Time to scrap the Hummer?

Having abandoned my love affair with cars several years ago in favor of a rekindled flame with bicycles, I often find the public support of cars painful. My personal "sacrifice" (I think of it more as a liberation) seems meaningless while my tax dollars are going to support the continued manufacture of enough cars for two or three per family, roads that give plenty of room for wasteful travel, and other environmentally ruinous stuff. I don't find a lot of support for this line of reasoning, until this weekend.

In his Moral of the Story column in The New York Times, Randy Cohen argues we should stop the sale of the Hummer to Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Company. Why? Producing the cars anywhere is unethical (and while we're at it, Ford F-650, Mercedes S-Class, and Ferrari V12: you're on notice). Peter Cohan has another reason why the sale shouldn't go through; he argues that cultural and management problems will make it near-impossible for the Hummer to make money when it goes to China.

In an argument I find extremely persuasive, Randy Cohen points out that we shouldn't sell the Hummer to China, and we should reduce support of the federally-funded car culture, because cars are hazardous.

Most disconcerting, cars kill. If you introduced a transportation system by announcing that it would kill only 40,000 people a year, it would be unlikely to gain widespread popularity. And that figure is just for accidents. Cars also kill in slow motion -- by polluting the air and thus contributing to respiratory disease. Auto emissions also contribute to global warming and degrade the facades of buildings and bridges, via acid rain and other chemical reactions, at enormous public expense."
And, more simply, "Cars make us fat," Cohen writes.

Hear, hear. As Cohen explains, public funds should be used to balance the public interest against cost. Here, the rational solution would always be to stop driving; it's both exceedingly dangerous (for immediate, accidental death and long-term health and environmental destruction) and expensive; investing in auto companies to produce more cars is ridiculous. "Cars squander scarce public space, turning nearly every street into a parking lot. Cars distort our foreign policy," he goes on. Instead, put the public money behind an inducement to have GM start producing new transit technologies; clean light rail and hybrid buses.

I think his argument is brilliant and worth reading; I also think it's likely to fail. We, like Rome, are too deep in love with our destructive technologies to pull the plug and kill the Hummers -- or the Mercedes, or, God help us, the lovely Ford trucks. Our nation is, the tagline goes, built Ford tough. And, in irony that would be delicious if it wasn't so frightening, like the Roman empire, built to fail.

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