Culture of Consumption

Some recent posts over at Dailykos caught my eye. The first was by Jerome a Paris_

It is artificially cheap oil that has made you structure your country around the economically absurd idea of building housing flying distances from work places. Making oil steadily more expensive to change that peacefully is the only solution, otherwise the change will simply be brutish, nasty and short.

He then advocates drastically increasing gas taxes, just like most European countries have done.

The second diary, by johnnygunn, is an apt counter-point:

You wanna see the Democrats get stomped this November? Just have them pontificate that Americans' cars are a luxury and that gas should cost TWICE as much. . . . It is political suicide to decide what is best for the "masses" even if they don't know what is best for themselves. Kiss of death.

You know what? They're both right.

Jerome is absolutely right that oil is a commodity that won't be around much longer. He's right that this kind of consumption is unsustainable. He's right that the government should be doing something, and that a gas tax would encourage conservation.

Sadly, the second piece is right in saying that increasing gas taxes is political suicide. So what's the solution?

Our culture of consumption is too deeply entrenched to change overnight. People aren't going to up and leave their homes in the suburbs. They aren't going to quit their jobs and stop commuting. So, we need to look at addressing the problem in other ways. Some ideas_

  • The number one thing that we need to do is to increase funding for public transportation. The truth of the matter is, most Americans have to drive to work - they just don't have any other option. Drastically decrease budgets for things like highway expansion projects and use it to fund cheap, reliable light rails and subways. We have to give people alternatives if we want them to drive less.
  • Increase automobile sales taxes. Make differing brackets for cars that get different MPG. Call it a "pollution tax", dress it up however you want, but pass it. Use the proceeds to fund public transportation. (also start enforcing that manufacturers state MPGs accurately).
  • Give real incentives for cities to do things like create HOV lanes, and give access to high-MPG cars.
  • Require automakers to produce more efficient cars and trucks. We did this in the 70s, it can be done again.

While I'm on the topic, here's a good explanation of why "growth", in the traditional sense, may soon be impossible due to energy scarcity.

Yes, all of this is rather bleak, but I prefer the honest truth to a bubble of banality.


Written by Elizabeth -

Also- Take a good, hard look at zoning laws and push for mixed-use communities. When I lived in downtown St. Louis, I STILL couldn't walk to a grocery store since retail space was seperated from residential. Also, although I LOVED that apartment- there was no way I could have lived in the neighborhood if I had kids. You have to have a safe city with good public schools that can attract business- not just nightlife- before you expect anyone from the suburbs to move in. But really, I could go on and on... Take a look at the fantastic book A Field Guide to Sprawl. I must get to work (via subway!) liz

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