Culture Change e-Letter
Ways to end car culture along
with the globalized trade godzilla
by Jan Lundberg and Julian Darley
In an exchange between Post Carbon Institute
and Culture Change on March 1, 2005, the subject of ending car domination came
up. Just as Jan Lundberg had been preparing to unfold a simple proposal to
terminate the global polluting juggernaut as led by the car manufacturing
business (first article below), Julian Darley offered his recently devised plan
to propagate car-cooperatives (second article below). In
his subtitle he relates the global car monster (that people pretend is a sweet
lap dog) to the challenge of slashing carbon emissions. Hence, Kyoto
with guts: Car cooperatives will slash
car population and instill responsibility.
The two approaches flow from the same heart-felt
conviction that we must save the planet from perhaps final devastation.
"Clean cars" are rubbish, when examined from a serious ecological
perspective, not to mention safety. Time is running out for the beleaguered biosphere. However,
it is healthier for one to focus on the happy truth
that the inevitable world without cars (millions of them, anyway) will be a far
better one -- and it could be a lot closer than most people think.
The No New Car Movement
by Jan Lundberg
The idea of cutting pollution to safe levels as fast as possible has been tantamount to bringing
down the global economy. The silly idea of entertaining such a scenario goes back
at least to the
early 1990s in Auto-Free Times magazines. The program is simple:
people would not buy new cars; they'd just buy used ones.
Background and glorious histrory
What is the point of a new-car purchase, anyway? When a used car can
easily suffice and cost far less, we can conclude that new-car buyers have been
brainwashed. They must do it for prestige, perhaps to possibly obtain sex
The car corporations, meanwhile, have built in "planned obsolescence" -- a
new car model every year, with many many models -- ever since Henry Ford cried
uncle and realized that the competition against his Model A and Model T was going to
finish off the Ford Motor Company. For if that were to happen, how could he be in a position to
help his adored Adolph Hitler?
Why were we at Culture Change so impatient with the car fifteen years ago,
even before the plague of SUVs? The answer is this: our organization,
founded in 1988 as an energy-based nonprofit think-tank/data & policy
center, was practically founded on the concept of a national paving moratorium.
This was put forward in order to aid AMTRAK, the poor
stepchild of American transportation even though it is the most energy-efficient
and least polluting mode of motorized transportation.
An Alliance for a Paving Moratorium ensued, involving 70
groups and businesses all behind the concept of just fixing existing roads, so as to
free up public funds for alternative transportation. Starting our efforts
during the Gulf War, our concept was a peace proposal: Oil as a strategic
commodity was not, ideally, to be subjected to "lengthening supply
lines" in war; more roads meant longer supply lines. We got nowhere
with this, especially with the established DC environmental groups who only
wanted higher gas mileage for new cars. But we set out anyway to stop specific new roads with a large vision,
and we did prevent some nasty highways. One of them would have bisected the
Mendocino National Forest in northern California. Our vision also came to
include opposing unpaved logging roads, as we sought to protect ancient forests.
In our efforts we came up with disturbing information about not just roads
and traffic in general, but about the car. Andrew Kimbrell, then working
with author Jeremy Rifkin, published in the Washington Post -- as a fluke --
"The Case Against the Car" back in 1990 perhaps. We were
headquartered in Fredericksburg, fast becoming a bedroom town of the greater DC
area, the process of which we reluctantly aided by promoting commuter rail
service as an alternative to widening
Interstate 95. Several years later Kimbrell blazed the trail again, when with the
International Center for Technology Assessment he helped identify the many
subsidies to the price of gasoline as totaling near the level of $15 (fifteen
dollars) per gallon. Ironically, Jeremy Rifkin, an expert on entropy (the
name of his milestone book), is today a proponent of cars (cleaner ones, he
Once re-established in Humboldt County, the soon-to-be international Alliance for a
Paving Moratorium found many a hip resident who was proud to hold on to the old
(and more polluting) car that the typical low-consuming local person didn't use
much in town.
People bragged of not using their cars for months on end. This avant
garde of "eco-terrorism" -- i.e., bad for the global economy --
had other strange practices, such as not having televisions and trying to grow a
significant portion of their own food. This was and is a minority of
people, but they all had in common the desire to see pollution stopped and a new
era begun where people were more self-reliant in stronger communities.
