March 27, 2019
If you jam on the brakes for just a minute and take a look at cars and car culture, you just might find something stinky (maybe even as stinky as the black plume of diesel exhaust emanating from that souped-up pickup truck you’re stuck behind). Yes, there are some upsides to cars and driving, but those are overshadowed by the unbelievable downsides. Do you know how many deaths — of people and animals — can be attributed to the automobile? How about cars’ contribution to total greenhouse gas emissions? Have you ever thought deeply about how car culture can diminish the quality of ordinary life experiences? Luckily, there’s a straightforward (albeit not as straight and forward as the typical section of interstate highway) way to improve how we get ourselves from place to place.
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- UC Davis professor and transportation expert Daniel Sperling on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart
- Statistics on U.S. car sales by type, showing how few non-gasoline/diesel vehicles are sold
- Edward Hume’s article in The Atlantic titled “The Absurd Primacy of the Automobile in American Life“
- Clive Thompson’s article in Smithsonian Magazine titled “When Pedestrians Ruled The Streets“
- Summary of roadkill statistics
- U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, by sector, showing the contribution of emissions from personal transportation
- Marvin Harris, cultural materialism, and why we have a hard time imagining a different way to live
Asher Miller 0:01
This is Asher, and I’m here with Jason and Rob. Guys. If you had to describe this podcast in five words or less, what would you say?
Jason Bradford 0:08
I’m gonna go with “Wile E. Coyote guzzling gasoline.”
Rob Dietz 0:13
I’m thinking “climate change diarrhea hurricane.”
Asher Miller 0:17
Are you serious? Maybe I should do this thing on my own.
Rob Dietz 0:01
Fine. It’s a show about how to stay sane in a world where there’s too many people consuming too much stuff and the planet can’t take it anymore.
Asher Miller 0:01
You had me at diarrhea.
Rob Dietz 0:01
Caution – if you’re allergic to four letter words, you might want to try a different podcast.
Hey, you guys ever notice the weird way that cars are named after the thing they destroy?
Jason Bradford 0:47
Asher Miller 0:48
Like… what do you mean?
Jason Bradford 0:49
Toyota Tundra. That’s my favorite.
Asher Miller 0:52
Toyota Tundra. Right. Yeah.
Rob Dietz 0:54
Yeah. He put up enough emissions and the tundra just melts away.
Jason Bradford 0:58
The GMC Denali.
Asher Miller 0:59
Yeah, the Denali. That’s what I was just thinking about.
Rob Dietz 1:01
Yeah, I remember… I don’t know if it’s still around but I remember the Tahoe, you know, it’s dumping a bunch of stuff in the lake…
Asher Miller 1:04
The lake is still there but you know, it’s…
Rob Dietz 1:09
Filled with oil.
Asher Miller 1:10
Well, you know, it’s not getting replenished very much.
Rob Dietz 1:14
Yeah, well, the best one has got to be… in my mind, the Lincoln Town Car, you know the cars is destroyed the town.
Asher Miller 1:22
Rob Dietz 1:23
Can you still get those or do you have to be over 90 years old?
Asher Miller 1:26
I don’t know, is Lincoln still around? Lincoln Town Car not only destroyed the town but destroyed itself!
Rob Dietz 1:30
Asher Miller 1:32
I don’t know. Oh, yeah. Isn’t…
Rob Dietz 1:34
I think you have to be Abraham Lincoln’s age to qualify to drive.
Asher Miller 1:39
Well, what about all of the Volkswagen ones?
Jason Bradford 1:41
What do you mean?
Rob Dietz 1:41
Volkswagen. That’s the best.
Jason Bradford 1:44
Asher Miller 1:45
Yeah! So Golf – that’s actually named after the Gulf Stream.
Jason Bradford 1:49
Oh, that screwed. That’s gonna die.
Asher Miller 1:51
You think about that, right?
Jason Bradford 1:53
Yeah, I had no idea! I thought it was like the sport where people wear funny pants.
Asher Miller 1:56
No, no, no, it’s like the Gulf Stream.
Rob Dietz 1:58
Wait a minute. Are you calling golf a sport? Because we’re gonna have to have a debate about that.
Asher Miller 2:01
That’s a whole other episode of this podcast.
Jason Bradford 2:04
Tennis is the best sport.
