Monday, June 07, 2010

JHK on the American Way of Life

Which Horizon?:

So far, also, the US has done nothing in the way of holding a serious national political discussion about the the most important part of the story: our pathological dependency on cars. I don't know if this will ever happen, even right up to the moment when the lines form at the filling stations. For years, anyway, the few public figures such as Boone Pickens who give the appearance of concern about our oil problem, end up down the rabbit hole of denial when they get behind schemes to run the whole US car-and-truck fleet on something besides gasoline.

This unfortunate techno-narcissism shows that almost nobody wants to think about living with fewer cars driving fewer miles. We're going to be dragged there kicking and screaming, but that's our destination, like it or not. All the effort now going into developing alt-fuels and "green" cars is just a form of "bargaining" on the Kubler-Ross transect of grief.

Traveling around the US, it's easy to understand our failure to come to grips with reality. The nation is fully outfitted for extreme car dependency. You go to places like Atlanta and Minneapolis and you understand how deep we're into this. We spent all our collective national treasure -- and quite a bit beyond that in the form of debt -- building the roadway systems and the suburban furnishings for that mode of existence. We incorporated it into our national identity as the American Way of Life. Now, we don't know what else to do except defend it at all costs, especially by waving the talismanic magic wand of techno-innovation.

The obvious remedy for the oil-and-car problem would be to live in walkable towns and neighborhoods served by the kind of public transit that people are not ashamed to ride in. But it may be too late for that. We're going to be a much poorer society from now on. We squandered the financial resources for that transition on too many other things. We're stuck with our investments in houses and their commercial accessories, built where they were built, and no Jolly Green Giant is going to pick them up and move them closer together in an artful way that adds up to real towns. A reorganization of American life will occur, but now it will be on much less deliberate terms, a much messier and more destructive operation, a default to the smaller scale by extreme necessity, with a lot of losses along the way. The Deepwater Horizon incident only hastens the process.

No comments: