dry vehicle.

    Because THAT is how it works — such things ALWAYS wind up in the hands of corrupt bureaucrats. See “Oil For Food”. See “Soviet Union, Fall of”.

    I’m not going to waste any more time — yours or mine — either you’re going to doubt your knowledge or you’re not. Anyone listening might actually guess that you don’t know much of which you speak, you are just pushing this nice little eco-perfect ‘small is beautiful’ agenda, which you expect everyone else to adopt, even though most people wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole, unless you rammed it down their throats (in the end, that is what you’d call for, no matter what you claim now).

    After they doubt it, they might spend some time thinking more deeply on the matter than you ever will, and grasping that any alteration in the system should involve accepting human nature for what it is — and realizing that adding to peoples’ workload by force is usually a Real Bad Deal.

    Bikes are fine as a voluntary alternative. As an absolute alternative (i.e., most people MUST use them), they suck.

    Don’t forget, BTW, that the population of the USA (as well as most of the world) is aging. There’s going to be a LOT of people who aren’t going to be riding bikes. A whole lot. What happens when you start having lots and lots of 60yos with more brittle bones (but good knees, so “no handicap for you!”) falling off cycles? Hmmmm? What then?

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  • Rian Murnen

    Donââ?¬â?¢t forget, BTW, that the population of the USA (as well as most of the world) is aging. Thereââ?¬â?¢s going to be a LOT of people who arenââ?¬â?¢t going to be riding bikes. A whole lot. What happens when you start having lots and lots of 60yos with more brittle bones (but good knees, so ââ?¬Å?no handicap for you!ââ?¬Â?) falling off cycles? Hmmmm? What then?

    Simple answer: Adult Tricycle.
    Now I will admit, that “Adult Tricycle” is not the best marketing name, but it is a bountiful product category with numerous companies producing a variety of tricycles. There are recreational tricycles, commuter tricycles, power-assisted (electric) tricycles, industrial (500-lbs. payload) tricycles, bucket-seat with arm-rest tricycles and the list goes on. Google Adult Tricycle.

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  • Paul

    The madness continues. This week in the UK the chairman of BP oil said that current oil prices will fall?? http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/5069294.stm
    a possible nightmare scenario.

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  • Erik Sandblom

    Hehe. Flamer guy, I think any vehicle that people must use would suck. Don’t you agree?

    Your description of the five-dollar-rock was somewhat skeletal. Where can we read more about this?

    Lastly, this is a biker page. We like being outside. If you tell us driving a car is better, that’s just funny. Haha.

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  • Jim

    “…unless you rammed it down their throats (in the end, that is what youââ?¬â?¢d call for, no matter what you claim now).”

    Paranoid flamer guy, who cracks me up by the way, apparently thinks we lifestyle-cyclists have a lot of clout. I’m not exactly sure how we will come to be in a position of being able to ram our lifestyle down everyone’s throat. No doubt activist judges will be involved.

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  • aidee

    Regarding Lord “$40″ Browne, go over to the The Oil Drum for a bit more on this:

    http://www.theoildrum.com/story/2006/6/14/134724/620#more

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  • Todd

    Wow, this has become Cleverchimp’s most-commented post ever, thanks mainly to OhBloodyHell. I wonder if we’ve broken in to the ridicule zone from the being-ignored zone, in that Indian guy’s formulation ”First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”

    Eric, I’m pretty sure the five-dollar-rock plan OBH refers to is the one where they freeze groundwater into giant containment boxes around tracts of oil shale, then cook the shale in situ by dropping flaming whales into shafts, then wash up the oil, capturing the various waste products and selling them into other orifices of industry for us all to enjoy. Totally green (farm-raised whales), safe, profitable, and sustainable until we’re all dead anyway; I read about it on the internet and am considering relocating to a dee-luxe tract home in Alberta (they’re working on the winter thing)–O wait that’s the tar sand place. Anyway we can all relax because the heroic entrepreneurs at the helm of the energy industry are working hard to keep us all way better loaded than any humans before us… we’re gonna have to wear shades 24-7!

    Back in comments at Kobayashi Maru OBH boldly opined ”Civilization advances by increasing the number of things an individual can do without thinking about it.” Just wow.

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  • Erik Sandblom

    Todd, thanks for the explanation. That sounds like the episode where they modified the deflector shield to make it act as a transphasic induction projector, and used the power from the shield grid to hyperaccelerate tachyon emissions from the warp plasma, creating an opening to subspace, enabling the ship to pass through the resulting gap in the event horizon. Pretty cool episode. Or was it the one where they had just enough power from the life support system to…

    I learned from that episode that the event horizon is the line that connects the places where light can not escape from a black hole. So you can’t pass through a gap in the event horizon any more than you can find the end of a rainbow. Cool episode though.

    Anyway, I looked at the ExxonMobil-funded naysayers movie which suggested global warming was just a big conspiracy to force people to start bicycling. I can’t think of a clearer indication that “we” (I always thought of bikers as individualists) are being fought and ridiculed. “Ridiculous” is an apt description of the idea of a bicycle as an instrument of darkness.

    Maybe they are thinking of Vietnam. I read that the Vietnamese used bicycle transport in their war effort to drive out the Americans. (Yes, I frequently say inappropriate things. It’s a tick I have)

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  • Ken Heronheart

    I think part of the reason why Libertarians are so resistant to the truth of Global Climate Change is that it’s a classic example of the failure of the Free Market.

    The people getting the benefits of CO2 emissions aren’t paying the costs.
    The air can’t be easily “enclosed”.
    The only possible way to resolve the problem is through government intervention.

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  • Scott Atwood

    You utterly fail to grasp the value of HUMAN TIME in the entire equationââ?¬â??That, even in the best of circumstances, bicycles are MUCH slower than cars, and, spread across literally hundreds of millions of people, that difference adds up to not just weeks or months, but MAN-CENTURIESââ?¬â??time that could be spent DOING far more productive work and doing far more effective things than pushing pedals up a hill.


    Even if we take as a given that it always takes more time to travel by bicycle than by car, I’m not convinced that the time saved travelling by car is worth the expense.

    According to a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2001, the average American household devoted 17% of household expenditures to car ownership and operating expenses. That means the average worker spends almost an hour and a half of each eight hour work day paying for convenience of commuting by automobile. A household that can go carfree or car-lite can save literally thousands of dollars per year in car related expenses. Those savings mean the household can work fewer hours to meet the family budget.

    Americans are currently suffering an epidemic of chronic illnesses caused by a sedentary lifestyle, including obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. The productivity lost due to these illnesses is staggering. These illnesses can be prevented with exercise. Bicycling for transportation is an excellent way to incorporate exercise into one’s daily routine, without wasting time in otherwise an otherwise non-productive activity like jogging on a treadmill.

    It would seem to me that the time spend riding a bicycle is more than offset by the money saved by not owning a car and avoiding debilitating chronic illness that strike at the peak of one’s earning potential.

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  • Erik Sandblom

    Ken, I don’t think government intervention is The Only Way. How much government intervention did it take to get us bikers to cycle? How much government intervention did it take, to make me use the cross draft, instead of getting airconditioning? Or to make me buy and sell second hand, as a way of Reducing and Reusing? Or getting a folding bike instead of a car?

    Libertarian ideology thrives for a reason, and even those who do not share the libertarian ideology, should respect the rationale that drives it. Excessive government can be wasteful and even lethal. The fear is justified.

    Let us not fall into the trap of using global warming or peak oil as an excuse for big government programs. That’s what the libertarians are warning against, and it’s a legitimate concern. Government can be part of the solution, if you do it right. A good rule of thumb is to apply it sparingly.

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  • Todd

    re intervention, one of the bolder ideas proferred by mr. gore is to replace the income tax with a carbon tax: http://www.forbes.com/opinions/forbes/2006/0619/020.html

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  • Erik Sandblom

    Carbon tax? Why not just sign the Kyoto protocoll?

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  • Stuart

    Have you read “The Long Emergency”? A good book, but also making me want to learn how to sew (seeds and socks).

    Meanwhile, change a few lightbulbs.

    BTW, I drive a very nice electric hub-powered beater bike and feel quite righteous about it.

    waldencabin.com
    onechange.com

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  • Todd

    for the record, we use mostly compact fluorescents, even in passageways where the frequent switching makes them wear out at a rate comparable to incandescents. the balance (except for appliances) are halogen spots on dimmers, usually very dim. we already tried ”dimmable” CF’s: bad news. it’s my ill-examined assumption that CFs are a bridge technology until LEDs get better in price/performance. there is no replacement, however, for a beeswax candle, or a dozen now and then — those and windows sufficient to obviate artificial light use in daytime.

    this is just to say that i don’t mean the little stuff doesn’t matter. however, even contemporary human standards for heat, light, food, sanitary housekeeping etc. are likely sustainable within generous population limits without especially high tech. it’s mainly the acquired/learned ”need” for high-speed, long-range personal transit that makes survival a risky game of offsets, mitigations, just-in-time innovation, and geopolitical mischief.

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  • Ash

    Soooo, cars are unsustainable evil and we’re addicts for using them. Ok then. How does (for example) my father who is too unwell to ride a bicycle, power assisted or not, recument or upright, tadpole or delta trike, supposed to get around? How should I travel the 80 miles to vist my parents? (There is no public transport.) Will I set aside a day to travel there and one to return or should I just drive my 6l/100km car and be there in an hour and a half? (I would happily drive an EV1 if one were available). Oops, that would be my “acquired/learned ââ?¬Å?needââ?¬Â? for high-speed, long-range personal transit” or is it that I have better ways to spend my life than travelling?

    When you or your children need a trip to the emergency room will you wave the ambulance away when it arrives and load them in your kiddie trailer even though a few minutes could be the difference between life and death?

    Try living outside of a city without a car for a few years (yes, believe it or not there are people who live in that vast barren wasteland beyond the city limits!) Make sure you don’t have any family or friends outside of your town though.

    The amazingly narrow focus and naivety of anti car discussions astonishes me. Cars weren’t invented, they evolved from the horse and cart. They evolved to fill a need. Would you banish the horse and cart too once you rid the world of cars?

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  • aidee

    In response to the need for a car, the politics of this technology has ridden roughshod over every other form of transportation. Cities at one time were well served by trains, busses, trams and the like – these overcame the tyranny of distance and still do. Need to visit someone, hop on a train with the treadly, make the journey and then ride from the station. Easy. An infirm relative could make a short journey via taxi or a longer one which involves taxi’s at each end of a rail/bus journey.

