As recoverable U.S. shale oil reserves expand our economy and bolster our efforts towards energy independence, most Americans are unprepared to accept a future that fails to afford many blue-collar, retail, and food-service industry workers the luxury of owning, operating and maintaining conventional four-wheeled modes of transportation. As baby boomers wind down peak-spending years, young immigrant workers are prevented from joining our rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul social security system, and our nation’s birthrate is at an all-time low.1 These macro-economic factors are stagnanting wages, increasing our costs of living and driving more people to the government dole than ever before. In fact, latest numbers reveal only 56.7%2 of the population pays income tax. Soon there will be more people living off our government than contributing. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude our nation’s economic future isn’t looking exactly rosy.
To counter these powerful trends, C-level folks in boardrooms from New York City to Los Angeles daily debate strategies to achieve reductions in capital requirements and operating costs in anticipation of this national, if not global, easing of commerce. One would like to believe, reducing their carbon footprints would also be on the agenda, but based upon efforts to date, I’m doubtful. Color me skeptic. But what may seem as, diverging goals, are not necessarily so. With our very existence at stake, Americans must reshuffle priorities for drastic reductions in carbon emissions or our ailing planet will force-feed us in a horrifying, mad rushed sort of way. Think French and Bolshevik Revolutions, except environmental catastrophic events will be global and in greater degrees than modern civilization has ever imagined. Apocalyptic. Think I’m a drama queen? Get real. It’s happening all around us. Our ground and surface waters, soils, oceans, skies, our Earth’s natural systems teeter on the verge of collapse under our calloused, heavy-handedness. Does anyone think we can exist independently of our planet’s ecosystems?
The way I see it, each of us have two options. We can be part of the problem or part of the solution. If you want to ignore me, pretend I’m just another left-wing, radical tree-hugger peeing on your parade, go ahead. But don’t think for a minute your children and grandchildren won’t have this sickening gut feeling when they realize their predicament and know you never even lifted a finger in protest. Much to my few conservative friends’ chagrin, I’ve always had an opposition to authority, never much caring for society and government’s top-down approach at control. But Biblical-like chaos and destruction on a global scale is definitely not my cup of tea, either. I’d much rather humanity start paying forward for solutions to the damages we’ve wrought upon our planet while there is still time to salvage the civilization built over the last five-thousand years than see us huddling in fear for our lives, struggling to merely survive. And the truly remarkable thing about this whole situation, is that most scientists believe there is still time. We’re not too late–yet. What’s more, the solutions are as simple as each of us making small willful efforts to reduce our carbon footprints while demanding key determiners of our global economies forge ecologically sustainable business models. I’m not pretending to know how to accomplish the latter; perhaps you do. But whether it will be accomplished by a global firestorm of civil unrest ignited by some unforeseen, unlikely spark or via a centrally planned process, this survival-driven engine of change will transform Americans’ lifestyles. The rest of the world has already embarked upon this transportation shift and it’s coming here, soon, whether we like it or not.
So now is the time to adopt clean-fuel modes of mobility. Tomorrow may be too late, not for you and me, but quite possibly for our children, and certainly, our grandchildren. Their future prospects will be precarious at best, more likely, bleak. Currently, the American economy remains afloat a bubble of false prosperity created by more than a trillion dollars of the Fed’s hot air huffed and puffed into the pockets of friends and family-like cohorts, buying up America with free money, no interest-charges included. The 1%ers are riding high, living large with gas-guzzling SUVs and luxury sedans, private jets, mansions and money to burn. But no matter how intoxicating this euphoria may become, highs don’t exist forever and this self-induced fantasy will inevitably rain down upon us all buckets of gloom and despair. And as the rest of the world checks us while we crash and burn, the challenge of securing the daily necessities for survival: affordable housing, food and clothing, will quietly usher the common man to a modest seat at the Chinese-made, throw-away table of basic existence. At that point, we will have no options. Our government’s means to invest in our future will have evaporated into double-digit inflation and millions of Americans will suffer and perish from hunger, disease and exposure to the elements. But if we act NOW and start making the tough decisions, there is hope.
IF each of us do our part, while demanding our nation’s leaders do theirs, taking individual steps, which when made together, united in war against mankind’s most formidable enemy, ourselves, we will make a difference. You may ask, “What can I do?” Let me tell you. Owning a car is a great expense. This is not unknown by those surviving in the bottom half of our nation’s economy, making typical $4253 monthly car payments, $1504 insurance, $175 fuel bill, plus any maintenance expenses. That’s minimally, $750 each month going for basic transportation. With the rising costs of food and housing, this traditional 25% household budget formula for getting from one location to another is unsustainable for the average American at or below the $44K median income.
Aside from earning a raise in salary, which we most often have little control over, there are several possible solutions to the problem.