Even many dyed-in-the-wool Humboldt car drivers who couldn't do without Saturday
Night Live agreed with the sentiment. It was no surprise when the nation learned
that in 1992 Arcata's 15,000 citizens gave more votes to Ralph Nader than to
In our road-fighting activism we decided our Paving Moratorium Update would do
better if named Auto-Free Times. A Northcoast Environmental
Center staffer told us the definition of eco-terrorism was "one person driving a
car." The auto-free option was not the point of our main
road-fighting purpose, but was emphasized or "discovered" as our soon
to be best-known program when we
were challenged by the Associated Press to name an alternative to more road
building. We were later to marginalize ourselves further -- but stretch
mental boundaries -- by advocating and practicing depaving. Why not get rid
of a driveway in favor of a garden, if there was still room for keeping a car right at
hand in the street?
We produced anti-car Fact Sheets which are on this website. Some of our
discoveries were mind boggling: Ivan Illich calculated that the average speed of
the U.S. motorist is under five miles per hour, when the total time
involved in driving and supporting the car in all the ways one must is taken into account.
We had heard that one in five jobs in the U.S. were directly related to the
automotive business. The population of vehicles was and still is climbing
fast, such that the number of functional cars have now outstripped the number of
drivers, according the New York Times story by Matt Wald in 2004.
Any dummy can tell that more and more cars means more smog, more parking lots
instead of parks, rising reliance on
volatile oil exporters, more global warming, more crash-deaths, etc. But the
absolute waste and lack of need for a car-based transportation eludes the
public to this day. Indeed, we were and still are ridiculed by the
mainstream and considered "losers" by aggressive consumers chasing
"success" -- as innocent Iraqis die in a war over oil.
Could the car-advertising in mainstream media have anything to do with the
average person's failure to connect the dots? With no clear movement to
turn things around, and no leadership from the compromised mainstream
environmental groups then or now, grassroots activists have free-ranging
conversations and fantasies on behalf of our love: Nature. How can the
Earth as we know her endure, without a strong activist approach or a good deal of
luck?. Our office knew about and publicized rapid oil depletion back then, but we were not turned on by
some people's oft-stated wish that the oil would just get used up quickly so as
to stop the pollution and the cars.
As anti-car activists we have had to argue common sense and compassion:
proponents of "clean cars" in effect pretend that such cars are not
here is Jeannie Marcos, killed in a crosswalk on her way to school by a
Christian minister who was paying attention to his car instead of what was in
front of it. She was six years old and died in February. It was an
efficient Korean car that killed her and gave a brain injury to her
sister. Their parents want the minister's driver's license taken away,
which would be the most serious punishment the minister would get because it was
not a felony. The city of Vallejo, California, claims the intersection
where the slaughter occurred is safe. More roads and road widenings,
People's priorities regarding motor vehicles are easily inhuman when people
demand such valuable possessions as cars and the false freedom the vehicles
represent. For example, a 36-year-old Pittsburg, California man fatally
bludgeoned his father with a sledge-hammer on March 5, 2005 because the older
man refused to lend his truck to his son. Even after killing the
75-year-old Irvin Scales, the murderer drove off from their home in the coveted
Dodge Dakota. He took what he wanted: that object of desire that $ociety
taught him was so important.
Details in the No New Car solution
Every new-car purchase sends a person's money outside the local community,
while a used-car purchase does the opposite. Local business is the answer
to the corporate attack on communities and local culture.
In a couple of months of low enough new-car purchases, the affects would reach most
parts of the economy. Falling sales would result in production cut backs
and unemployment. The economy's reliance on "big ticket items" (cars
are mighty big; they can cost more than yachts) means that the whole house of cards
unravels without cars propping it up. The sticking point is how many people can get word of the plan,
and how many people will do it. If any churches respected "God's
green Earth" there would be a whole slew of joiners. Jesus was
car free (one of our popular bike stickers portraying a camel).
A recession could do the job of preventing enough new cars made and sold to
keep the economy humming, but we may as well induce recession by calling for an end to the
oil/global warming juggernaut now. The "System" has been
lumbering on too long and is killing life as we know it. Civilization's
march is brutal and relentless, but if not enough people buy new cars,
there could suddenly be a new direction because of the global interdependence of
the economy and today's speed of wealth-transfer.
One argument for avoid total collapse at any cost is that the nukes have to
be baby sat. They must indeed. However, a slower death from the
Waste Economy is not much of a solution. Randy Hayes of Rainforest Action
Network once explained to me that he did not want to see complete collapse of
the whole forest-destroying/paving system, because of the risk of chaos at a
time of need regarding existing pollution and precarious systems functioning in
He is absolutely right. But if the system keeps on going, as it has for
the nine years since Randy and I had that over-a-beer talk in Arcata, the lungs
of the Earth will be dead. We know now more than we did even a year ago
about the accelerating deterioration of Earth's life support systems.