    In regards to an emergency situation, fair enough that ambulances will continue to exist for reason of immediacy. But do we each need our own vehicle for such a purpose (and potentially infrequent purpose); what about a taxi, car pool, other…

    Any other use cases…? Need to transport a heavy load; xtracycle (!!), taxi, taxi truck, other. Need to head out into the desert for a holiday; then hire a vehicle for this purpose. Need to traipse through suburbia; rethink how metropolis’ are constructed: wide versus up.

    The tone of these discussions isn’t necessarily anti-car, more so that such personal transport should have a limited place in a world where human-powered transport should be celebrated and is the norm.

    Reply
  • Erik Sandblom

    Ash, try flipping it around. Instead of looking at what you can’t do without a car, consider what you can do. Contact the nearest bus company and transit authority and tell them about your needs. Can’t hurt to ask. You didn’t tell us about any of your other transportation needs, but I doubt all of them can only be done with a car.

    No, I don’t think 100% of current car use is bad. But it’s equally silly to assume that 0% of current car use could ever be done otherwise, and if so it would take for ever.

    If you really want to cover the maximum amount of distance in the least amount of time, why don’t you get a plane? Cars are just too slow.

    Reply
  • AC

    The underlying theme here is morality: to what extent does it
    (or should it) factor into our economic decision-making process?

    I sense that if we each listed our values, we would have more in
    common than not. Start with values, then progress to the specifics of
    what a life that conforms to those values would look like.

    I value health, joy, economic opportunity, liberty, safety, fairness, convenience,
    quality, fellowship, inclusion, love (not in that order). I’m sure I could add more
    to the list, but there you go…

    My support of bicycle-based transportation is born of a desire to
    perpetuate economic health, high standards of living, life, liberty, and
    pursuit of happiness, not to subvert it. Perhaps the doubters of global
    warming are right and the situation is not so dire that it demands drastic,
    survival-based policies. We still have the right and duty to explore personal
    lifestyle choices and advocate public policy in ways that are consistent with
    our values.

    One of my least favorite expressions is “there oughta be a law” when
    describing something undesireable. But legislation is not the only
    compulsory tool in our society. Another, more insidious one is the
    free-market that isn’t really all that free. It’s not a question of
    conspiracy paranoia — oil companies and car companies have enormous
    influence over us as individuals and over our government. Why someone
    would want THEM making our decisions for us is beyond me. I don’t think
    anyone here is advocating a Khmer Rouge-style regression. I think we’re all
    legitimately exploring the best way forward.

    Reply
  • Erik Sandblom

    AC, morality is always part of the equation, and the factors you list are good reasons to bike.

    But bicycling is not sacrifice, punishment or philanthropy. I simply enjoy it. As long as I’m not wet, cold, tired, or hungry, weather doesn’t matter. Biking saves me time and money.

    The free market is about making individual choices. Go with the flow, and you’re not making those choices you’re supposed to be making.

    Reply
  • Mauricio Babilonia

    Ash wrote:

    [...]How does (for example) my father who is too unwell to ride a bicycle, [etc] supposed to get around?
    When you or your children need a trip to the emergency room will you wave the ambulance away [...]

    Wow. Ash, could you cite an example where someone here has argued that we should abandon all motorized transport even for the infirm or those in need of emergency care? Because if you can’t, these are the same old specious, fear-mongering arguments that get rolled out any time someone dares suggest there should be any sort of alternative mode of transportation be given parity with the car by public policy.
    The problem is not the use of motorized transportation for the aged or infirm, ambulances, or even the occasional visit to a distant relative or friend. The problem, as I see it, are the daily, multiple, half-mile long backups of single-occupant motor vehicles, even on the most beautiful cycling days, for commutes that average (in my municipality) about four miles. The problem is a coworker who drives 3 minutes to get to a restaurant across the street that I can walk to in 5 minutes. The problem is walking into the grocery store across the same street to find a display of California strawberries during the very height of Wisconsin’s strawberry season. It’s not the existence or the use of motor vehicles that bothers me (since I too own one); it’s the utterly unmitigated scope and scale of their use, and the attitude that proclaims such use to be some sort of inalienable right.
    The amazingly narrow focus and naivety of anti car discussions astonishes me.

    Is this the same naivety that thinks that indiscriminate use of motor vehicles will have no negative consequences for humanity?
    Cars weren’t invented, they evolved from the horse and cart. They evolved to fill a need. Would you banish the horse and cart too once you rid the world of cars?

    Wow again. It’s incumbent upon you, Ash, to show us where cars just “evolved” without human invention, where cars were a “need” before infrastructure for them was built and where anyone amongst the commenters here has argued that we completely banish all motor vehicles before turning their attention to the unbridled use of the horse and buggy…(pun intended)

    Reply
  • Jim

    I think Ash makes some good points that fairly represent mainstream thought on this issue.

    The point has been made by other commenters that absolutism isn’t a helpful approach. I don’t know anybody who is in favor of completely banning internal combustion, or making sick people ride bikes. I hope we can all agree that our society would benefit in a number of ways by the reduction of automobile traffic. If that premise can be taken as a common assumption, obviously, our individual contributions to the effort would necessarily be variable. Suggesting that seriously infirmed people ride bikes, or that emergency vehicles be drawn by horses, for example, is about as helpful as suggesting that we simply need more cars on the road.

    Since Ash described a perspective from outside the city limits, I’d like to share a bit of my own experience with non-urban living. I grew up 60 miles from the nearest supermarket in what is probably one of the most rural areas in the country (well off the beaten path in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula). Shortly before I was born, my great-grandfather operated one of four small “Mom and Pop” grocery stores that were within walking or biking distance of my house. Those stores operated in the community for decades, and through a number of different owners. I remember my parents shopping at all four of these stores when I was a young child in the late 70s and early 80s. By the time I was a teenager, all of those stores had gone out of business. The main reason was that they couldn’t compete with the prices offered by the nearest supermarket, which required a 120-mile round trip to visit. In a world where driving was becoming more affordable, small local businesses simply were not being supported. I don’t live in that area anymore, but I have relatives who do. Now, with gas at $3, they moan about having to drive 120 miles to pick up a load of groceries. Twenty years ago, they could have purchased groceries

    Reply
  • Martina

    I see the necessity of having a car when you live in the country also as a sign of deterioration of our communal support system. Small towns and hamlets used to have their own shops, their main streets that supported them. People bought eggs, milk and produce straight from their neighbors or grew them in their own yards. This infrastructure has been destroyed by meteor showers of subdivisions, spreading houses in areas where they have absolutely no support structure, and then the big mega stores that followed the subdivisions.

    Another issue it boils down to is ââ?¬â??- yet again ââ?¬â??- choice: It is my choice not to live in an area where I have drive to a shop. Even if I would live in the country, I would pick an area that is central enough to fulfill my basic needs without driving.

    Reply
  • Ash

    aidee wrote:

    Cities at one time were well served by trains, busses, trams and the like ââ?¬â?? these overcame the tyranny of distance and still do. Need to visit someone, hop on a train with the treadly, make the journey and then ride from the station. Easy. An infirm relative could make a short journey via taxi or a longer one which involves taxiââ?¬â?¢s at each end of a rail/bus journey.


    Indeed this is true. It’s a shame then, that I choose to live outside a city where all these fine examples of public transport are unavailable. I find I have a higher quality of life living in a small town than my friends and relatives who live in cities and the lack of public transport is a price I pay gladly. This is largely subjective of course, but nevertheless it still raises a dry smile when I relax on the couch and watch the traffic report on the news and see lines of cars backed up for miles while I was at work less than 15 minutes prior. Remove the car though, and my quality of life plummets.

    aidee wrote:
    But do we each need our own vehicle for such a purpose (and potentially infrequent purpose); what about a taxi, car pool, other�


    I find the use of a taxi inconvienient and since the cost of ownership of my car is far from prohibitive (and so it should be) why should I lose the freedom and independance it brings? If your issue is with pollution caused by burning fossil fuels then I agree, and would own a fully electric (none of that hybrid rubbish) vehicle such as the EV1 in a heartbeart. Even with it’s 10 year old technology it would meet almost all of my driving requirements (imagine what they could build today if they so desired!) For longer trips I would be prepared to break it up into charging stops or take a plane to the city and use public transport once there.

    aidee wrote:
    Any other use cases�? Need to transport a heavy load; xtracycle (!!), taxi, taxi truck, other. Need to head out into the desert for a holiday; then hire a vehicle for this purpose. Need to traipse through suburbia; rethink how metropolis� are constructed: wide versus up.


    As an example, on very rare occasions, for recreation, I like to ride an old motocross bike at our enduro course. If you would like to show up with your xtracycle and tow my motorcycle (it weighs less than 150kg) the 40km to the track you’re welcome. After riding it for a couple of hours I would be too tired to cycle back lugging it along, YMMV. Lucky for you I’m lazy and ride once or twice a year at most (if that!) Hire a vehicle? It makes more economic sense to own one outright even if, like mine, it spends the majority of it’s live dormant in the garage. It’s the convienience I value.

    As for building up, while I agree wholeheartedly that urban sprawl has reached new levels of madness (even here in Australia), up is not the way to go. Go and live in a tower block on a housing estate in London for a year or three and let me know how that works out for you. While humans are a social animal, I, for one, don’t particularly like people and I certainly don’t want to live boxed up with any number of them. I like wide open spaces, my own personal space, and I loathe cities in general. A few days there is normally all I can tolerate.

    Reply
  • Ash

    Erik Sandblom wrote:

    Ash, try flipping it around. Instead of looking at what you can�t do without a car, consider what you can do. Contact the nearest bus company and transit authority and tell them about your needs. Can�t hurt to ask. You didn�t tell us about any of your other transportation needs, but I doubt all of them can only be done with a car.


    I can do plenty without a car. I hardly use mine, but it’s invaluable when I do need (yes, need) or want to use it. Nearest bus company? Easy, there’s only one. I could catch the bus into the CBD (away from my work), wait a while, and catch another that would take me to where I work (only because there’s a large student body there, if I worked somewhere else there would be much less chance of a bus being any use at all). But why should I waste my time and pay for the privilege?

    Instead I can (and do) ride my motorcycle which eliminates traffic congestion (not that there is any here), but normally I ride my appallingly slow (but still faster than cycling) electric Vespa style scooter. Sadly it causes quite a bit of traffic congestion, but I’m working to solve that (i.e speed it up to the dizzying heights of 50kph). If the weather is nice and the mood is upon me, I ride my electric assist bicycle. These are choices that suit me, if my girlfriend wants to drive to work in the car, I don’t harangue her about it, it’s her choice and she has every right to make it (she actually rides a motorcycle too, but this is beside the point).