- Public transportation
- Change employers, if not careers
- Start a home-based business
These are all possible solutions and each of them must be explored, but many people are locked into jobs and situations without the likelihood of any of them. It has become increasingly clear the practical choice for many median-income Americans will be to shift to less-expensive, smaller, lighter-weight transports. And from a practical standpoint, I ask, why move 1.5+ tons of metallic and synthetic encapsulation around the planet with us everywhere we go? Of course, a hundred years ago, things were different. And even today, legitimate needs for such luxuries arise from time to time, but there are far more cost-effective solutions than traditional vehicle ownership, and for everyday life, moving about with 250 lbs. is much more planet-friendly and a wiser use of ever-decreasing disposable household dollars.
Arguably, with recent technological advances, internal combustion engine (ICE) emissions are not as harmful to the environment as those manufactured as little as a decade ago. Studies reveal the carbon footprint from older coal-burning electrical generation plants, transmission losses and current battery lifecycle costs are not so much lower than second-generation, ethanol-burning EcoBoost engines. To make matters worse, traditional ICE cars and trucks’ electric counterparts are essentially unaffordable and/or impractical for much of the population, anyway. Until scales of volume, driven by innovative manufacturing technologies, lower the cost of entry and expand ranges, sales of mass-market, zero-emission vehicles will be a non-factor for years, if not decades, to come. Meanwhile, the planet’s oceans are rapidly becoming acidified as methane bubbles up from their depths; polar ice caps are melting as methane explodes from beneath the permafrost, and an increasing number of plants and animals are endangered and becoming extinct. Ultimately, there will be a tipping point.
So what to do? Quite simply, the human race is on. But what if the starter gun’s crack over a hushed audience, breaths held deeply, awaiting, hoping for the sudden surge forward and nothing happens? Maybe a few under-financed entrepreneurs step boldly forward, crossing the starting line with visions of great wealth and fame as well-heeled sophisticates loiter, shoving a few token contenders into the mix, spurred on by troubling government mandates. Shackled by fear, a lack of faith in an unseen finish line with unknown rewards for the victors, the masters of our future send forth their proxies ill-prepared, not knowing whether to run or sit, or even in which direction to go. Mission accomplished, smug with their half-hearted efforts, the beautiful people appease the crowds with their smiles and nods before returning to more important matters, drinks and polite conversation.
In this true tale of haves and have-nots, Big Business has so much invested in the status quo, no C-level executive in his right mind would risk his company and personal fortune to shift America’s social paradigm away from his bottom line. In America, our cars and trucks define us. With BMW, Mercedes Benz, Infiniti, Lexus, Cadillac, Audi, Porsche and a long list of other companies offering products to surround our egos in plush personal spaces as we sport about, where is the consumer’s motivation to go green? It’s certainly not the thought of being humanly vulnerable on a 250 lb. electric motor scooter running alongside two-ton projectiles, vying for the right to exist, much less astride a 50 lb. electric pedal-assist bicycle with the risk of under-arm embarrassment. I suspect with even the trillion-dollar Quantitative Easing, there’s not enough cash in this country for Madison Avenue’s best to coax the 1%ers out of their sexy, sleek mobile toys and onto the seats of electric scooters, motorcycles and bicycles.
So again, I ask you, where does this leave us? You and me. That’s who I’m talking to. And though I know I’m really talking to myself because you’re probably not listening, it makes me feel better to pretend. Anyway, something has to start the sustainable transportation movement. Ironically, I suspect it will be the quiet sounds of pragmatism leading us to a more sustainable and publicly accepted personal transport paradigm. In 1910, there were over 1,800 different automobile manufacturers in this country. Today, including the Big Three, there are approximately 30. The previous century of consolidation has served our nation well in reducing transportation costs and improving quality, but with the advent of widely available, inexpensive electrical motors and improving battery densities, the transportation landscape is once again shifting and I’m expecting a cottage-industry of electric transportation manufacturers to enjoy a renaissance of the likes we drastically need.
But it will never happen without us—you and me, again. It’s up to us. So please don’t resist the trend. Go with it. Own it. As Europeans, Asians and South Americans embrace this inevitable shift away from traditional modes of transportation, Americans must couragously step into our future alongside them with confidence. We can’t wait for the media or their annointed role-models to make it cool. That won’t happen unless they’ve already done an end-around and are waiting for us with open arms. And with their money invested behind us, there’s not much chance of them leading. It is the common folks, driven by practicality and personal responsibility, who will have satisfying everyday experiences with these new forms of transportation at work or play that will pave the way, set the trends and steer humanity’s course to survival.
Finally, as a disclaimer to my critics, who most undoubtedly will be most vocal, pointing out the flaws and foibles of my short essay, I concede this topic to be complex and multi-faceted. There are far too many ways to conserve energy, reduce pollution and save our planet for me to attempt to address them in this narrowly defined conversation on transportation, but at least, I have taken the time and made the effort to enter the conversation. And one more thing, I assure those choosing to bravely journey into the unknown atop a quiet, purring electric motor-driven transport while leaving your 2-ton status symbol in the drive, you will smile all the while, connecting with the world around you in a way you’ve never done before. Earth-friendly transportation doesn’t hurt. Girl Scouts Honor. Quite frankly, conserving our planet’s limited resources for future generations is both an enlightening and personally empowering experience. You might even have a conversation with a neighbor. Heaven forbid.
- Records date back to 1910. http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005067.html