The result of a new-car boycott would be a quick nonviolent revolution
(cultural as well as political) that would not have to wait for the next John
Kerry to run for office and save us. (The election may be between Condo
Rice and Hillary Clinton Rod Ham. They are both on record as happy to make
uncounted Iraqi children die.) If you think you are saying No to war for
oil, have you really done so if you have not said No to cars?
We must be prepared for the drastic lowering in cost for new cars that could
flow from a significant drop in demand. To assure that the car
manufacturers cannot tough it out and overcome a certain level of demand-drop,
an almost religious movement would be required to see through to the end the
fall of the big car companies and the whole integrated pollution
system. We would prefer society instead plan for a transition and to
start valuing sustainability, but such a radical idea clearly is not happening
voluntarily on a significant scale.
Whether responsible manufacturing would instantly come about, such as making
bicycles and trains in former automobile factories, might be something for the
United Auto Workers to consider before too many workers starve or must grow corn
and potatoes -- in their driveways in need of depaving.
The present god of technology and science tells people that there will be a
machine-adaptation to the problem of cars using oil and running on roads of
asphalt and concrete. Instead of conserving energy and the Earth, the
typical car driver and consumer awaits a technological solution to war for oil
and global warming while ignoring the unpleasant fact that "clean cars"
killing people and animals. When it is pointed out that "clean
cars" will (1) require pavement (=more urban sprawl), (2) they will still
pollute about as much due to the total "life cycle" of car
manufacturing and materials-mining, and (3) will propel the motorist no more
than five miles per hour on average (considering the time for earning money to
buy the car, fix it, pay for insurance and oil, etc.), the mind goes blank in
the average non-inquiring mind Therefore, in light of the mindless refusal to deal with
the problem of the car and its oil habit, a movement to eradicate the car and
its support system has appeal.
It is mind-boggling how the approximately 100,000 annual killings from car
crashes and noxious fumes in the U.S. are not a concern of government or the
corporate media, or even of ever-enquiring academia. Why can't people
demand a better life now? When the Mothers Against Drunk Driving come out
against the roughly 40% of fatal car crashes attributable to drinking too much
alcohol, does that mean MADD approves of the other 60% of the fatalities as
acceptable? Why not have a justice system whereby a judge sentences a
driver to therapy and other treatment for the addiction of driving?
Julian Darley's car sharing idea would do the same thing as a movement to cease
buying new cars. I don't know if a system such as his would get a chance
to completely develop, because the resultant lowered car-purchase rate would hit
the economy too soon. And after the chaos and smoke clear, there may not be a
way to maintain the car co-ops. But, to add legitimacy to my proposal to
bring down the beast as peacefully as possible, I said to Julian I wanted to use
his proposal as as advanced it to me. In reading his plan it was again
clear to me he is indeed a visionary. An example: he coined the term
bauleiters: business-as-usual lite(ers).
Here's to a car-free future.
Car cooperatives will slash
car population and instill responsibility
by Julian Darley
9th March 2005
[Complementary report to Jan
Lundberg's The No New Car Movement above]
Once we take seriously the notion that the industrial way
of life is moving into its closing phase, and that one of the most unfortunate
parts of that highly mistaken system is the large-scale use of the private
automobile (and large trucks), then it becomes obvious that one should do
everything possible, and as quickly as possible, to move away from a system of
living and provisioning that depends on cars.
For North Americans, this prospect is going to be very
tough indeed, but one of the most important things that can and must be done is
the immediate creation of car co-ops across North America, and indeed anywhere
that has been stupid enough to build their living arrangements with the internal
combustion engine at its heart. Widespread car co-ops will form a very useful transitionary
strategy towards eradicating privately owned internal combustion engine cars
altogether. Here is a proposal, based on extending the idea of already
existing car co-ops in two large North American cities.
If one assumes that average car ownership turnover is about
9 or 10 years, then this plan will be quite reasonable and feasible, if the
municipality or local government is part of the plan.