    I regularly and happily go weeks or months without driving my car, it’s used mostly for shopping (although last night I used the electric scooter) or taking my girlfriend and I 20km south to the next town to help out in her parents restaurant. We could go on my motorcycle, but she prefers the car. On the highway the car gets similar mpg (around 40mpg) to the bike anyway (the bike kills it around town though) for much greater personal comfort.

    Erik Sandblom wrote:
    If you really want to cover the maximum amount of distance in the least amount of time, why don�t you get a plane? Cars are just too slow.


    This is nonsensical and not really deserving of a response but it’s the second time I see it suggested here. Apart from the area required for take off and landing which a car does not require, aircraft are mostly impractical and fairly inappropriate for personal transport (in general, however there are exceptions: http://www.ploung.com/Our%20Commute.htm) Personally, I would be delighted if there was a cubicle I could step into, press a button, and instantly open the door to find myself at my destination, no matter how far away. I’d probably still want access to a car when I got there though ;-)

    Reply
  • Todd

    Ash, if I had ample reason to believe that your drug habit was sending you to an early grave, and that the care of your dependent survivors would fall to me, and I confronted you with this information, would you protest that I didn’t understand or appreciate how much you love your drugs, and how many other people enjoy similar drugs and couldn’t get on without them, and accuse me of scheming to take away your food, as well? Because that’s how you sound in defending your energy-intensive way of life. The unpleasantness of change is no argument against the validity of the reasons to change.

    Electric cars don’t solve the problem, because the electricity to run them has to be generated somehow, and I’ve seen no serious suggestions about how to generate enough electricity sustainably to run anything like the size of our current car fleet — not even close.

    We live in a comfortable old house with small front, side, and rear yard, lots of trees. Many of our neighbors have considerable lawns. It’s quiet and peaceful here except when cars drive by or people mow their damn lawns. And for miles around, by and large, this neighborhood is physically just as it was in 1910, when there were only a few hundred thousand cars registered nationwide, and about 20 million bicycles in use, the fastest common thing on the roads. And in an age before common electrical appliances, even, there were quiet electric rail lines running parallel every several hundred yards to take people downtown or out into farmland. That’s the way this city was designed, in a prosperous, optimistic age, by free people. Physically, the most conspicuous differences between then and now are that most houses’ gardens have been marred and truncated with driveways and retrofit garages; the streets in which kids played are noisy and dangerous with cars; the rail lines are long gone; most of the corner groceries have been converted to uses of no public amenity; and the farmland has been pushed far, far out, leaving the city, as Kunstler puts it ”encysted in a fabric of necrotic suburbia.” And the people: they’re fatter. It won’t take much to undo most of these degradations.

    This city isn’t the hive/tower of the suburbanites’ urban caricatures. Nor is it like most twentieth-century residential development in rich countries, which in human vacuity, in any previous century, would have implied that its denizens were farmers, hunter-gatherers, or hermits. I think I will live to see such low human densities come to mean the same things.

    Reply
  • Ash

    Mauricio Babilonia wrote:

    Wow. Ash, could you cite an example where someone here has argued that we should abandon all motorized transport even for the infirm or those in need of emergency care?


    This is the best I can do, /?p=15 It’s close enough IMO. Doesn’t consider that there can be any circumstances where a car might be required, or desired (desire is a part of human nature and people will always desire things – drugs, cars, other peoples wives, etc even if we don’t approve, it doesn’t make them less worthy than us).

    I’m not sure I understand the parity issues between cars and bicycles. It costs me nothing (consumable bike parts aside) to ride my bicycle, virtually nothing for the e-bike as recharging costs are negligible. So theoretically, I’m using the road for “free”, the same road car drivers pay to use through their registration costs, fuel taxes etc. There are even bike paths provided exclusively for pedestrian and cyclist use. I have the same legal rights and obligations as cars do when using the road, but all for “free”, plus I get special areas where cars aren’t allowed to go but I am on my bicycle. If anything it seems the parity is tipped in the favour of bicycles (which is fine with me BTW).


    Mauricio Babilonia wrote:
    The problem, as I see it, are the daily, multiple, half-mile long backups of single-occupant motor vehicles, even on the most beautiful cycling days, for commutes that average (in my municipality) about four miles.


    I can see how that is a problem. Not where I live, mind you :-) But it’s no more practical or desirable that everyone should live in a city than it is everyone live in a reigonal area. If the cars were ZEVs then the only problem would be that of congestion which could be alleviated with ZEV two wheeled vehicles (scooters and motorcycles).


    Mauricio Babilonia wrote:
    The problem is a coworker who drives 3 minutes to get to a restaurant across the street that I can walk to in 5 minutes.


    Agreed. Though this is hard for me to conceive living in a country town with no traffic congestion where it is always faster to drive than walk (however when shopping we normally park and walk to the various shops).


    Mauricio Babilonia wrote:
    The problem is walking into the grocery store across the same street to find a display of California strawberries during the very height of Wisconsin�s strawberry season.


    This has nothing to do with cars, but is more likely a question of simple economics. The truck could have been transporting other material unavaliable in Wisconsin anyway, and since the California strawberries may have been cheaper for the supermarket to purchase, any freight costs can be transferred to the other items in the truck. Are you against freight trains too?


    Mauricio Babilonia wrote:
    [...]and the attitude that proclaims such use to be some sort of inalienable right.


    It’s not a right (as I was reminded recently when I was relieved of my privilege to drive temporarily), but where there’s no alternative, maybe it should be. Even a simple task like visiting family in the next town 80 miles away became if not insurmountable, at best inconvenient.

    Some smaller communities don’t even have appropriate medical care, what if I lived in one of those places and had to travel 3 times a week for life saving dialysis? Should I call an ambulance each time, sell my house, quit my job and move somewhere (hoping I can find housing and a new job) I didn’t have to travel for dialysis? (I don’t have kidney failure BTW, it’s just an example of how what might be fine and dandy for some, can be a terrible burden for others).


    Mauricio Babilonia wrote:
    Is this the same naivety that thinks that indiscriminate use of motor vehicles will have no negative consequences for humanity?


    You tell me Mauricio, I never once stated that. In my opinion, the internal combusion engine is at the same time a marvel and total rubbish desperately overdue for replacement. I still marvel at it’s complexities and ability to produce so much power from such a relatively small amount of liquid, yet for largely economic reasons it’s development (and ultimately replacement) have been constantly held back.

    There were engines with overhead camshafts and valve trains in the 1930′s (and possibly earlier), fuel injection in the 1960′s, yet this technology wasn’t commonplace for, in some cases, almost 1/2 a century later. Why? No “big oil” conspiracy, simple economics. While ever outdated technology (side valve motors for example) is still selling, why go to the trouble and expense of re-tooling your factory to produce the new, cleaner, more economical stuff?

    Environmental impact could have been reduced drastically with vehicles like the EV1. The automobile is not the problem, it is it’s source of motive power. (Though I’ve made this statement in the past and Todd has disagreed with me, so I conclude that he is anti-car, no matter how it is powered).


    Mauricio Babilonia wrote:
    Wow again. Itââ?¬â?¢s incumbent upon you, Ash, to show us where cars just ââ?¬Å?evolvedââ?¬Â? without human invention, where cars were a ââ?¬Å?needââ?¬Â? before infrastructure for them was built


    Well, it would be inappropriate for me to speculate about the extent of your education, or your recall of such, but anyone with even a tenuous grasp of history will be aware of the development of domesticated animals like the horse. The horse in particular is noteworthy because it allowed the expansion of human civilisation by enabling people to travel large distances for trade and so forth. By constructing a wheeled vehicle which attached to the aforementioned horse it was now able to carry a great deal more cargo and/or people than could be attached reliably to it’s back otherwise. Thus goods could now be tranported greater distances overland than ever before. The logical extension of this was, and is the motorcar.

    Even a cursory glance at pictures of very early automobiles will reveal more than a passing resemblance to a horse drawn carriage (sans horse obviously). A google search for “horseless carriage” should clarify any other questions about the evolution of the car you may have. Here’s a link to get you started: http://www.plasticbag.org/archives/2005/04/the_horseless_carriage.shtml


    Mauricio Babilonia wrote:
    and where anyone amongst the commenters here has argued that we completely banish all motor vehicles before turning their attention to the unbridled use of the horse and buggy�(pun intended)


    Well since the motor vehicle is the logical extension of the horse and buggy, and Todd (and possibly others here, I don’t know, I can only speak of my interpretation of his statements) isn’t a fan of the car:
    /?p=15 It seems natural to conclude that his distaste for large scale motorised transport must therefore extend backwards to the horse and buggy.

    Reply
  • Ash

    Martina wrote:

    I see the necessity of having a car when you live in the country also as a sign of deterioration of our communal support system. Small towns and hamlets used to have their own shops, their main streets that supported them. People bought eggs, milk and produce straight from their neighbors or grew them in their own yards. This infrastructure has been destroyed by meteor showers of subdivisions, spreading houses in areas where they have absolutely no support structure, and then the big mega stores that followed the subdivisions.


    Perhaps so, but I value my privacy. I don’t want to interact with my neighbours, and I consider this choice to be my God-given right. I will smile and say hello, but I have no desire for more contact than that. The idea of self sufficiency is a nice dream, but for the most part, just that – a dream. The reality is I go to work to get money to buy food, pay bills, buy toys (electric Vespa-styled scooter) and fund my hobbies (tinkering with my e-bike for example, see also “toys”). I don’t have the desire (I could easily make the time) to plant a vegetable garden, much less shoot for self sufficiency. Even if I did, the knowledge that a failed crop would mean a trip to the supermarket and not a slow death from starvation (as was the case only a few hundred years ago) would be a comfortable safety net.

    Martina wrote:
    Another issue it boils down to is ââ?¬â??- yet again ââ?¬â??- choice: It is my choice not to live in an area where I have drive to a shop. Even if I would live in the country, I would pick an area that is central enough to fulfill my basic needs without driving.


    Indeed, that is your choice and you have every right to make it. Just like I have every right to choose to live in the country and have a car at my disposal whenever I like.

    Reply
  • Ken Heronheart

    “Indeed, that is your choice and you have every right to make it. Just like I have every right to choose to live in the country and have a car at my disposal whenever I like.”

    Indeed, but whether you have a right to pump CO2 into the common air or to have automobile roads provided for you out of the public purse is another question.

