BP Disaster = Car Culture: 1

In Uncategorized on June 19, 2010 at 4:21 pm

The following is an Op-Ed piece I sent to The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Washington Post. None of these publications responded except by auto-reply. Photograph of parking garage, downtown Pittsburgh.

First, a statistic: In 2005, Americans used 1,618.6 liters (427 gallons) of gasoline per capita.*

In the public sphere, the question lingers: Who is to blame for the BP oil spill? Is it faulty engineering? Lenient laws? Our thirst for oil? All of the above?

I blame cars. That is, personal automobiles. I have always blamed cars, for most of America’s problems. But folks have always laughed this off. What’s wrong with cars? they chuckle. We need cars! How else would we get around?

Indeed, how else would Americans get around. There is no alternative – car companies and city planners have made sure of that, ever since they dismantled a perfectly efficient mass-transit system in the 1950’s. The highway system, once thought to pave a road to freedom, has only become a congested mess. Our beltways are labyrinths of bottlenecks, thoughtless development, and eternal commutes. Because of car culture, our cities wallow in pools of sprawl. Meanwhile, Amtrak lines don’t link up; airports are routinely overbooked; and Greyhound is a joke – a sick, halfhearted, miserable joke.

Like firearms, cars are an uneasy American right. Unlike firearms, a car is way more wasteful and insanely more dangerous. A 16-year-old can’t accidentally murder someone with a handgun; he’d have to find one, load it, aim and fire. But a 16-year-old could easily wipe out a family at a crosswalk – in a split-second, on his way to work at, say, a BP station. Meanwhile, the kid shells out hundreds of dollars per year, burns hundreds of gallons of fossil fuels, because there’s no other way to go to his stupid job.

*Data cited from EarthTrends.


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