While the scientific evidence makes it more and more clear that automobile travel and other human industrial activity is causing global climate change that is likely to extinguish millions of species from the earth, possibly including human beings, nothing is being done. Business as usual proceeds, and everyone gets in their car every day to drive more as if nothing was up. At what point do we realize that every car on the street is waging war against life and must be stopped, by any means necessary? At what point do we realize that our struggle for \”revolution\” can\’t just be idle talk-a dream for some distant time in the future after we\’re probably old or dead-but needs to be a very immediate reality if human life is to continue? Nothing short of revolution is going to save our asses at this point: the entire global economic system is designed to use as many resources as quickly as possible. Capitalism >requires constant \”growth\” which basically means more cars, more fossil fuel use, more pollution, more green house gases, more global warming. This is not a joke.
A draft report from the United Nations\’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) leaked to the press October 25 concludes \”there is now stronger evidence for a human influence\” in global climate change. The IPCC, made of 2,500 of the world\’s top climate scientists, predicts that the average global temperature could be as much as 11 degrees F higher by 2100 than it was in 1990. Temperature at any particular place could rise more than that. An increase in the average global temperature adds energy to the world weather system, making weather far more chaotic, with more severe storms, flooding, droughts, cold snaps and heat waves. The change would be larger than the world has seen since the end of the last Ice Age, and plants, animals, human societies and agriculture won\’t be able to adapt fast enough to avert widespread, diverse disaster.
The IPCC report blames the global climate change on human emissions of green house gases, mostly carbon dioxide, which is produced by burning fossil fuels. Driving is the largest contributor to green house gas emissions.
One example of the drastic and devastating ecological changes that are being caused by global warming, car driving and ultimately global capitalism is provided by a recent report by scientists at the 9th International Coral Reef Symposium. They found that more than a quarter of the world\’s coral reefs have already been destroyed, mostly by global warming, and that unless \”urgent measures\” are taken to prevent global warming, \”most\” of the world\’s remaining reefs will be dead in only 20 years. The reefs play a crucial role as an anchor for most marine ecosystems, and their loss could trigger the extinction of thousands of species of fish and other marine life. Ultimately, if the oceans die, we\’re next.
The above studies aren\’t done by wingnuts in People\’s Park or by the Slingshot Collective. These are mainstream, world class scientists who tend to be pretty wary of making dire predictions until they have a lot of data. These scientific reports seem to exist on another planet, given most human\’s behavior. For example, a couple of months ago, Europe erupted in protest against high gas prices. These protests were eventually copied (in a much weaker, Americanized version) here in US suburbs. The beef: government taxes on fuel make driving \”too expensive.\”
Europe has fuel prices many times that of the US, and gasoline costs over $6 a gallon around Europe. In England, with the highest taxes in the continent, taxes account for 76 percent of the cost of gasoline. These taxes are intended to reduce driving, and it is no coincidence that Europe is light years ahead of the US in non-auto methods of transportation. Most European countries have excellent public transit; everyone is accustomed to taking trains; broad segments of the population bike frequently (not just young, \”healthy\” people); walking is feasible, fashionable and fun; European cities are dense and vibrant; European urban planning is oriented towards options for non-private auto transport. Not that they don\’t have a long way to go-we need to learn to drive a lot less not just a little bit less. But its a start.
Amazingly enough, despite endless talk about how expensive gasoline is now that is costs over $2.00 a gallon, it turns out that in inflation adjusted dollars, gas in the US is still cheaper now than it was in the early 1980s. Until this year, in inflation adjusted dollars, the price of gas had been consistently falling for 20 years. When all of the real costs of driving are factored into the price of gas-environmental damage, government subsidies, the cost of military action to protect oil supplies, -the \”real\” price of gas is as high as $15 a gallon!
Is the reformist tactic of increasing gas taxes to discourage driving the way to avoid global warming? No, but when even these modest measures are the targets of popular protest, one worries \”are we doomed?\” Americans, constituting about 4 percent of the world\’s population, consume about one fourth of all energy in the world. And apparently, that isn\’t enough. Gas guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks are the most popular vehicles sold (the car companies can\’t keep up with demand) and it seems like every 20 something hipster-people who should know better-has to have one.
I\’m thinking about all of this as I stand by a cross-walk, trying to get across a busy street in Berkeley. A river of cars passes by. About half of them are SUVs, pumping carbon into the air. Whether they\’re SUVs or compact cars, they\’re mostly occupied by a single person. Most of these people don\’t have to be driving-far from it. Two thirds of car trips are under 5 miles-easy biking distance. A third are under one mile-walking distance. And most of the one third of trips over 5 miles are pretty silly indeed-long commutes from sterile suburbs to meaningless jobs. Time to move closer to work, ditch the job, or both.
What to do? I don\’t precisely have the answer. Emotionally, I want to start a war on cars and driving with escalating tactics. Start by putting bumper stickers on everyone\’s car in the city in the middle of the night reading \”driving this car kills the planet.\” Next a guerrilla front would issue threats to stay off the road or else. People who still drove would start to experience petty inconvenience and vandalism: air released from their tires, scraped paint, broken windows and lights, barricades in the streets, parking opportunities sabotaged, gas stations disabled. Finally, there\’d be all out insurrection: cars seized, overturned and burned in the streets with running street battles erupting everywhere.
The above fantasy isn\’t the answer because its all based on force rather than free will and consent, and because it\’s all directed at the individual, who doesn\’t necessarily want to drive or choose to drive at all.
Over the last 100 years, our transportation options have been stolen from us-car, oil, and tire companies bought and closed down public transit. They bought politicians who subsidized the construction of suburbs, they bought culture, our likes and dislikes, so that people love cars, driving and sprawl more than they love life itself. The opportunity to live within walking distance of work, your whole life-everyone walked everwhere until 1800-no longer seems to exist, given our modern definitions of reality.
The answer is revolution-where people would be free and therefore where people\’s needs (including all of our environmental needs) would be more important than corporate needs. Where everything would get re-evaluated. Despite all of the scientific evidence about the drastic reduction in driving and fossil fuel use that needs to happen immediately, no one can even begin to explain how this would happen under the current global capitalist order. Every indication is that this order is entirely incapable of making any kind of drastic resource consumption reductions. We can\’t \”reform\” away the precise purpose of an entire economic system-nothing would be left without ever increasing resource use.
And no, revolution isn\’t exactly an easy solution either. How to get there is beyond unclear; what \”it\” would even be is open to considerable debate. But more business as usual is just no longer an option.