Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Reader's Digest: They Just Don't Get it

OK, so I guess I have to start with a guilty admission: I enjoy reading RD . However, the latest issue really annoyed me (and no, not due to the endless advertisements of pharmaceuticals).

First, they talk about how Canada and California are "aggressively" courting higher fuel economy standards, talking about raising "fleet" economy by oh, 50% sometime before you and I die.

Then, a few pages later, they write about a fellow who gets a whopping 150 mpg by practicing extreme conservation measures with is Toyota Prius.

Ummm....I've got news for you guys. VMT (Motor "vehicle miles travelled") has increased five fold over the last fifty years. In order to get back to mid-twentieth century consumption levels, we would have to increase "fleet" economy by more than five times, since there are many more vehicles on the road today.

Reality check number one: Americans are lazy. Go check out the Two Mile Challenge. 60% of our trips are two miles in distance or less. So, if we were willing to stop using the car for those stupid short trips, that would effectively reduce our VMT to 40% of its current levels.

Reality check number two: trading agricultural food acreage in favor of fuel is stupid. Not only is it a false economy, we've just changed our carbon footprint, not reduced it. Burning one kind of fuel instead of another still means that our grandchildren will starve due to lack of viable farmland.

I'm not a Luddite, but it seems like we've lost track of the importance of transportation for essential goods and services, and instead seem to think that it's our right to shove three thousand pounds by the Starbucks drive-through window. Less than 5% of our VMT is associated with essential goods and services and mass transit.

In World War 2, my grandparents survived on three gallons a week of gasoline. Have we really sunk so far that we can't acknowledge that we are at war again, with our environment, our ecology, and our freedom at stake? Remember, it's oil that made Bin Laden rich. Every time you fill your gas tank, you're paying Al Q'aida to kill US troops, making your home a little dirtier, and making the planet a little less hospitable for life.

So, how about it Clinton and Obama? Specify a ramping tax on registered and insured noncommercial non-farm vehicles. Start at $1000 per year in 2009, ramping up to $10,000 in 2019. Make it gradual so that the yuppies who live many leagues from their jobs will have time to adjust to the fact that their commute just got four times longer. Make it extreme so that it's clear to people that driving a car is a stupid thing to do. Specify exclusions for the handicapped and make sure that essential goods and services can be maintained, but set it up so that people who drive will eventually be regarded as selfish, and boorish (if not simply pitiable because they are handicapped).

Set a nationwide speed limit of 35 mph, like they had during the gas rationing days. Make it 15 mph for noncommercial non-service vehicles. The only way someone is going to stop driving their car is if they see a genuine benefit to using another mode to accomplish their errands. Make it slow enough and expensive enough, and they will opt for change.

What you choose to do does have an effect on those around you. Think about it.

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