    Reply
  • Ash

    Todd wrote:

    Ash, if I had ample reason to believe that your drug habit was sending you to an early grave, and that the care of your dependent survivors would fall to me, and I confronted you with this information, would you protest that I didn�t understand or appreciate how much you love your drugs, and how many other people enjoy similar drugs and couldn�t get on without them, and accuse me of scheming to take away your food, as well? Because that�s how you sound in defending your energy-intensive way of life. The unpleasantness of change is no argument against the validity of the reasons to change.


    While I can’t agree with the drug habit analogy, nor the apparent implication that the burden of responsibility for preserving the environment falls to you, I don’t contest the fact that many aspects of modern life are unsustainable (though none of mine I would argue). In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the global population is the #1 unsustainable thing at the moment. There are some big ol’ problems looming large, not the least of which is feeding everyone (not to mention the tens of thousands who are already starving to death at varying rates).

    I’m not sure my lifestyle is all that more or less energy-intensive than yours. Do you not consider the energy required to run your electric trains, diesel buses and other forms of public transport? Sure, I use more gasoline that you do directly, but if it wasn’t for gasoline/diesel and the vehicles they fuel, you and your family and friends would starve to death in short order. QED. Mass agriculture sustains the lifestyle you have chosen and actually enabled you to chose it. No burning of fossil fuels = no mass agriculture = no cities and a much, much lower global population.

    Buying the odd compact fluroescent light globe isn’t going to offset your carbon footprint either I’m afraid. My electric scooter has a theoretical capacity of 2112Kwh, at $0.1449 per Kwh it would cost me $0.31 cents to recharge from completely empty not accounting for charger inefficiency. I don’t know how much carbondioxide the coal fired power station produces for that (though it probably tells me on the power bill), but there’s not a heck of a lot I can do about that (yeah yeah, I can subscribe for “green power”, but this really needs action on an infrastructre level).

    Using the scooter I can get to work in around 9 minutes, the same time as in a car or on my motorcycle even though the scooter is 10kph slower, over 5.6km it makes little difference. On my e-bike it’s about 13 minutes. This extra time is an acceptable trade-off for me as I like the exercise and I can leave earlier. But if circumstances were different, it might not be suitable. Not everyone is willing nor able to make the changes you have to your life to enable you to have such a laid back pace. I am both unwilling and unable to start my own business operating from my house, setting my own hours and eliminating any significant need for low travel times.

    Todd wrote:
    Electric cars donââ?¬â?¢t solve the problem, because the electricity to run them has to be generated somehow, and Iââ?¬â?¢ve seen no serious suggestions about how to generate enough electricity sustainably to run anything like the size of our current car fleetââ?¬â??not even close


    And here is where we disagree fundamentally. You want to leap from what we have now to this undefined future. It just doesn’t work that way, never has. I say electric vehilces are just the first step, not the final solution. They are necessary to develop (evolve if you will) better vehicles than the ones we have now. Humans learn from their mistakes, and just like you had a few revisions of the StokeMonkey while you ironed out some bugs, EVs need to be developed so their bugs can be ironed out and they can evolve into something inconceivably better.

    Todd wrote:
    We live in a comfortable old house with small front, side, and rear yard, lots of trees. Many of our neighbors have considerable lawns. It�s quiet and peaceful here except when cars drive by or people mow their damn lawns. And for miles around, by and large, this neighborhood is physically just as it was in 1910, when there were only a few hundred thousand cars registered nationwide, and about 20 million bicycles in use, the fastest common thing on the roads. And in an age before common electrical appliances, even, there were quiet electric rail lines running parallel every several hundred yards to take people downtown or out into farmland. That�s the way this city was designed, in a prosperous, optimistic age, by free people. Physically, the most conspicuous differences between then and now are that most houses� gardens have been marred and truncated with driveways and retrofit garages, the once peaceful streets are noisy and dangerous with cars, the rail lines are long gone, and most of the corner groceries have been converted to uses of no public amenity. It won�t take much to undo these degradations.


    That’s fine for you, what about my town? Should we demolish the whole thing and start again from scratch, or should we actively work towards a practical alternative (I’m not referring to a bicycle in any form here) for everyone to the internal combustion powered automobile? Which would be more energy efficient?

    The thing which frustrates me most about these discussions is the apparent inability or unwillingness of the anti-car viewpoint such as yourself to empathise with anyone else. When considering such radical changes it is necessary to look beyond one’s own sphere of experience. I feel as though your counter arguments amount to little more than “I’ve done it, why can’t you?” It amounts to saying “I like Toblerone chocolate therefore no other forms of chocolate should be available because they are bad for you/the environment.”

    I and many others http://abc.net.au/foreign/content/2006/s1662432.htm need the freedom and lifestyle that this form of transport provides. I think cars suck, and if I lived in a city would avoid drving one like the plauge, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t own one to use when it suited me.

    Reply
  • Ash

    Ken Heronheart wrote:

    Indeed, but whether you have a right to pump CO2 into the common air or to have automobile roads provided for you out of the public purse is another question.


    Happens everytime I breathe out or switch on a light (or computer!) Ken. As for the roads, well I already paid for them with my taxes and registration costs (more taxes actually). Sometimes I use them for free on my bicycle though, so I guess I’m sponging off other road users on those days ;-)

    Reply
  • [...] The end, however, was anticlimactic. As the credits rolled, they were interspersed with suggestions of what the average joe could do to help. Buy compact flourescents. If you can, buy a hybrid. These just seem like such small measures for such an enormous problem — like a bandaid over a severed jugular. Todd over at cleverchimp.com has made a similar point, and much better than I could. Please read. [...]

    Reply
  • Ken Heronheart

    Ash wrote:
    “As for the roads, well I already paid for them with my taxes and registration costs (more taxes actually).”

    You and a lot of other people. And collectively, a majority of those people can decide they prefer to restrict the use of those roads by private automobiles.

    Reply
  • Don Felix

    Ash,

    Please don’t ruin the many good points you’ve made by comparing respiration with exhaust from motorized vehicles. It simply doesn’t compare since it is simply a natural and necessary part of living. It is not a choice that might conceivably have to be justified, not an economic activity which might be subject to taxation or regulation.

    One of the reasons I enjoy Todd’s blog and the comments of many of the posters here is that they are focused on a positive effort to make lower impact alternatives scale up to serve more people’s needs, not on trying to advocate the use of any form of government force to push people out of cars. I’m not quite sure why you and some of the recent ‘car-philic’ posters seem convinced these folks want to come and get your vehicles. They would like sufficient accomodation for cycles and other low speed vehicles to make them seem safe and therefore attractive to more people. And less manic response to traffic congestion in the way of more road building.

    I will say in my opinion that these micro-scale vehicles (like the Stokemonkey, or say a Lightfoot trike with their electric assist system) will never completely replace cars for the majority of people. For some, yes. For many during some periods of their lives, yes. Allowing a significant minority of families to own only 1 car, yes. For even more, they can simply replace many car trips, as they do in your case. And that would be a valuable accomplishment.

    Reply
  • Spence

    Although there’s really a lot of excellent points made here by Ash and everyone else, aren’t we forgetting something? Fossil Fuels are finite and many scientists and petrochemical engineers agree that the in next few years, we are going to see a large increase in energy prices as it becomes more difficult to extract it from the ground.

    Wanting to live in the country away from people and making quick trips to the city center may not be an option in the near future.

    BTW, I just loaded up the xtraMonkey and pulled seven 6-foot 4X4′s, a radial saw, 150 feet of 10g extension cord and a bottle of wine 700 feet up the hill to my house… at 23 mph.

    I am so stoked.

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  • Todd

    spence, i was in such suspense to hear how your install went! i guess it couldn’t have been a failure. now you sure you did 23mph uphill loaded in low mode per the first-couple-charges battery conditioning instructions?

    Reply
  • Ash

    Ken Heronheart wrote:

    You and a lot of other people. And collectively, a majority of those people can decide they prefer to restrict the use of those roads by private automobiles.


    Restrict the use of those roads “by” or “to” (as in exclusively) private automobiles? I’m not sure if you’re pro-bicycle, anti-car or what. I don’t think bicycles should be restricted from using any roads (except here in Australia they’re not permitted on 110kph motorways, but who in their right mind would want to be anywhere near cars going that fast while on a bicycle?) Similarly, provided they obey the law and the operator has the requisite skills (the former may often be the case, while the latter is not!), there’s no reason cars can’t operate safely anywhere, including residential areas.

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  • Ash

    Don Felix wrote:

    Please don�t ruin the many good points you�ve made by comparing respiration with exhaust from motorized vehicles. It simply doesn�t compare since it is simply a natural and necessary part of living. It is not a choice that might conceivably have to be justified, not an economic activity which might be subject to taxation or regulation.


    True, it was a facetious comment. I chose to ignore the point. How the government would love it if they could tax breathing though!

    Don Felix wrote:
    They would like sufficient accomodation for cycles and other low speed vehicles to make them seem safe and therefore attractive to more people.


    Fair enough (though that’s not the way much of Todds commentary comes across to me). Again, I guess I’m spoiled living where I do, I’ve mentioned the bike paths, and mostly the road is wide enough that I can plod along unmolested and with a feeling of safety. There are still the odd moron who passes within inches of my elbow, but this could be ignorance. Many years of not cycling had made me forget how uncomfortable that type of move can make a cyclist feel, I now give them much more room when driving.

    Don Felix wrote:
    I will say in my opinion that these micro-scale vehicles (like the Stokemonkey, or say a Lightfoot trike with their electric assist system) will never completely replace cars for the majority of people. For some, yes. For many during some periods of their lives, yes. Allowing a significant minority of families to own only 1 car, yes. For even more, they can simply replace many car trips, as they do in your case. And that would be a valuable accomplishment.


    Amen! Could not agree more (we only own one car already, motorcycles can do 99% of what a car can do. I’ve even seen a motorcycle towing a trailer with another mtorcycle on it!)

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  • Ken Heronheart

    Unfortunately, most motorcycles produce about 16 to 20 times the amount of greenhouse gases (per mile) than a car does.

    Reply
  • Erik Sandblom

    Ash, you write, “I find I have a higher quality of life living in a small town than my friends and relatives who live in cities and the lack of public transport is a price I pay gladly. This is largely subjective of course, but nevertheless it still raises a dry smile when I relax on the couch and watch the traffic report on the news and see lines of cars backed up for miles while I was at work less than 15 minutes prior.”

    But public transport is a scheduled service, often on its own right-of-way. Take a metro for instance. Does the newscast carry stories about metro trains coming to a standstill due to traffic? So if you use public transit, you seldom need to worry about jams. Therefore the above passage doesn’t make sense to me. There are lots of traffic jams where I live, but since I mostly ride a bike or use public transport, they don’t affect me. They are truly not my problem.

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  • Ash

    Ken Heronheart wrote:

    Unfortunately, most motorcycles produce about 16 to 20 times the amount of greenhouse gases (per mile) than a car does.


    Not too sure how my motorcycle which displaces 644cc, is fitted with a catalytic converter and always returns 53mpg around town could produce 16 to 20 times the greenhouse gases that my car, which displaces 2000cc does. My electric scooter displaces 0cc and produces nil greehouse gases when in use (and insignificant amounts when recharging).

    You can please some of the people some of the time…

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  • Ash

    Erik Sandblom wrote:

    But public transport is a scheduled service, often on its own right-of-way. Take a metro for instance. Does the newscast carry stories about metro trains coming to a standstill due to traffic? So if you use public transit, you seldom need to worry about jams. Therefore the above passage doesn�t make sense to me. There are lots of traffic jams where I live, but since I mostly ride a bike or use public transport, they don�t affect me. They are truly not my problem.


    The news only carries stories about how the trains are always running late (the governments answer was to reduce services). I don’t live there (or thankfully go there more than once or twice a year under sufferance) so I can’t really comment about the truth of those stories.

    No matter how you get around, whenever I’m in the city I’m struck by the inescapeable, never ending noise. I like my peace and quiet and the fact that I regularly see a kangaroo or two when walking the dogs :-)

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  • uroburro

    Ash wrote

    And here is where we disagree fundamentally. You want to leap from what we have now to this undefined future. It just doesn�t work that way, never has. I say electric vehilces are just the first step, not the final solution. They are necessary to develop (evolve if you will) better vehicles than the ones we have now. Humans learn from their mistakes, and just like you had a few revisions of the StokeMonkey while you ironed out some bugs, EVs need to be developed so their bugs can be ironed out and they can evolve into something inconceivably better


    Todd, Ash is pointing out the biggest weakness in your (and others who believe that a highly disruptive change is the only way to accomplish balance–with our ecosystem, the planet, our karma) thinking. Steps need to be laid out between here and there. Electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles, bicycles are excellent steps between an unsustainably hydrocarbon-based present to whatever future proceeds this one. It is entirely possible that a highly disruptive change will be forced on humanity. We’ll have to deal with that when it comes. If that is our fate within the next 20 years or so, no method in current circulation will prevent that from being painful. However, by way of example, a reduction in usage of gas by 50% should eliminate the need to blow other human beings to kingdom-come for their oil. This would be a move in a very positive direction.

    If you’ve not heard of homeostasis, check it out. It’s one of the most powerful forces in our System. Proposed changes that don’t account for it are inherently flawed.

    Good post Todd, thank you. And a very interesting discussion.

    PS Though this blog is probably not the place for this, a way to get around polemics might be a discussion of various scenarios. It would allow each position to offer solutions to potential problems. A couple of bare examples:

    Peak Oil Scenario: Hydrocarbon extraction will require highly expensive technologies, driving the price of oil to US$300 barrel within 5 years. Reliable estimates indicate an additional 500 billion barrels of oil can be extracted at that cost. The world currently uses 85 million barrels of oil per day, with consumption expected to grow by 20% per year. How do we handle that? What are the impacts? etc etc etc

    Hydrogen/Alternative fuel Scenario: A potential new fuel source has been identified. It will require 10 years and US$10 trillion to work up to prototype stage, and another 20 years and US$100 trillion to bring up to full production. How do we proceed? Should we proceed?

    The Combined scenario: Both the above are true, now what?

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  • Todd

    Todd, Ash is pointing out the biggest weakness in your (and others who believe that a highly disruptive change is the only way to accomplish balanceââ?¬â??with our ecosystem, the planet, our karma) thinking. Steps need to be laid out between here and there.


    I thought Ash had been rather willfully misunderstanding me in representing my view as you have just done too. I was going to let it go, but I guess I need to clarify.

    In the third paragraph of my post, way above, I acknowledge that Al Gore is probably right in advising people to take little steps, because nobody listens to the big-leap people, even if a big leap, on the face of it, would be most appropriate to the threat. Al Gore is a politician; I am a sprung-saddle philosopher. I do not propose banning cars; if that could somehow be imposed suddenly (which it couldn’t), it would kill the patient. We need the methadone of little steps. I don’t know what forms this will take. I don’t concern myself with answering the political question of ”what do we do now?” because I’m not real good at sugaring messages.

    I think it is important for somebody somewhere to withdraw from the soft-pitch politics of hard change to talk about the likely ends, the real, necessary ones, and to note that they’re kinda nice. So when I talk about people living well without cars, odd specimens now and our whole ancestry the recent past, I’m not trying to shame anybody who can’t live like that now, nor am I running for emperor so I can start issuing edicts. I’m trying to offer encouragement and a little bit of vision about the upside, to embolden those many people capable of skipping the methadone to do so, and maybe to lead.

    Ultimately, I don’t think it will be a choice whether to perpetuate car culture or not. I think it’s inevitably doomed to follow the downslope of fossil fuel in the longest/worst case, nature and market forces imposing the ”free choice” to deal with facts or die. It will spare a lot of pain to stay well ahead of that curve.

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  • Jim

    Todd, I must say that you’ve written an excellent post, as evidenced by the volume of commentary. It’s almost Kunstlerian, this comment volume.

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  • Andrew

    Ken Heronheart Says:
    “Unfortunately, most motorcycles produce about 16 to 20 times the amount of greenhouse gases (per mile) than a car does.”

    I think you mean smog pollutants, like hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide, not greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide). The emmission standard for motorcycles hadn’t been updated since 1980. Just in the last couple years new rules have been put in place and they have started putting better emission controls on motorcycles.

    Since carbon dioxide is not yet regarded as a pollutant (in fact, Exxon likes to call it “Life” ;-) neither cars nor motorcycles do anything special to contain it, and so the carbon dioxide produced is pretty much directly proportional to the amount of fuel burned.

    So in terms of greenhouse gases at least, motorcycles can be better simply because they use less fuel.

    Reply
  • uroburro

    Todd wrote:

    I acknowledge that Al Gore is probably right in advising people to take little steps, because nobody listens to the big-leap people, even if a big leap, on the face of it, would be most appropriate to the threat.


    To clarify what I think our difference is; I’m suggesting that small steps are the only possible steps for a society, and for most people. Big-leap ideas are great as a starting point, but they need to have the smaller steps filled in to be realistic. This is not because people are stupid, lazy, or uninformed. It is how systems stay in balance, and this tendency towards balance is a fundamental force in Nature.

    I am not excusing people who have grown stupid or lazy, and there are times that I think they are a large percentage of the US population. And I agree that we are very likely headed for a cliff at top speed. But I acknowledge that there are many people, some of whom are reasonable, who disagree. And to address their sheer mass, small steps need to be described, with big-leap ideas providing the vision. Until there is consensus, this is all that is possible.

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  • Todd

    uroburro, i think our differences are subtle, and may lie mostly in ill-chosen words on my part, because what you write sounds agreeable to me. i agree that most people in car culture now, regardless of their intelligence and good faith, cannot fairly be expected to abandon driving tomorrow or next week, nor would it be constructive if they somehow could. the societal organism wouldn’t survive sudden withdrawal, at least not in any form one could welcome. that’s why i talk about changes i suppose i’ll see in my lifetime, over a couple generations, not what i’m holding my breath to see in 2007 (some scary hurricanes could maybe hustle things along a bit, though). however, a significant minority of households, mainly those who can choose to live in pre-twentieth century developed areas, can make the leap, and i think they should.

    when i talk about a big leap, i mean to emphasize the distance more than the speed of the leap. i mean to assert that better cars are not the end of the progression, but at best a feeble first step and at worst a dangerous diversion from a return to the low-energy habitation patterns and transit modes more characteristic of the first 99.95% of human existence than of most of the oil-addled twentieth century. can’t we have 1910 transit, street life, diversified local manufacturing and agriculture with 21st-century science, civil rights, medicine, and wifi? i’m all over it.

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  • Ash

    Todd wrote:

    …canââ?¬â?¢t we have 1910 transit, street life, diversified local manufacturing and agriculture with 21st-century science, civil rights, medicine, and wifi? iââ?¬â?¢m all over it.


    You want to have your cake and eat it too (and fair enough, who doesn’t – what good is cake if you can’t eat it?!) But I feel (and it’s just my own personal feeling mind you, we can argue about this ad nauseam) that 1910 transit is mutually exclusive to 21st-century life and the luxuries and comforts that entails. I would have to build a stable and ride a horse or take the Cobb & Co coach to visit my parents for starters.

    There are reasons those modes of transport fell out of favour, and were replaced by something better. I’ve been over it before and I won’t beat that dead horse any more (lame pun intended), except to say that anyone who views spending hours/days aboard a horse or in a Cindrella-esq carriage with rose tinted glasses would be well advised to spend a few hours trying either before they endorse a return that technology.

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  • Jim

    I’m no historian, but it seems to me that “big idea” people have always been active and vocal leading up to the times of the most radical changes. I’m sure when abolitionists were trying various radical measures to end black slavery in the American South, some moderate people who agreed in principle with their cause suggested incremental, almost meaningless changes because they feared that sudden upheavals wouldn’t be as politically palatable or feasible. As it turned out, however, compromises and half-measures weren’t acceptable to either side, and the disagreement could only be resolved by a contest of force.

    I don’t think we’ll have a second American Civil War over the global climate change issue, but it’s clear to me that this debate (like that over slavery) is an ongoing battle between two solidified diametrical positions, with the vast middle being either confused, indifferent, or preoccupied – less committed, at any rate. It’s hard to imagine getting these folks to sacrifice anything for what has been so far, a more or less invisible catastrophe (aside from the hurricanes and the cover of Time). Maybe a charismatic leader could do it, but I’m not laying bets on that. I don’t have high hopes that we will be able to do much to stop the approach of rapid, and possibly drastic, climate change.

    I, for one, am grateful to be living in such interesting times.

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  • Todd

    Ash, the reason those modes were replaced was the phenomenal, cheap abundance of fossil fuel and huge expanses of undeveloped land, and an as-yet sparse global population whose industrial orgies were well within the ecosystem’s capacity to heal over (unless you were a buffalo). Those conditions are passing, and with them the feasibility of energy-intensive (fast and heavy) personal transit regardless of technology. Fast and heavy=energy intensive=unsustainable on a mass scale w/o fossil fuels.

    I wasn’t thinking horses (slow and heavy). I was thinking slow and light bikes and trikes and pedicabs (assisted too — they had electric bikes in the 1890s), feet, light and heavy rail, and — yes — the odd heavy motorized delivery truck, service vehicle, and maybe even private motor cars run at vast expense on special occasions and courses by exceptionally wealthy people.

