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"Chronicle Groupie"
Hyperion June 7, 2001

#44 Cars: Friend or Foe?

I have a good friend named Ed. We met by chance; assigned to the same dorm room in college. Though, we are about as different as night and day, we enjoy discussing all matter of things. Recently I noticed that Ed is quite passionate about cars, to the cars’ detriment. I happen to think cars are lifesavers, and so, to try something different, I asked Ed to write an essay explaining why he disliked cars in America, and I would write the opposite. We both worked independently of each other, without knowledge of what the other would say, and I think it turned out pretty well. Anyway, judge for yourself.

First up, Ed

The American people should set aside passenger vehicles as the predominant form of transportation. Its use as a convenient and safe way to transport our families and us has passed. Its environmental impacts are undeniably terminal. Finally, our necessity for crude oil has made the Nation of America imperialistic and irresponsible in its foreign and domestic policies.

Driving in America is increasingly more frustrating than it is convenient and it will only get worse. The average American spends 36 hours per year stuck in traffic, up from 11 hours in 1982. Senior citizens and children cannot drive and must depend upon those who can to function in society. Families must maintain, replace, insure and fuel several automobiles to remain mobile. In 1999, 41,611 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. 3, 236,000 people were injured. Automobile accidents are the leading cause of death for Americans under 25 years of age. Automobiles are a burden to Americans as well as a significant safety hazard.

Automobiles have injured our country and will inevitably kill it. Motor vehicles cause the Urban Heat Island effect, a dramatic increase in urban temperatures from the built environment. For example, Los Angeles in the 1930's was irrigated orchards with a decade high of 97 degrees F. In the 1990's, as a region of pavement and buildings, multiple summers reached 105 degrees and higher. At current rates, the Urban Heat Island effect will raise the temperature of our cities 15 - 20 degrees by 2050. These temperatures will decimate animal and plant populations that cannot possibly adapt to such dramatic changes and it will kill many younger and older Americans susceptible to dramatic temperatures.

The 1973 Oil Embargo exposed the weakness of the American system for its complete reliance on crude oil. The government and oil affiliate industries have spent the last several decades securing our oil resources overseas to protect our fragile system, most notably the Gulf War. The dominance of the automobile has made us world aggressors, imperialists, and, contrary to what we say, irrespective of human life. For the health and safety of America, as well as the world, the public should put aside the automobile. You ask what will we replace it with? That is another essay.

Now it is my turn

I want us to get some perspective, here. All the man-made pollution in history cannot match the output of the largest three volcano eruptions on record. Does that mean we should continue to pollute without thought? No, but it does mean that we need to get a grip here. We cannot destroy the earth, even if we tried. But can we destroy ourselves?

I want you to imagine America in 1870. There were no cars, and everyone who needed to travel more than a mile or two went by horse. There were literally horses all over the place; so essential were they to modern life. Now, horses are great (of course, of course), but they do present a problem. Unlike most humans, horses cannot be trained where and when to, um, shall we say, do nature’s bidding. Thus, they do it wherever they happen to be. In 1870, quite often this happened to be the streets. Now, back then in America, most of the population was centered in cities. So, imagine the scenario: everyone crammed together, no personal space: sort of like Middle School. Now imagine that everywhere you look, everywhere you go, there is horse manure. There were no sewers then, so the manure just sort of stayed put. Beyond the pleasant aromas, however, was a much bigger problem. All of this horse manure drew disease carrying insects and vermin. In short, there was untold amount of infestation in that day and age; a large part of it due to the standing manure. As I said, most people were living in cities, so the disease traveled quickly from one person to the next. We think we have it rough today, but we have no idea how people in previous centuries lived. What we call squalor now (please, no jokes about my room), would have been pristine a hundred years ago. People died all over the place back then, and a big cause of it was germs and disease, brought on in no small part by horses.

Two things changed all of that. One was the advent of soap. People could now go into hospitals, and come out again! The other was the automobile. The invention and the spread of cars did two things. One, horses, and more importantly, horse manure, did not take up so much space. Second, America no longer needed to huddle together in large cities. With a car, people were more mobile, so they did not have to live so close to one another. Suburbs began to crop up all over the place. This meant that diseases, and germs, and all sorts of nasty things had a tougher time spreading around, because people were not all bunched up together.

So, while I do not disagree that cars cause pollution, and there does need to be more done to make them cleaner and more fuel efficient, I do think that cars have done more to add years to our lives, and quality to those years, than just bout anything else you can think of.

Well, there you have it: two completely different perspectives, neither of them wrong. We hope you enjoyed this foray into bi-partisanship, and join me next time, when I return to my own one-sided view of things.

Hyperion and Ed,
June 7, 2001


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