I can’t help but view the world through the Kunstlerian lens of resource depletion and eventual petrocollapse. I try to keep myself in balance with a more standard issue Weltanschauung using various means, one of which is the guilty pleasure of listening to Bax and O’Brien in the morning on Rock 102 in Springfield. They pride themselves on their Everyman personas and world views, and they are not infrequently amusing not least because, with hours and hours of airtime to fill, they have no compunction regarding the discussion of issues about which they know very little; my favorite was an argument over whether summer and winter were caused by the Earth moving closer or further from the Sun, or by the Earth switching its orbit around the Sun with that of another planet.
It was fortuitous then, as Black Friday and the Strongtowns event Black Friday Parking were still fresh on my mind that these two hosts along with their self proclaimed “News Douche” sidekick, Steve Nagle, were discussing, of all things, parking. Without knowing it they veered into the mandatory minimum discussion with Jon O’Brien coming out squarely in favor of the most extreme view of absolutely no on street parking and every development being required to provide adequate off street spaces for any and every possible circumstance such that no car anywhere would ever be allowed to park in the street and, in so doing, interfere with his desire to move frictionlessly from parking lagoon to parking lagoon as he goes about his daily routine.
The pushback from the other members of the morning show consisted not in contemplating the necessary consequences regarding energy use and to the environment of that land use pattern, but merely explaining that there actually are “apar’ments” which do not come with guaranteed on site, off street parking spaces.
It’s good for me, I think, to see just how deeply imbedded the auto centric attitude is, and how lacking in insight many people are as to just how futureless that living arrangement is. It makes the perspective of some of the people I’ve been railing against seem almost a little enlightened.
On the extreme other end of the spectrum in terms awareness of the fossil fuel dependency of the modern way of life comes the podcast Greening the Apocalypse in Australia. I was only recently introduced to this series, although now I can’t recall exactly how. Skipping through their back catalog I’ve found one or two of the episodes to be enlightening or entertaining despite the obvious cultural differences between Springfield and Melbourne. That said, an episode released just this week revolved around electric cars.
“Greening” the Apocalypse indeed.
I won’t say that the nuances of the topic weren’t discussed: embodied energy, and source pollution for example. But I didn’t hear any mention of how perpetuating the paradigm of car centered human development itself leads to decreased resilience, increased resource extraction, expanded land use, and diminished efficiency.
Forgive my seemingly odd analogy. I remember years ago hearing that the United States needed to be like Israel in terms of fighting terrorism: surrounded by thousands plotting millions of attacks and thwarting nearly all of them. I thought, let’s be more like Luxembourg; nobody wants to attack them, so even a 100% success rate leaves you with very little to worry about. The most efficient car is the one that is never built, the most energy efficient automobile trip is the one that doesn’t get made because you don’t need a car to make it. Create enough of the latter, and the former becomes a possibility and restoring or at least retaining a certain level of prosperity without increasing real incomes or resource use becomes a possibility.
My wife gave me a number regarding what would be a sort of bare bones survival income. It was not quite 25% of our current gross income but fully 10% of that was car expenses. Approaching my mid 50’s, the “r” word has started to creep into conversation. Before I retire my mortgage will be paid off and another 30% of our bare bones expenses will be gone, but my wife reminded me that, even carless we will still need a transportation budget for the occasional bus, taxi, train, or car ride.
Data shows that for many working class people transportation expenses are nearing those of housing expenses. I think about that and then I contemplate the fact that a monthly bus pass can be had here for around $45 a month. If the jobs, schools, and services are in the places people can reach on foot or by transit, and people live in the places that buses go then reducing transportation costs to something closer to 10% of what people pay for housing seems like a reasonable goal. In Springfield the housing types serviced fairly well by the PVTA extend far beyond the level of density that I enjoy, even at the current, remarkably low level of use. Plenty of single family homes on good sized lots in Forest Park, East Forest Park, and other neighborhoods have two or three different routes passing within a 15 minute walk.
I remember a conversation I had with a museum employee in the city of Jaén when I learned that the average income was well below half that of Springfield, among the lowest in Spain. I was amazed at just how full all of the restaurants and cafes were all around the city; it looked more like Boston on a Saturday night than Springfield. How was that? Everything was walkable. It takes maybe 45 minutes to walk from one end of the city to the other, with mountains on one side and olive groves on the other. Two or three bus routes cover almost the whole town, they run often and are usually full…so it can be cheap. Health care gets paid through taxation so…once you’ve paid your rent…the rest can be for food and clothing…but this being Spain…it’s mostly for food. Bar food. OK, tapas and $1 beers.
It’s not as miserable as it sounds.