- In a
given locale, bring in a car co-op based on existing models in North
America. If the place is large, look at San Francisco - this one is
not a co-op, but is at least non-profit; if the place is small to
medium-sized, look at Nelson or Vancouver in British Columbia:
out what the initial donation needs to be in order to get started (avoid
loans and investors like the plague). The starting number of people
probably needs to be at least a dozen, and at least two cars. This ratio
will soon improve. San Francisco started with a bang, and had hundreds of
members from the beginning. This takes a lot of planning and resources,
but the knowledge and help is available for any scale.
to estimate how long it will be before the car co-op reaches 'ignition,'
to use a fusion word! In other words, how long before the thing is
generating more money than it costs, and is thus self-sustaining. It
is absolutely vital that the system becomes self-sustaining as quickly as
possible, and again, there are excellent examples to copy.
for a sustainable member-to-car ratio of about 20 to 1. This is
roughly the ratio of Vancouver’s car co-op; San Francisco achieves about
30 to 1, which is probably near the upper limit, given North American
infrastructure. Twenty to one should be easily and normally
attainable, once the system is running properly.
self-sustaining, a car co-op is ready to become a core part of the "Local
Energy Bank" and "Transit Center" system (and be a part of
helping expand or introduce local currency). Amongst many other
things, this Energy Bank and Transit Center system, along with local
government and other service providers, can be the organizational device for
locally grown and produced biofuels for non-private vehicles only - i.e.,
buses, co-op cars, taxis, small delivery vehicles.
(and later locally producing) slow electric vehicles, including
- (small) personal EVs,
- larger delivery EVs (though these will be much smaller than the 40 ton
trucks currently wrecking North America and Europe).
(and eventually make) old-fashioned trams. This means that the EV
(Electric Vehicle) manufactories (manufactory is an old term, but one that
we are using in the Post Carbon CSM concept - Community Supported
Manufacturing) will need to be in place first.
trams envisaged shall be, by design, not particularly fast and therefore
simple and cheap to build (and maintain), and inherently safer.
the power for all the electric vehicles shall be local renewable
electricity (some of it coming from the Local Energy Bank). The capacity
of the renewable power system will form an upper limit to the number of
vehicles and miles that can be driven - if efficiency works too well,
which I doubt, then a mandatory cap must be brought in, but that won't
be a worry for a long time, if ever.
target: within 5 years aim to reduce private car ownership by 50% (e.g., by
help this modest and sensible aim along, locales should introduce:
purchase tax on all new cars
transfer tax on secondhand cars
tax on cars that are sold to the car co-op. Only cars in very good
condition and with good reliability and relatively cheap spare parts (at
least made in the same country, and preferably within the same region)
should be bought by the co-op
very high yearly registration tax
serious rebate for anyone that gets rid of a car and doesn't replace it
gasoline tax, but not too large - enough to be a warning signal, but low
enough to make it not worthwhile to go outside the locale to get
gasoline - 1 or 2 cents may have to be the limit, but the higher the
ride-sharing, similar to the highly successful German system called ‘Mitfahrgelenheit’.
(I think we can call it something else that is a little easier on the
important to promote anti-car culture, modeled on anti-tobacco - it's a
curse and an addiction, and we have to get rid of cars, and ultimately
almost all internal combustion engines, which are much too efficient at
delivering immense power, which we almost invariably abuse and misuse.
10 years aim to reduce private ownership to 5% of what it was at start date,
but better still, for those wishing to the operate the genuine ‘Kyoto with
guts’ program (and get a gold star if they even come close to achieving
it), the target should be 5% ownership of 1990 level by 2012.
None of the above is impossible, far from it – the
central idea of car co-ops works now in various locations across the
world. But the scale and reach is much greater, and we know from many
other areas of industrial existence that scale issues do pose new problems.
However the kinds of scale problem faced by the absurd
Hydrogen Economy or trying to move to an electricity grid powered mostly by
solar and wind are completely different from those facing a widespread roll-out
of car co-ops. Large scale adoption of car co-ops will face few if any new
technical problems (unless the Internet goes down – then telephones would have
to be used en masse – unless they go down too! Then we shall have to
walk to our Local Transport Center…). The problems involved will be mainly
human and cultural. Can we really face up to reducing our private car use
– eventually to zero? The answer is that we simply must. We either
plan for it and do it now - or geology will do it for us.
It is fair and reasonable to wonder how many cities or
municipalities would even dare to discuss such schemes as this Kyoto
With Guts, even behind locked doors at the dead of night. Well, that
was a good joke, now get real, many will say. But consider this: United
Kingdom petroleum extraction fell 22.1% in a year, according to the December
2004 Royal Bank of Scotland Oil & Gas Index! And even more amazing,
the final month recorded by the RBS saw a 5.5% production fall. That would be 66%
per cent if annualized (in other words 5.5% x 12 months = 66. I am not
suggesting that this latter will happen, but the December monthly decline would
be high for many producing countries, if it were for the whole year). So
maybe the car co-op plan wouldn't be so crazy for Britain, after all. And
we can notice that U.S. oil imports in Aug 2004 came within 0.2% of 60%
according to data from the EIA (Energy Information Administration), and the
average imports for 2004 were only just below this at 58%. I estimate that
U.S. imports are rising at about 2 percentage points per year; at this rate of
increase, that would mean 70% oil imports by 2010. How's that for 'oil
independence' and energy security? Talk about 'no mullah left behind.'