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  • Rian Murnen

    Ash, correct me if I am wrong, but I believe earlier you mention that you are a resident of Australia. I am going to assume you grew up there, and your family has stayed in relatively the same region / provence for a few generations.

    Is it perhaps the case that personal experience on a regional level is playing a significant role in the historical discussion here?

    Was Australia, particularly your provience “built up” in the same way that the coastal areas of the United States where 100-years ago? (This might also apply to coastal U.S. versus mid-western U.S. in 1910.) Perhaps some of those that are promoting a progression away from cars and towards bicycles and mass transit are referencing a different historical region that is not common to us all.

    I know that my visualization of history is strongly influenced by my understanding of the west coast of the U.S., particularly Cascadia (the region of the NW between the Cascade Mountain Range and the Pacific Ocean including Portland Seattle, and Vancouver B.C.).

    All that to say, that the relationship between cities and rural areas may have varied greatly in Australia, Europe, or any where else in the world, compared to what Todd and others may be thinking of.

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  • Ash

    Todd wrote:

    I wasnââ?¬â?¢t thinking horses (slow and heavy). I was thinking slow and light bikes and trikes and pedicabs (assisted tooââ?¬â??they had electric bikes in the 1890s), feet…



    I would take a horse and/or horse drawn cart for the 80 mile trip to my parents any day and every day, over any currently available bicycle of any type. Seriously (and I hate horses!), a bicycle is completely impractical for covering large distances in a reasonable time frame (I’m not even sure I could cover 80 miles in a day which I do not consider reasonable). Why reasonable (as defined by me, and for me)? Because I have to go to work. Because I live a long way from everything (shit, everything in Australia is a long way from everything else, including the rest of the world! That’s just the way it is here). I only have a certain amount of leave per year and I (and I suspect the vast majority) won’t squander that on travelling when I know the distance is able to be covered in a fraction of the time using different means.

    We will simply have to agree to disagree :-) I believe “energy-intensive” fast and heavy (or light) personal transport is entirely achievable and sustainable with the right technology. We’re just not being given the right technology for reasons of profit.

    I also don’t susbscribe to the theory that there’s an impending energy crisis (at least not in my country, in the USA, maybe, I’ve seen a few reports of your power stations struggilng to meet demand but YMMV). Peak oil I believe, it’s just common sense, you’d have to be an idiot not to believe it. How much oil is left? We’ll never know (everyone lies, so reliable data for scientists to work with probably doesn’t exist), but this much is certain: “big oil” will squeeze every last drop from our poor planet, and with it every last cent from anyone silly enough to keep paying for it. Then, and only then, I believe they will roll out the alternative. No way they will willingly relinquish the obscene profit and unimaginable power they are currently drunk upon. They’ll keep control of the global economy and politicians, it won’t be oil, I don’t know what it will be, but they’ll control it, and our world will run on it.

    I’d be surprised if that comes to pass in your or my lifetime. Global warming is a seperate, yet inextricably linked issue and a much more serious problem. It’s already happening, and probably 20-50 years too late to reverse it. All we can do now is stop pumping the atmosphere full of C02 and friends (I’m talking mostly about industry and coal fired power plants here, compared to them cars are a drop in the ocean) and bunker down saving what species we can http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/s1647466.htm

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  • Ash

    Rian Murnen wrote:

    All that to say, that the relationship between cities and rural areas may have varied greatly in Australia, Europe, or any where else in the world, compared to what Todd and others may be thinking of.


    I think you’re 100% right about this. I am in Australia and have always lived here. My family has only been in this region for one generation (slightly less actually), but compared to the US and Europe all our towns and cities are “new”. We’ve only been settled (by people other than hunter-gatherer nomads with no permanant shelter I mean) for a touch over 200 years. 100 years ago my town was probably little more than a handful of houses. Another 50 years back from there and there might be nothing!

    I think our cities and towns are developed in a very different way to those in the US (though I’ve never been there, so I’m speculating). Certainly I get the distinct impression that Australians relationship to their car is very different to that of “Joe Average” USA!

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  • aidee

    Ash wrote:


    I would take a horse and/or horse drawn cart for the 80 mile trip to my parents any day and every day, over any currently available bicycle of any type. Seriously (and I hate horses!), a bicycle is completely impractical for covering large distances in a reasonable time frame (I�m not even sure I could cover 80 miles in a day which I do not consider reasonable).




    1886: Frank Hopkins (of Hidalgo movie fame) a military dispatch rider, rode a stallion named Joe 1800 miles from Galveston, Texas, to Rutland, Vermont, in 31 days (average 58 miles/day). Joe finished in excellent condition, after traveling no more than 10 hours/day.






    1892: Prussian and Austro-Hungarian soldiers raced from Berlin to Vienna. The winner rode 350 miles in 72 hours. The horse died, as did 25 others out of 199 who started.






    1920: The first U.S. Cavalry Mounted Service Cup race averaged 60 miles/day for five days, carrying up to 245 lb. of rider and gear.






    Modern Endurance Rides: The 100-mile rides are run by the same horse and rider in under 24 hours– but there are usually 8 vet checks, where the horse is required to rest for 30 minutes, as well as pass a health check. That’s 4 hours spent resting; also, the rider may get off and jog with their horse partway. These horses are also in top condition, and must pass many vet exams.




    Ummm, i’d hate to think what the upkeep of a horse ready to ride at short notice and at speed would be (let alone with a cart). Me and the pea green ‘Dale ready to rock at the drop of a hat (helmet); This is what I love about cycling, an immediacy which beats cars on the shorter haul and which extends from doorstep to doorstep. Longer distances require a bit more planning, but I suspect that it may beat a horse !!

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  • Jim

    Friends and I routinely ride our bicycles 80 miles for fun on any given Sunday. It takes us 5-6 hours to cover 80 miles including a lunch stop and various breaks, and, when we’re done, most of us could cheerfully tack on another 80 if we were in the mood. Fast riders can cover 80 miles easily in less than four hours, maybe 3 hours with a decent tailwind. In my book, even my slowest 80 mile pace is fast. It’s fast until you look at it from the context of an automobile that can cover that distance in an hour. If we didn’t have automotive speed anomaly standard in mind, nobody would think 80 miles in 6 hours is impractically slow. Most likely you wouldn’t ride a bike 80 miles each way for a day trip on a whim (maybe with a Stokemonkey), but it wouldn’t be hard for a reasonably fit cyclist to do over a weekend.

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  • Jim

    I should also mention, as Todd pointed out earlier, that our conceptions of speed and distance are quite arbitrary. People prefer cars (to bikes) because they allow a single occupant to comfortably cover 500 miles (or a bit more) in a day, should the need arise. We will invariably find occasional or frequent reasons to travel 500 miles when we have easy access to a car and affordable fuel to run it. I’ve never heard anybody complain that it is too hard to drive 2,000 miles in a day, though. However, if some new technology allowed personal transport of 2,000 miles in one day, I’m sure proponents of that technology would come up with a long list of reasons why such trips might be necessary. And then you’d have people saying, “cars won’t suit my purposes, because this new technology will let me visit my parents 80 miles away AND I can take them to dinner in a fancy restaurant just 500 miles away. Cars are useless by comparison.”.

    Most people I know who get around by bicycle have virtually excluded long trips from their lives, except under very special or urgent circumstances, just as drivers don’t even consider several thousand mile day trips. I seldom visit my relatives who live 500 miles from me. Would I like to see them more often? Yeah, probably. But there’s a limit to what I am willing to do to make that trip, and I am committed to living where I am, as are they. I have a friend who has been car-free most of his life (he’s 32) simply because he views a car as a hassle, and because he is proficient at getting around town on public transportation and a bicycle (when the weather is nice). His high school chums invite him to various events (weddings and such) 50, 80, or 100 miles out of town. He either catches a ride with someone else, or he doesn’t go. He gets annoyed that they plan their events in places where driving is the only choice. My friend is, to me, a clear example of a person living the good life car-free, and it is only the external social obligations (and nthe expectation that everyone can drive) that make his choice seem inconvenient.

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  • Todd

    We will simply have to agree to disagree :-) I believe ââ?¬Å?energy-intensiveââ?¬Â? fast and heavy (or light) personal transport is entirely achievable and sustainable with the right technology. Weââ?¬â?¢re just not being given the right technology for reasons of profit.


    Ash, your belief is willful. As Kunstler must frequently explain, energy is not technology. Technology runs on energy. No amount of technology will reduce the energy required to move heavy vehicles at high speeds over long distances. Technology can improve efficiency, but not beyond 100%. If >99% efficiency still leaves you with an unsustainable energy bill, you are just plain using too much. People who believe they or their kids will drive cars charged up by solar panels and windmills on the roof of their garages aren’t doing the math. They are the same people who will fall for photoshopped phishing scams like this: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2006/05/solar_powered_e_1.php .

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  • Allan

    Ash,

    This one’s for you buddy… http://www.nospeedbumps.com/wp-images/castrocar.JPG

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  • Spence

    Allen,

    Great pic! Interesting to note that Cuba is the first country to go through what many of us are going to face in the future. In the early 90′s, The USSR dissolved and halted its subsidies of petrochemicals to Cuba, forcing them to scale WAY back on their usage. Suddenly, they had no access to cheap fuel and reverted successfully back to a more agrarian way of life. In Cuba, I believe we can see a flavor of our future (hopefully without a dictatorship).

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  • Ash

    Todd wrote:

    Ash, your belief is willful. As Kunstler must frequently explain, energy is not technology. Technology runs on energy. No amount of technology will reduce the energy required to move heavy vehicles at high speeds over long distances. Technology can improve efficiency, but not beyond 100%. If >99% efficiency still leaves you with an unsustainable energy bill, you are just plain using too much. People who believe they or their kids will drive cars charged up by solar panels and windmills on the roof of their garages aren�t doing the math. They are the same people who will fall for photoshopped phishing scams like this: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2006/05/solar_powered_e_1.php


    I never said energy equated to technology, common sense reveals they don’t. I do however, maintain that not only can technology enable us to use significantly less of the dirty, finite energy we currently use, more importantly it can give us new (i.e as yet unrealised) sources of renewable energy to use less of.

    To anyone who daydreams about a return to some kind of “idyllic”, “simple” agrarian socitey is either realistic or desireable, I suggest you go live in one. Not visit, go live there. Note the lack of many elderly people? Note the total absence of any retirement villages? High infant mortality rates? There’s a reason for that.

