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Culture Change e-Letter  #95

More traffic congestion is funded

Alien American dream changes the Earth as some of us awaken

by Jan Lundberg

The American Dream is just a dream in the sense that people are indeed virtually asleep.  It is still honored by many as a great pursuit, even on a par with Martin Luther King Jr.'s celebrated Dream (although Utopian, given ecocide and unremitting population growth).  The American Dream is dead set against the Earth, even though the dream of decent housing and what passes for peace are entirely reasonable wants.  When the images of "This Land is Your Land," the Woody Guthrie song, are quickly becoming a shrinking memory, it is time to wake up immediately.  

As we ponder our technological and mechanical world, it becomes more and more clear that everyone in modern society is caught in an alien dream going too fast.  Our existence characterized by dreaming amounts to an illusion in the midst of nature, when we acknowledge the questionable sustainability of manufactured goods such as the artificial components of housing, etc.  Even without the nuclear threat -- that the U.S. primarily poses -- nature has been diminished and stepped on, to our permanent detriment.  We don't know just how badly at present, but it doesn't begin to stop our numbers from increasing while trade and transportation grow to serve the feeding frenzy.

(Part One) The American Dream speeds toward gridlock and worse

Traffic congestion is on the rise in the U.S., resulting in 79 million more hours plus 69 million more gallons of fuel wasted in 2003 than in 2002.  Total dollar cost of wasted hours and fuel come to than $63 billion, according to a national news story yesterday.  That's almost enough to pay for another pre-emptive illegal war for oil.  But the figure assumes that a monstrously larger number -- all the polluting and driving that isn't "wasted" -- is time & resources well spent.  We at Culture Change disagree and resent the deception.

Upon this new traffic study news, mainstream media reports hinted strongly that more roads would have to be built.  Reducing traffic congestion by actually removing lanes and hiking parking fees, however, is a suppressed but proven concept.  It has surfaced  numerous times, so it's not a case of ignorance as much as it's a mental block.  It's not a matter of the "American love affair with the automobile" -- When the choice of lovers is severely limited, it's an abusive relationship with plenty of lies, death and corruption. 

And the more roads that get built, the less time people have, according to a study by transportation expert John Whitelegg, who wrote "Time Pollution" in the Auto-Free Times and elsewhere a decade ago.  Much more well known to the traffic engineers and other architects of sprawl is that "Traffic expands to fill available road space."  This statement is the name of another study in the Auto-Free Times (on this website; links at bottom).

Car-free living, meanwhile, bestows the adherent with exercise, money saved, and a sense of resisting the polluting Dream.  The average American motorist only goes around 5 (five) miles per hour anyway, due to the time spent on the car to afford its purchase, upkeep, insurance, etc.  Some of us are living our car-free dream comfortably in the U.S., and I hope someday you'll join us (if you haven't already).  If the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change guidelines for greenhouse gas reduction are to be honored, the more than 200 million motor vehicles in the U.S. ought to be slashed to 20 million. Who will rise to the occasion?  It's hard when our leaders go in the other direction and the media are full of car advertisements.

The U.S. Senate is now considering spending $284 billion more on transportation in the next 6 years, but the congestion problem will not be solved.  As with past transportation bills, the idea is not to really fix the potholes or move people more efficiently through mass transit or make cities, suburbs and countryside convenient for biking.  The real purpose of the funding is to build more roads and widen roads -- that's where the profit pressure lies.  The funded wing of the environmental movement knows all this.  But, as always, the DC environmentalists will accept more roads in exchange for some crumbs off the table for clean-air transportation programs.  Thus declaring victory -- working within the System -- is the agenda of large environmental groups, even when the whole web of life is unraveling in this country and globally due in large part to pollution associated with transportation.

Our loss of time for personal and community living, thanks to transporting ourselves far from our neighborhoods to work for others' profit, is so normal that people applaud this nightmare.  They wish it on their children in order to "have a good job."  But the value of having time for oneself and loved ones is priceless, and the raising of each generation depends on it.  This isn't important to the corporate beast or even the public school system, when we consider sleep deprivation as a recently recognized problem among so many school kids.  Young people on school buses in traffic, too much homework -- this suits the hard-pressed parents who would rather see their kids be kept busy while the parents are wasting much of their own lives and health during killer commutes.

The new traffic study, by the Texas Transportation Institute, was misleading when it said "In the 85 urban areas studied, rush-hour drivers spent three times as much time stuck in traffic in 2003 -- 47 hours -- than they did in 1982, the study found" [New York Times on May 9, 2005].  The 47 hours is what is in addition to the hundreds of  hours a year each driver may spend zipping along at unsafe speeds.  This blood sport, killing a million animals a day on U.S. roads as well as over 40,000 humans a  year in the U.S.,  is also needlessly extra-global-warming plus smog-inducing:  Any speed over 45 miles per hour wastes more fuel than the average engine optimally uses, according to the California Air Resources Board.

