Sunday, April 30, 2006
you can't have your cake and eat it.
what's all the fuss about?
dramatic change is painful. each of us likes to maintain his or her status quo. we human beings like things being the same, whatever the same means to each individual. at the same time, we cannot fail to also recognise a need for change. some become vocal, publicly adopting a stance that positions them in one camp or the other, of the issue at hand. take the price of gas, for instance.
since the cable-news media seems presently unable to air a broadcast without adding its own drama to the current price of gas, the viewing public cannot escape the inevitable discussion on the situation, who's at fault, how did we get to this sorry state of affairs, and just what do we do.
one factor seems strangely missing from all the coverage. nobody's talking about weight. this is as much about perception as it is relevence. ask an average male on how to make a car go faster, more likely than not, he will respond by saying to add more power. ask anyone, who has ever been on a race track, in any type of vehicle, and universally, they will all tell you the same thing: first, make it lighter. then, add more power.
making a vehicle faster by making it lighter automatically makes that vehicle more fuel efficient. whilst technology has transformed today's automobile, it has done nothing to make it a winner at 'weight-watchers'. today's vehicles, instead of being more fuel-efficient are actually more fuel-inefficient, thanks to our cravings for power, automation, comfort, and safety. when was the last time you had to wind a window up or down by hand?
until recently, this hasn't really been a problem for the current generation of new car buyers, as gasoline prices have not generally dominated the news. a few blips here and there, but for the most part, consumers enabled by a desire by auto manufacturers to get you into a new vehicle, no matter what, have been able to pretty much have their cake and eat it. historically low interest rates, easy credit, and cheap gasoline, together with bigger, more appointed, luxurious, more capable vehicles, culminating in the rise of the SUV, has produced a popular mindset that is not only unrealistic, but also unsustainable.
auto manufacturers have, in recent years, displayed a pathological disregard to fuel efficient vehicles - that was, of course, until toyota started to change the playing field with their new upstart 'prius', that suddenly didn't look quite so stupid anymore as gas prices started to climb, forcing the 'big three' to rush to the autocad with their own hybrid offerings (some ten years after toyota debuted the then concept prius). instead, they offered the american public, not lighter, faster cars, but tanks.
to the rest of the world, we could only shake our heads, knowing what was to come. inevitability might be a strong term, but what else can you say about a system destined to change. the very unhealthy powerfull, politically motivated, profitable alliance between the government, auto manufacturers and the big oil companies, has resulted in an absurdly distorted set of conditions, the effects of which are now being witnessed and realised. that big, heavy, guzzling SUV, sitting on a surbubian drive near you suddenly doesn't look so inviting anymore, even with $cashback...
as painful as rising gasoline prices are, they are the obvious barometer and catalyst for change. for the government to subsidise the oil industry, claiming investment is needed to stimulate production is nonsense. oil companies will invest in their future with or without subsidies. any industry wishing to survive, has to do the same. look where all these subsidies have gotten us, here in america. oil companies recording record profits, are not investing in alternative sources of energy at anywhere near the level common sense might suggest they should. they simply have no incentive to do so until the market changes, or legislation is passed, forcing a change in behaviour. if you're a making an absolute king's ransom, and no one is making you, why change? that, would be crazy.
people don't want to give up their lifestyles. we are resistant to change, even if we know it's for the better good. this isn't all about cars, it applies to money, wealth, diet, exercise, comfort and status. it's not as if we don't know that there are better solutions available, we just don't want to hear them, that is, until it becomes personal. how come there are so many overweight people in this country? how come there are so many gas guzzlers on the roads? did the united states not know of any alternatives? when is less ever more?
the environmentalists, sadly, blah, blah, save the planet, blah, continue to miss the point. they almost universally fail to recognise that people want choice and options in their lives when it comes to transportation. it's an inevitable consequence of a capital economy. where they do score an unquestionable home-run, is in attacking the lack of investment in public transportation. america hasn't had a lord beeching, but they just might as well have.
getting on bicycles, or climbing aboard solar-powered egg cartons just isn't realistic or practical. society has long been shoe-horned into the present-day car culture. any sensible discussion must include reality, not some extreme ideology that automatically sits diametrically opposed to the current factors that contribute to the problem at hand. the car is here to stay, like it or not. that it's present in-car-nation (pun intended), will change, is without doubt. alternative sources of energy are not only desirable, they are inevitable and necessary.
america has grown fat on priviledge. it's time to pay. sadly, the ones who are at the bottom of the food chain will be the first to pay. it's always been that way, and always will be.
the best thing that can possibly happen to gas prices is that they will continue to climb. that this is controversial and will bring real hardship to many is undoubted. that, sadly, is also a consequence of a capital economy that does little to ease the burden of poverty of those the wrong side of the financial fence., and has turned it's back on public transportation and invested instead in the car culture.
rising gas prices will do what no other factor can. it will force change. only when enough of the middle class has suffered the same plight as those without wealth might this country vote for a real vision of the future instead of voting for more tax cuts. just have a look where that's left them.
time to vote for a real robin hood (er, he can lose the green tights..)