Typical Urban Smog Cloud. Photo credit: mirror.co.uk
I was born shortly after WWII. I realize now that cars impacted my life and are ruining all our lives.
I heard a recent analysis of the present U.S. economy this morning. The economist maintained that things were looking up in the retail sector, which is focused now in July on selling clothes and supplies for students in the Fall. He attributed this to low gasoline prices which have compensated Americans with an additional several hundreds of dollars per month for discretionary spending. In other words, incomes are flat, so Americans are being subsidized by the petrochemical industry. Great.
Why would the petrochemical industry subsidize the low-earners of the American economy? Well, for one thing, it may avert a mass uprising against the Federal government they have essentially owned since the 1950's.
At the beginning of World War II, my metro-Boston area had about 140 electric trolley lines which densely covered all neighborhoods within a 20-mile radius of downtown Boston. The fare was 5 cents and transfer tickets were given out for passengers who had to use multiple trolleys to get from Point A to their Point B. I am very aware of this because my parents courted and eventually married without owning a car. They lived about 8 miles apart and used electric trolleys to date.
There are three street trolleys in Boston. We have trolleys which run on buffered tracks in islands along major boulevards, Commonwealth Avenue and Beacon Street. One short section along Huntington Avenue actually runs in the street between Brigham Circle and Heath Street terminus. It is a constant location of accidents and breakdowns ... due to car/truck congestion.
After World War II, America's industrialists were left with a huge infrastructure for building machinery. We had created the largest war industry the planet had ever seen. This, combined with hordes of returning soldiers who needed to be decommissioned, led to the development of the U.S. automotive and aircraft empires, which extended itself to Japan and Europe as part of post-war reconstruction. Ever wonder why India, Russia and China, three massive countries, never developed global car or aircraft businesses? They were not our post-war allies.
And who fueled all those cars and aircraft? Who provided the asphalt for roads and runways? Ding. Ding. The petrochemical industry.
So, with the help of President Eisenhower and Congress, the public transportation infrastructure was dismantled intentionally to sell cars, trucks and airplane tickets. Petrochemical moguls made fortunes building roads and selling fuel. Steel magnates also made fortunes. Manufacturers of cars and airplanes also made great fortunes. Highway contractors, bridge builders, et al...they all cashed in.
The jamming of city streets with cars, smoky buses and trucks in place of smaller vans which operated from urban freight train depots emptied urban neighborhoods of the more affluent. Real estate moguls made fortunes building sprawling suburbs, like Levittowns. Politicians in urban-abutting small cities and towns got fat on building permits and highway funds. The car was a cash cow all around. For some.
The burden of individual transportation was promoted as a gift of independence and mobility. "See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet." was a popular ad campaign. Mass media indoctrinated the public into loving the automobile and suburban living. Movies of the 1950's and 1960's romanticized lawns, fences and swimming pools. TV was largely sponsored by cigarettes, cars and oil companies. A three-headed dragon indeed.
So, now we live here on a planet whose atmosphere has been decimated in 70 years. Whether you wish to think of it or not, the planet is becoming inhospitable to human life right now. Yet the most "green" and educated among us get into their SUVs and pickups daily to contribute to the problem, to hasten the destruction of the human ecosystem. Their stock portfolios are still jammed with petrochemical stocks or stocks of industries involved with the petrochemical industry. They will vote for politicians who support more roads, wider highways and fewer trains. And they will condition their children and grandchildren to love cars.