(Part Two) The Industrial Dream is on speed

It turns out we will never see feeling and compassion triumph from within over the increasingly sped up industrial system.  This depressing but enlightening argument is reinforced in a new exploration into the effects of modern commercial culture on the mind:  Sushil Yadav states in his new article in Culture Change that emotions are prevented from registering and developing when the brain and body are distracted by constantly shifting mental tasks and stimuli such as images.  (see

As our false dream speeds us up, we postpone the day of reckoning when our bodies and spirits crash from too much speed taxing our resources.  Speed is not just in terms of how fast we are traveling; our physiology is bombarded with speed from the brain's vernbal/aural perception of images or tasks demanding thought.  This occupying of our being with nonstop thoughts, instead of being allowed time just to feel between thoughts, has shut us off from caring about the Earth, according to Yadav.  Threats are hardest to recognize when we are still on speed.  Such as:

Aliens are coming to starve us and kill us -- although this is not so exciting when it's "only" introduced species and other consequences of petroleum trade which cause global warming.  "It's only castles burning" (as the Neil Young song goes) of fossil-fueled empire, that have led the way to our possible demise as a species.  The high-energy industrial world, with its trappings of high civilization (what with fancy jet travel, etc.) has invited invasive species to come distort our ecosystems and give us diseases. Climate change means more alien species and the highest rate of extinctions the Earth has ever seen as long as humans have existed. 

Meanwhile, we live in a dream of consumer convenience and "progress," as in turning the tap for some (polluted) water that we pay for in various ways.  We are like sheep going to the slaughter as we ignore the crash we are assuring.  For now we are oblivious to, for example, the melting of the Arctic and the oddity of rain there in winter which creates an ice barrier over the caribou's food supply.

Some of us want to change the world because others are changing the Earth.

It seems like it is time for people to "go over the edge" and get angry or change their daily habits such as tomorrow's commute.  However, the only people likely to do something are people who are already trying to do something.  We have run up against a wall: we can try to recycle, buy local goods, not use cars or electronic entertainment, and we can participate in protests, but we are marginalized by the corrupt corporate world of sell sell sell.  Actually, we are all over the edge anyway, as our life-style is less and less filled with family and neighbor interaction.  We are telling ourselves we are sane in the midst of a Babylon insane asylum that prepares us only for extinction.

Can a new dream awaken the "sheople" and offer the shepherds and wolves something better as well?   Some believe so.  We at Culture Change do, but hasten to reject the "green consumer" solution, whereby initiatives such as The Apollo Alliance and the New American Dream seek to barely modify daily U.S. existence without changing the basic status quo by truly slashing energy use now.  It's too late for tweaking the controls.  

A better approach, untried as yet, might be a call to eliminate from our consumer lives all pressures contributing to the demise of primitive cultures who happen to be up against oil industry "development." 

Such is the work of Pachamama Alliance, based in San Francisco, California.  In Ecuador and Peru native peoples are resisting oil industry incursion into the rainforest.  Allying themselves with North Americans for help is not new, but the idea of the northern brothers needing to address a faulty dream, that of materialism and selfishness, is exciting.  As consumers unthinkingly purchase and use up products made from nonrenewable resources, driving up pressure on the rainforests for timber, oil and agribusiness crops  -- while the corporate profiteers gladly sell all this to the consumers -- the southern brothers hope and pray for an awakening.  Replacing the broken dream in the north is the message.

One reason to do so is that we have no choice: the world is now running short of enough cheap, abundant petroleum to fuel the global economy.  When the historic peak in extraction of "black gold" is felt by the market in no uncertain terms, this will usher in astronomically high oil prices and cause a virtually complete shortage.  This will mean a rapid economic turndown or widespread shut down, resulting in financial meltdown and general collapse of industrial society.  That sounds like doom and gloom, and it will be perhaps the most wrenching but relatively short event in human history.  But out of this must come a new dream implemented from today's most positive, realistic thoughts and emotions for sustainability.


Jan Lundberg is interviewed on May 12, 2005 on a network of talk shows on the East Coast of the U.S., mainly Florida.  Tune in online at 7 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time at radio WTWB or

Pachamama Alliance - helping North Americans help the Amazonian Indians resist oil development by "Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream."

John Whitelegg's "Time Pollution"

The last three verses of Woody Guthrie's most famous song are seldom heard but pack a punch:

USA Today followed the May 9, 2005 Associated Press (New York Times et al) story on increasing traffic congestion with

Auto-Free Times study on traffic generation:

"Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment" by Sushil Yadav.  The author, from India, has studied emotion and inputs as affected by speed, time and technology. See

Alliance for a Paving Moratorium's Fact Sheets:

World Rainforest Fund - founded and headed by David Seaborg, evolutionary biologist (see for online interview of Dave by Jan Lundberg)

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