Part of the reason for the increase in US oil imports is of
course that American oil output is falling. Just look at the graph below,
from the EIA. Things would be absolutely disastrous without offshore,
which effectively means Gulf of Mexico (GoM):
US 2003 oil output was achieved using 520,000 wells, many
of which produce only 10 barrels a day (the US uses about 21 million barrels a
day). The big question is what is the prognosis for GoM? When that
peaks and starts to fall, people really had better have their solar-powered
lifeboats all ship-shape and nicely caulked (an Oil and Gas Journal graph
suggests a soft peak for GoM within the next six years).
So, in fact, in the light of the above, and the rest of the negative petroleum
production news flooding in, I hope that it will be possible to find at least a
few municipalities or districts that are willing to go after this
apparently wild car-eradication idea – an idea that I regard as quite moderate
and sensible. We shall see.
One reason many places will be reticent to take up the idea
of pervasive car co-ops is one of the very reasons I think that car co-ops are
such a good idea: they break the terrible grip of ownership obsession, whilst
building a sense of general responsibility. I don't personally have any
sense of owning any one of the roughly 90 co-op cars here in Vancouver, but I
know that in general, we (members of the car co-op) all need to look after the
wretched things, not because they are nice machines, but because we should make
these kinds of items last as long as possible. Replacing them and
carelessly damaging them will also cost us money which could be much better
spent on relocalising the infrastructure, in order to make cars completely
redundant, which should be the ultimate and underlying goal of car co-ops.
We must, I believe, use every device we can to build or
rekindle a sense of general reciprocity (giving with no sense of specified
return – in other words doing things for the common good), rather than the
constant reinforcement of ‘specific reciprocity’, which is so damaging both
to a greater sense of the common good, and to hopes of de-monitizing major parts
of the provisioning system (I refuse to use that filthy word ‘economy’
whenever I can). Specific reciprocity (everything as individual and
isolated contracts or transactions which form no lasting local or human bonds)
also makes it harder to build trust and get people to keep promises and do
things reliably without a contract, be they paid or not.
It is important that car co-ops are seen
as a transition mechanism to other methods of mobility, starting with our own
muscles ('Moving From a Fuel to a Foot Economy' - there I have used that blasted
word), and, where appropriate, using locally built, slow electric vehicles,
especially if possible, running on metal rails. ‘Normal’ city
planners, I have discovered, hate metal rails, and love to speak of rubber
wheels - "it's what the market wants" is the usual repulsive phrase of
justification. What that really means is the old Thrasymachus argument
(reported by Plato) that 'might makes right'. As far as I recall, that is the
only argument that Socrates ever lost. It just happens to be the most
important argument of all, and undercuts everything else.
Dave Room, Post Carbon Institute’s North American Director, suggests that our
5% car ownership plan should be part of a “car free challenge,” and that in
order to support this aim, “cities should apply a moratorium on building
parking garages and all energy intensive development. In many places, it
would be advisable to supplement this program with rebuilding the city around
high density centers. Many of
cities are so spread out that just adding mass transportation and car sharing
may not be enough. Here are some other measures that the locale could
choose among to meet their interim 50% and ultimate 5% goals:
tolls for bridges
businesses (locally owned and sourcing locally)
informal ride sharing
Given the "lateness of the hour," I suggest the
a) If people won't try to abandon their private cars, then
they may as well abandon all other 'green' activity as pointless - like a smoker
going to the gym - what's the point?
b) Call on people to aim to eradicate cars and
capitalism - the phrase even has alliteration and assonance on its side, and we
Anglo-Saxons (=me anyway) love a bit of assonance. It seems a perfectly
reasonable thing to ask for. I am suggesting that the Democrats put it in
their next campaign as a central policy plank. The American people will
love it - it has just never been offered to them before.
Julian Darley is Author of High Noon
for Natural Gas - The New Energy Crisis and Director of Post
Carbon Institute, Vancouver,
Sheets by Alliance for a
Paving Moratorium/Auto-Free Times