    “From 1871 to 1880, life expectancy in Great Britain was 41 for males and 44 for females.”
    http://www.kartenmeister.com/preview/html/the_social_fabric.html How many people reading this blog right now would already be dead?

    “Apart from infant mortality, life expectancy may typically be less than forty years..”
    http://www.doceo.co.uk/background/riesman.htm No need for contraception, you’ll need all the kids you can keep alive:

    “In an agrarian society, children are producers from almost the time they can walk.”
    http://www.renewamerica.us/columns/kellmeyer/050309 Mmmm, quality time out in the fields with Ma and Pa.

    What maths are you guys doing though? By your reasoning, a 99% increase in efficiency will still leave us with an unsustainable energy bill. What about the food you consume then? It takes energy to produce that food. You consume energy when you cycle so therefore you and bicycling are also unsustainable?

    I don’t think anyones kids will be driving cars charged up by solar panels and windmills on the roof of their garages. We can’t even do that now. What I do think is that as many people as possible should be driving cars charged up by the filthy, polluting grid while new, better and cleaner cars, power stations, and sources of renewable energy are developed.

    The EV1 just proves I’m right. It was developed more than 10 years ago (if it was ready for release in 1996 you can bet it already had a couple of years of development under it’s wheels) and, if instead of being killed off for reasons of profit, it’s development had continued, you can’t even imagine the vehicles that would be available today. It’s comparable with the US space program, if it had continued developing at the rate it was when the moon landings happened, there would have been a manned mission to Mars by 1985.

    If people want to sink into a funk of melancholy and despair, abandoning hope for the future, unless everyone immediatley changes their lifestyle, however unlikely that outcome may be, then I’m not going to change their mind. I think your mind is made up Todd, and I don’t expect to change it. You’re not looking at the overall picture, you chose not to see possibilities, they are already dismissed in your line of argument and the more alternatives I come up with, the more counter arguments you prepare. That’s ok, I’m just saying it’s not all doom and gloom (well, maybe mostly) and neither does it have to be. There is a way forward (more than one), but a return to 1910 levels of transportation just isn’t it.

    Reply
  • Ash

    Jim wrote:

    Friends and I routinely ride our bicycles 80 miles for fun on any given Sunday. It takes us 5-6 hours to cover 80 miles including a lunch stop and various breaks, and, when we�re done, most of us could cheerfully tack on another 80 if we were in the mood.


    I suspect the key word here may be “routinely”, Jim. Apart from a credit card tucked into your lycra pants, was any of you guys carrying clothes for a weeks visit? Gifts?

    Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that you guys can ride 80 miles and hardly break a sweat (any uphill riding in there BTW?) I reckon it would probably mess me up pretty good if I tried it though!

    Reply
  • Ash

    Spence wrote:

    Great pic! Interesting to note that Cuba is the first country to go through what many of us are going to face in the future.


    Yes it is a good picture, thanks Allan, and probably what I’ll be driving unless I can somehow steal the EV1 from where the Smithsonian has it mothballed, sneak it out to Australia and get it on the road. ;-)

    I wonder though, if Cuba and it’s impoverished, sorry I mean, agrarian society is such a sweet deal why is it that even down here in Australia we sometimes see reports of Cubans, strapped to whatever they can find that floats, trying to get to Florida? Maybe the beaches in Florida are nicer.

    Reply
  • Todd

    Ash, you just wanted to see the comment odometer roll over to 100, didn’t you? I think your arguments are long on assertion, mainly about what you and many other people wish for rather than what I think they’ll be able to have. You can’t always get what you want but if you try sometime you might find you get what you need.

    I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt in assuming you haven’t spent significant time reading or thinking about peak oil, and I think most if not all of your critics here have. It’s a thesis whose validity and implications can’t be examined very effectively in a forum like this. I think the quality of continued discussion here will be improved if you spend a few hours at least with sites like:

    http://www.energybulletin.net/primer.php

    http://lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/

    I admit not to having read it, but it’s my understanding that Richard Heinberg’s Power Down is at or near the top of the list of good books on the subject: http://www.museletter.com/Powerdown.html

    Reply
  • Ash

    I know about peak oil, I’ve already said I believe it (it would be foolishness on a par with denying the existance of global warming to think otherwise). Where we differ is in what we (that is you and I) think will happen when the oil does run out. Personally I found http://lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/ (I’ve seen it already) to be mostly unreadable hyperbole.

    Yes the oil is running out, and it will dry up all together. This is a fact, set in stone, not an opinion. How soon, how long do we have (to keep polluting the planet before it kills us) and what are we going to do about it is the crux of the issue. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be concerned and take steps towards alternative, sustainable and moreover clean sources of energy right now, because there’s no question that we absolutely must (in fact it’s long overdue). But to entertain the notion that the world will descend into anarchy and/or revert to a peaceful argrarian society is fanciful nonsense.

    Worst case scenario: the country with the biggest/best weapons wins what remains of the oil. The rest of the planet (and the majority of the country that won the oil) starves down to a population level which is sustainable. Probably in the high tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of people survive worldwide.

    Best case scenario: after a few “minor” skirmishes like we’re seeing now, the country with the biggest/best weapons gets control and maintains it over the oil supply. The corporations running said country squeeze everyone dry and make trillions of dollars. Before the oil (and subsequently their power) runs out completely, they provide the alternative (whatever that may be) and transition the global economy over to it.

    The truth lies somewhere in between. I lean more towards something along the lines of the best case scenario simply because no matter how much you despise them, you don’t end up in a position of power in such corporations as influence many governments around the world today if you’re a moron. Moreover, if you expend all that effort getting yourself and your company in a postion of such power, you ain’t going to give it up easily.

    Unless they build a time machine and kill more dinosaurs in oil yielding situations, I’d say they’re going to come up with an alternative. It’s not going to be a car that runs on water and makes no pollution because they wont make any money from that – you can get water from the sky for free if you wait long enough. It won’t be a solar powered car either, because that damn sun is free too.

    Overall, I’d say global warming is a much bigger problem than peak oil. Global warming is happening right now, all around us. We as a species could easily starve to death as a result of global warming long before the oil runs out.

    Reply
  • Ash

    In my previous comment, where I wrote “global warming”, I should have written “rapid climate change as a result of global warming”.

    Reply
  • Jim

    “But to entertain the notion that the world will descend into anarchy and/or revert to a peaceful argrarian society is fanciful nonsense.”

    I do agree that there are smart people out there who are trying to find a way past peak oil, and no doubt, they will develop new technology that will help us live a more sustainable existence than we are currently (though I doubt true sustainability will happen voluntarily). That said, to think that we will be able to maintain the status quo is crazy. Three-ton single-occupant vehicles at 75 mph wouldn’t seem to be in the pipe dreams of those who are looking beyond the age of oil. For that matter, routine 100-mile trips in economy cars would seem to be a stretch. Sure, Ash has parents who live 80 miles from where he does, and obviously, he makes a priority out of visiting them regularly. But in the post-oil future, I wonder if it will be feasible for youngsters to move so far out of the nest, and still expect to come home to Mom and Dad regularly. Certainly, weekly visits by car from such a distance would seem to be out of the question with fuel rationing in effect, for instance. At the very least, we have to expect a scaling back of our energy use. We all have our opinions of exactly how much scaling we are talking about.

    So now that we’ve scaled back, those tomatoes that grow in California aren’t going to arrive so readily or affordably in my grocer’s produce section anymore. I’ll probably have to grow my own, or do without, because I am not wealthy enough to have my food shipped 2,000 miles. But, man, I like fresh tomatoes. So I’ll grow some. Maybe my neighbor will get jealous and grown some of his own. Maybe I’ll grow too many and trade them for some broccoli grown by another neighbor. Is this an agrarian society? I don’t know, but it sure resembles what has been happening forever where I grew up. Whether this is a peaceful existence or not depends on whether anybody tries to steal my tomatoes.

    Reply
  • Jim

    BTW, Ash, all of our 80 mile bike rides are downhill. And I don’t carry a credit card, just 50 cents to make a phone call to someone who can pick me up in the car when I get a flat tire 80 miles from home.
    In all seriousness, we don’t ride in the mountains, but we tend to seek out hilly places to ride in the river bluffs. And I routinely carry enough tools to fix any normal roadside bike problem and spare tubes to fix at least five flat tires (and patches to fix ten more). I also manage to usually have enough food for a couple days tucked into my lycra. Actually, lycra doesn’t suit me. I carry my credit card and everything else in a big saddlebag, or panniers for longer trips (for carrying clothes, gifts, etc). The folks with whom I ride are quite a mix, and we exhibit our share of big bellies and gray hair. Average people in many ways, certainly not top athletes. The truth is that almost any regular cyclist in reasonable physical condition on a mechanically sound, well-fitted bike can crank out such miles easily. Of course, I’d wager that if most drivers spent the equivalent of their driving hours pedaling a bicycle, most would quickly develop the ability to ride these distances.

    Reply
  • Ash

    I must admit I’ve been tempted to try the ride a time or two, just for fun. But it’s hilly here, real hilly. Plus I would be terrified of a car or truck mowing me down from behind. I get scared when they go past 30kph faster than me, I don’t want to experience +70kph at my elbow.

    I’ve got some motorcycle saddlebags that would adapt nicely to the bike too I reckon. Guess I’ll have to wait until there are no cars left to try it out ;-)

    Reply
  • Scott Atwood

    Single-occupant heavy vehicles moving at high speeds are probably never going to be sustainable in the long term no matter what sort of technologies are applied to the problem, because it simply takes too much energy to accelerate that much mass and to overcome air resistance.

    Avery Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute has proposed the Hypercar concept, which amongst other innovations, suggests using carbon fiber composite rather than steel, which makes for a very strong car that weighs only about half as much as a conventional car. However, even this concept doesn’t go far enough. That still means using 500kg of vehicle to move 50kg-100kg of passengers and cargo in a typical load.

    A lighter vehicle means energy is being more efficiently, since a lower percentage of the energy is going towards moving the vehicle and higher percentage is going towards moving the useful load of passengers and cargo. Lower speeds means much less energy is needed to overcome air resistance, since air resistance is proportional to the square of velocity.

    I think most people in this discussion would agree that bicycles are the most sustainable form of transportation, but it seems that many people won’t voluntarily choose to use a bicycle for transportation. But I suspect that they might find light electric vehicles to be a more palatable alternative to bicycles. A StokeMonkey equipped bicycle is an excellent example of a light electric vehicle, but this category also includes such things as standard electric bicycles, electric scooters, neighborhood electric vehicles (“golf carts”), enclosed pedal/electric hybrids like the Twike, and even one or two seat electric cars like the Corbin Sparrow. The vast majority of people’s day to day transportation needs could be met by light electric vehicles.

    Perhaps light electric vehicles should be promoted as realistic step towards sustainable transportation?

    Reply
  • Don Felix

    LEV’s are interesting … here are the problems that I found when I looked into them (and decided to keep my car but commute on my touring bike whenever possible):
    1) Neighborhood LEV’s can only do 25mph but are wide enough you have to be out in traffic. This limits where you can go in them too severely given today’s roads. (Electric assisted recument trikes have a bit of this issue too but it’s easier to see roads getting built with enough accommodation for them.) Of course the 25mph speed thing is to qualify for lower licensing/insurance costs, so if a category of slightly higher performance (35mph? 40mph?) LEV’s was created that could go on most local roads, it might help with their acceptance.
    2) ‘Commuter cars’ like the sparrow or the twike are great for the 80% of the time it’s just me, but wouldn’t work at all when I need to take more than 1 other person somewhere. They’re also kind of pricey (Sparrow) to damn expensive (Twike) given their limitations. Electric assisted trikes can actually do better on the passenger/cargo capability score especially if you link two together and put your bigger kid in the rear one (Though they lack somewhat in speed, which I could give up.)

    You can see I’m kind of fond of the assisted trike option. You could have 25+, excellent range with Li ion batteries, reasonable people and cargo capacity for most situations, and with a fairing and body sock, a good deal more comfort in the sleet and snow than on a bike (especially for a passenger.) Maybe combine with some RoRo (roll on roll off) trains for higher speed for long trips … could be a very good solution for low energy and materials use but pretty good capability. For now I’d just be happy enough if the roads were accommodating enough I’d feel safe taking my kids around on one – then my wife might let me get rid of the 2nd car :-)

    Roads are a big issue that affects acceptance of lower input forms of transport – Todd sees a future with roads devoted to low speed vehicles with maybe a few closed courses for the oddball rich guy who insists on keeping an automobile. Maybe in the far future with a ‘pessimistic’ energy scenario (but an ‘optimistic’ political reaction to it …) But as far as things people could realistically start working towards now…
    In some cases the only answer would be widening the shoulder of the road, or making a separate bike or multi use path (either way, sad that you have to pave more to accomadte a bike!) But in a lot of places, on local roads in a grid especially, maybe converting some of the currently two way roads to 1 way and using the reclaimed space for bikes, sidewalks, maybe parkstrips too might work. Lower automobile speeds on these roads might be imposed (but with some throughways available for drivers.)

    Reply
  • Erik Sandblom

    We simply don’t know whether new technology will safely, greenly, and sustainably deliver the energy needed for a car-centric lifestyle. It might. It might not.

    I think it’s safe to say, that technology doesn’t exist now.

    Ash, I feel bad about saying it, but it looks to me that the country with the biggest/best weapons is currently failing to secure the oil supply. The US is putting a lot of money, prestige, and human life into securing the Middle East, and the Middle East is not becoming more secure for it. The Washington Times (neocon if I understand correctly) this month ran an upbeat story, citing as good news a recent poll saying 48% of Americans thought the Iraq war will be won.

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/national/20060619-014029-1635r.htm

    So, the only thing in your resum�© which exists is the waste, and the brutality. The brutality is not leading to order. And the waste is not, and is not necessarily going to be, supported by abundance.

    Reply
  • fred

    Don, if you want to see some controversy in chat/group form, read some of the messages on the yahoo power-assist group.
    It seems as much political as technical, but as long as it refers to power-assisted bikes, the moderators seem to allow it.
    Your reference to Lithium Ion “sparked” my note, because there is great controversy and discussion about the explosive power
    of Li-Ion battery systems.

    fred

    Reply
  • patrick

    … “time that could be spent DOING far more productive work and doing far more effective things than pushing pedals up a hill.”

    (only partly in jest) WHAT is more productive and more effective than pushing pedals up a hill? I mean other than doing it on the flat?

    Todd, no wonder you never return my calls. :)

    Reply
  • [...] In A convenient lie, I asserted that a hypothetical 60-MPG car requires enough energy every hour to take a bicyclist 1250 miles. I gave some indication of my reasoning there. I also mentioned that “precision is not required when the comparisons span orders of magnitude.” [...]

    Reply
  • Jeff

    Thanks for the outstanding post, Todd. The paragraph that begins “We must learn” covers many of the same ideas I’ve been thinking about for years.

    Reply
  • [...] I think Todd at Cleverchimp really hits the nail on the head with, “A Convenient Lie,” exposing a lot of the hypocricies rampant in the environmental movement. I’ve never understood what makes people think they’re doing something “good for the environment” by using a vehicle that can go 60 miles by burning enough energy to get me from San Francisco to Denver.   [...]

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  • [...] The law changed just in time for Ottawa’s Project Porchlight to distribute 200,000 compact fluorescent lightbulbs throughout the city, free. By electrically-assisted, Xtracycle-equipped Electra Townies, of course, because we all know that the best way to screw up an energy-saving campaign is to get cars involved, no matter how powered: [...]

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  • Mothball

    "The film does a very good job at laying out just how incontrovertibly real and present the danger is, and how criminally insane or just plain evil are the ExxonMobil-funded naysayers and their dimwit believers"

    I am a paleoclimatologist and I'd just like to point out that this you know noting about the controling factors of climate change and that the VAST majority of the sceintific community dissagree with antropogenic global warming theroys.... please copp yourselves on and read up on the issue instead of listening the the media. I would like also to point out that Al Gore IS NOT a scientist why are you even listening to him!!?

    Reply
  • Ken Heronheart

    Why am I not impressed by a paleoclimatoligist who can't spell "anthropocentric" or "theories"?

    Reply
  • Mauricio Babilonia

    A paleoclimatoligist who doesn't know how to construct a sentence or cite examples to back up his or her claims. Guess we'll just have to visit his or her website. Oh, wait...

    I'm sure we would understand if only we could just "copp [our]selves on."

    Reply
  • Harry

    I do agree on bikes for short term travel. However, do we need to consign ourselves to local living?
    I go to college in Maine, and my family lives in Massachusetts. How would I get back and forth? Bike? Horse and buggy?

    In order to keep the infrastructure alive and still go green, don't you think that train and rail usage is a good compromise? With Maglev trains operating using electricity, we could generate it greenly (alternative energy, blah blah). Bikes, walking would be good use for local living.

    Maybe even technology like videochats will reduce the amount of executives flying first class to some random out of the way place for meetings. Instead, flip up the webcam and dial in. Lots of energy saved.
    Technology is the way to a cleaner planet. Bikes are a crucial part of it, but they aren't the only answer. And like it or not, humanity never underwent vasat, marvelous change without a dictator and enormous loss of life and freedom (Stalinist Russia modernizing, the building of the Great wall in the Qin and Ming dynasties, etc.) Can you think of a time where a popular movement overthrew all of accepted society?
    Maybe the American revolution, but that didn't change the way people lived. It just changed the government.

    I'm doing my own part. I work at a firm in Shanghai that invests in businesses that do environmental protection and green energy. We are working on Coal Gasification, electronic assist bikes, new ways of water treatment and designing wind turbines. I thought to myself "Think globally, act locally" is working on too small a scale. So I decided to go into business and help fund the companies that need it and will make green living profitable.

    On a personal note after learning some geology and taking a course, the earth goes through warming and cooling cycles. Climate is extremely hard to model, even more to predict. I don't know enough about it to make an exact judgement, but I'm doubting how much effect humans can have on the earth.
    Rather, the effect that the earth has on humans through Peak Oil is going to be devastating. But I'm not waiting until the earth finds out the hard way that it should be less energy intensive. We need to take action before that.

    Oh yeah and I walk to work.

    Reply
  • Erik Sandblom

    Harry, a favourite factoid of mine is that the TGV train from Paris to Marseille uses less energy than driving or flying. The trip takes three hours by train even though it's over 700km. There is no mention of occupancy, but the usual figures are about 70% in the train and plane, and about 1,5 people in the car.
    http://recherche.sncf.fr/uk/dossiers/energetique/art11.html

    Reply
  • Bruce Wilson

    Except that sometimes a car is necessary.

    As I pointed out in another thread,
    when you have to take your 83-year old father to a VA hospital 50
    miles away, that's hard to do on a bike.

    When that same father is physically incapable of riding a bike,
    taking away cars would leave him housebound.

    If you are having a heart attack, say, would you refuse to be put
    in the ambulance because it was a car?

    Even with things like a Bakfiest or an Extracycle, some loads are just too
    heavy or bulky to transport by bicycle, particularly in a mountainous
    area.

    Some people live in remote areas where the distances to any facilities
    is too far for biking. It is a lot easier to be carfree in
    a small, flat, densely populated country like Denmark or the Netherlands
    than it is in a large, mountainous, lightly populated one like the US.

    Yes, we can reduce our need for cars by improving mass transit
    and encouraging the use of human powered transportation, but unless
    we want to go back to the horse-and-buggy era (which would have its own
    problems; I have read that before the use of automobiles became widespread
    the disposal of manure in urban areas was a major public health challenge.)

    Hence, more fuel-efficient cars (up to and including plug-in hybrids) and the use
    of alternative fuels (biodiesel, ethanol) are certainly a part of the
    solution.

    (Ethanol isn't necessarily from corn. ANY vegetable matter can be used; they should find a way to use kudzu. Georgia would be the new Saudi Arabia!)

    Reply
  • Ken Heronheart

    If you are having a heart attack, say, would you refuse to be put
    in the ambulance because it was a car?


    I don't know of anybody who's talking about doing away with powered ambulances. What I personally advocate is putting severe weight and speed limits on *private* vehicles that use *public* roads. Severe enough limits that most people will choose to use bicycles and to move closer to their jobs and for retail businesses to move closer to their customers. Yes, this is "social engineering", so is the decades long subsidies that automobiles have received.

    Ambulances and helicopter rescue would still be available as would special licenses for people like farmers who have a real need to routinely move large loads.

    Reply
  • [...] incoming link from peak-oil writer and subsistence farmer Sharon Astyk, to whom we have linked once before. Item #17 in Sharon’s Economic Self-Stimulus: Ideas for One Last Financial Orgasm amounts to [...]

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  • Laser Body Waxing...

    Information on Body Waxing...

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  • the insurance companies don't want you to know...

    Information on the life insurance industry...

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  • [...] own economic well-being. Others are awakening to an ethical awareness far removed from the usual environmental, quality-of-life, and political considerations of not driving: lots of people actually need to [...]

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