For me, one of the more disappointing points in Barack Obama’s speech to the joint session of Congress this week was his support for the dirty old automobile infrastructure. As our economy has fallen apart, and global climate change has begun to accelerate, people have stopped buying cars, and stopped driving the cars they have as much as they once did. There’s a reason for that: Cars are at the core of the American crisis of this moment.
Cars are not a sustainable form of transportation. That doesn’t mean just that they’re not environmentally-friendly. It means that they’re not economically sustainable either. Even if our entire nation was to move to a purely hybrid motor system of transportation, we’d still be wasting huge amounts of energy and money. There will be the need for some cars for a long time, but there needs to be the goal of reducing dependence on cars, and a strengthening of more efficient and sustainable mass transit alternatives. Dependence on cars has made our communities heavy, yet weak. They’ve encouraged wasteful spending, and frivolous use of natural resources.
Barack Obama doesn’t seem to understand this aspect of the crisis we’re going through. Just a day before General Motors announced that it’s already gone through most of the government bailout money it received, without improving its financial condition, Barack Obama announced that he intends to keep on pouring money into Detroit’s failed idea: Cars, cars and more cars. Obama said,
“As for our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of bad decision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers to the brink. We should not, and will not, protect them from their own bad practices. But we are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win. Millions of jobs depend on it. Scores of communities depend on it. And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it. “
The thing is, to move into a future in which America remains strong, we need to walk away from the automobile, and onto something better. A company called General Motors doesn’t have to make cars. it could make the engines for super high speed trains, or for another form of efficient transportation that we haven’t even imagined yet.
It’s a shame to see President Obama pandering to the powerful political organizations at the core of Detroit’s 20th century manufacturing model, when he could be setting our nation on the course of true change into a better future.