Destruction by Personal Automobiles

For the past several days I’ve been writing about Quakers and climate change. And for the past two days about something some of us in Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) have referred to as “ethical transportation”, which is about ways we have tried, and continue to try to stop using fossil fuels for transportation.

Those who know me have heard how I was led to give up having a personal automobile nearly fifty year ago. My latest attempt to describe why can be found here: https://jeffkisling.com/2019/03/09/the-photo-that-changed-my-life/

Long’s Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Briefly, my family took many camping vacations, most often to Rocky Mountain National Park. I was immediately enthralled by majestic peaks, lakes and forests. As I began to learn about photography, this was my favorite place to take photos.

In 1971 I moved to Indianapolis and was horrified by clouds of smog from car exhaust. [This was before catalytic converters became widely used in 1975]. I had a nightmarish vision of my beloved mountains hidden behind clouds of smog. Although I owned a couple of cars, I reached a point when I could no longer do so, because of this vision of mountains obscured by smog.

From that moment on I saw cars as evil because of the damage they were doing. I decided I could not be part of that, and have lived without a car since then. I began my lifelong study of environmental science and work to try to bring awareness about the catastrophic damage being done to Mother Earth. Although I give thanks that catalytic converters took care of the visible smog, I knew of the continued damage and consequences of the tons of carbon dioxide and other gases coming from the exhaust of ever increasing numbers of cars.

The idea of “ethical transportation” is primarily about finding ways to stop using personal automobiles for transportation.

Yesterday I wrote about the idea of using a system like Uber for transportation, suggesting using electronic vehicles charged by renewable energy. This began some discussion on Facebook. An initial objection was about Uber undercutting unionized taxi drivers. I tried to clarify that by saying we need to replace the taxis with the Uber-like system.

Further comments make me realize people didn’t understand that I meant to get rid of all personal automobiles, and for everyone to use the Uber-like system. It was apparent I still wasn’t getting my point across, at which point I wrote, “Personal automobiles are a luxury, and what got us into our present course toward extinction.” That was challenged, too. But that helped me realize I had not enumerated all the ways I felt personal automobiles had damaged, and continue to damage our societies and Mother Earth.

Personal automobiles are a luxury, and what got us into our present course toward extinction. When I talk with people about not owning personal automobiles, I ask them to remember that generations of our fore-bearers lived without having a car.

Historically Quakers have spoken out against war and knew the causes of war came from the desire to take land or resources from other countries or peoples.

“I told [the Commonwealth Commissioners] I lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars… I told them I was come into the covenant of peace which was before wars and strife were.” George Fox

“Oh! that we who declare against wars, and acknowledge our trust to be in God only, may walk in the light, and therein examine our foundation and motives in holding great estates! May we look upon our treasures, and the furniture of our houses, and the garments in which we array ourselves, and try whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions, or not. Holding treasures in the self-pleasing spirit is a strong plant, the fruit whereof ripens fast.” John Woolman

Since wars have been fought to capture resources such as oil, I don’t see how we can say our lives take away the occasion of all wars when we use personal automobiles. I know some will say we all use fossil fuels, which is true, but if there wasn’t such a gigantic need for so much fuel for personal automobiles, we could meet those needs domestically. There is a big difference between using fossil fuels responsibly, and the wanton use of fossil fuels without regard to the consequences. Homeostasis is the concept of balance, in this case of keeping the use of fossil fuels to be less than the rate at which they can be replenished. We could hardly be more out of balance in that regard today.

I think John Woolman would say there are the seeds of war in our ‘great estates’, i.e. large homes, appliances, and personal automobiles.

While serving transportation demands of people, the combustion of fossil fuels for energy is also a destructive burden on the environment in which all living beings dwell, and the dependence on fossil fuels for our perceived daily needs is a barrier to world peace for which we all aspire.

“Future Light-Duty Vehicles: Predicting their Fuel Consumption and Assessing their Potential” by Felix F. AuYeung, MIT 2000

Today war is waged on a global scale against Mother Earth herself.  Only death can result when the resources our environment depends upon (land, water, air, energy) are excessively consumed, and polluted in the process.

Annually there are more than 37,000 deaths and over 3 million injuries from traffic accidents in the United States. While there are deaths and injuries from mass transit, they are miniscule compared to personal auto accidents. (Less than 300 fatalities in 2017). https://www.bts.gov/content/transportation-fatalities-mode

But I see many more types of damage that have been done by the mass production and use of personal cars. Henry Ford’s moving assembly line had several implications. The rate of production of cars increased dramatically, and the cost was reduced. This meant more and more people, and people with less wealth, could purchase their own car.

Thus began the movement toward most middle and upper income families having cars. But people with less income could still not afford their own. An obvious symbol of class and economic status developed, based upon who had their own car. There were also class divisions among those who did own cars. The wealthy could afford much more stylish and luxurious cars.

As more people began to have cars, a more mobile and more urban society developed. As the need for increased auto production expanded, more factories to assemble cars were needed. These factories were built in urban areas, which helped fuel the movement of people away from rural areas to the cities where the factory jobs were.

That movement had it’s own implications. Families and communities began to break up as more people left rural areas and small towns. People who had benefited from family and community support, left that behind. And whereas families who lived in rural areas and small towns were basically self-sufficient, those who moved to urban areas were more dependent on others for food, health care, entertainment, etc. That required a currency system. Thus, those who lost their job slipped into poverty. That would not have occurred in rural areas where people grew their own food.

And urban housing made it more difficult to know one’s neighbors, to have social support systems.

Growing cities and urban areas required more complex systems, many requiring motor transportation, to bring food and goods to the people living there. And more complex infrastructure to bring water, electricity, and natural gas to houses, remove waste, provide roads, traffic signals and parking.

Another classification emerged based upon income. Those who could afford to began to move from the concentrated urban centers to outlying communities. These neighborhoods were poorly designed, with homes, stores, banks, schools etc all built apart from each other. These areas were also not served by public transportation, so each family was dependent upon having at least one car.

Urban jobs, especially those involving assembly lines, tended to be quite unfulfilling.

Another undesired effect of urbanization and sprawl was the long time most commuters spent in their car, often leading to frustration. And being sealed off from nature and other people.

Especially as I have been learning from my Native American friends, this modern urbanization has had significant spiritual costs. Urban people have lost their connection to Mother Earth and supportive communities. And more recently corporate profits have become the driving force for far-reaching decisions, especially related to resource use and exploitation. It became acceptable to make decisions that were obviously detrimental to employees, and to the environment. Value systems were completely upended. For decades corporations knew what the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions would be, but kept that hidden so they could continue to make huge profits.

The rapid depletion of easily accessible, high quality crude oil forced the fossil fuel industry to look for other energy sources, such as tar sands product and natural gas. Widespread underground detonations to access natural gas via fraking occurred, and continued despite the pollution of water sources, and causing earthquakes.

Hundreds of square miles of pristine boreal forests were demolished to reach the low grade, tar sands. Billions of gallons of water were wasted, and poisoned in the process of tar sands mining. The ponds of waste water are so toxic birds die if they land there. The toxic chemicals leach into the groundwater, poisoning drinking water with carcinogens.

These are some of the reasons I say personal automobiles have led us to this point, when we are experiencing increasingly frequent and powerful environmental disasters. And appear to be on the path to extinction.

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