Asher Miller 2:04
No, but think about that, like you know, with climate change, we’re completely… you know, messing up the Gulf Stream.
Jason Bradford 2:09
What else? What else? The Rabbit – that was made up for rabbits. Right?
Yeah. Well there’s probably a lot of roadkill.
Asher Miller 2:14
Well, we’re gonna be eating lots of rabbits in the future, I think.
Rob Dietz 2:16
How many rabbits did Volkswagen Rabbits run over in the street? You know, that’s a good…
Asher Miller 2:21
I think you were obligated to drive over a rabbit when you saw one, if you were driving a Rabbit.
Jason Bradford 2:26
That was my first car.
Rob Dietz 2:27
Well, let’s go to the Jetta, which I know was your first car, Asher. You know what that’s named after?
Jason Bradford 2:33
Rob Dietz 2:34
The Jet Stream.
Jason Bradford 2:35
Asher Miller 2:36
So you got the Gulf Stream…
Jason Bradford 2:37
Asher Miller 2:37
…and the Jet Stream?
Jason Bradford 2:39
They’re both wacky…
Rob Dietz 2:40
German engineers know how to name their cars. Like ‘this will replace the jet stream.This will replace the Gulf Stream. No more streams of any kind.’
Asher Miller 2:50
Well, what’s funny is because Volkswagen is actually you know, the car of the people, right? It’s the wagon of the people. So we’re actually… we’re doing a pretty good job of getting rid of those two!
Rob Dietz 3:00
Yeah, yeah. Cars are “doing in” people pretty good, no question about that.
Jason Bradford 3:04
I’ve learned some German today. Thank you.
Rob Dietz 3:07
Speaking of Volkswagen, you know, they gotta be like the most ridiculous car company. Remember a few years ago, they had that huge emissions scandal?
Asher Miller 3:14
Oh, yeah. With their diesels, right?
Rob Dietz 3:16
Yeah. You remember what they were doing? Their diesels were emitting, you know, whatever, these pollutants, and they had the software set up to know when the car was being tested. And then it would tamp down the engine and the amount of pollution.
Jason Bradford 3:30
Asher Miller 3:32
Right. So they had the technology that actually had the ability to tame down the emissions. But fuck, we only need to do that…
Rob Dietz 3:40
When it’s being tested,
Asher Miller 3:41
Once every two years or whatever it is when you test the car.
Rob Dietz 3:45
Yeah, that’s utterly ridiculous. Well, in terms of ridiculous, this reminded me of this guy that I saw on TV a few years back. This story has really stuck with me when it comes to cars. This guy is a professor at UC Davis, University of California, Davis…
Jason Bradford 4:03
Asher Miller 4:04
Yeah isn’t that your alma mater, man?
Jason Bradford 4:05
Rob Dietz 4:06
Yeah, I see you nodding your head over here. Well, congratulations that you went to this guy’s school.
Asher Miller 4:12
Jason, you must be so proud.
Jason Bradford 4:13
Rob Dietz 4:13
So this guy’s name is Daniel Sperling. He’s won all kinds of awards. I don’t want to rail on him too much. But he appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Jason Bradford 4:26
Back in the day.
Rob Dietz 4:26
And I swear, when I was thinking of cars, I like… I got to look up this guy and see how that episode went. So picture this wonky Professor coming out under the big lights, John Stewart, you know, he’s a super quick comedian. It was downright awkward. But that doesn’t really, you know, that doesn’t really matter. What really matters is what this guy Sperling was saying. So he got on the show because he was talking about cars and he had a new book out. Okay. So let me give you the title of his book. 2 Billion Cars. Subtitle – Driving Towards Sustainability.
Asher Miller 5:04
Jason Bradford 5:05
Oh no, this hurts.
Rob Dietz 5:08
Yeah. Yeah. So his his big thing was – we got a billion cars in the world.
Asher Miller 5:13
And we need twice as many!
Rob Dietz 5:15
Yeah, well, and that’s his thing. Well, we’re gonna have 2 billion no matter what. So we better get the right kind of cars. We’re going to have electric cars, we’re going to have cars with special biofuels. We’re going to have cars that run on fairy dust and…
Jason Bradford 5:32
Flying cars? Can we have flying cars?
Asher Miller 5:33
They’re gonna run on water, man.
Rob Dietz 5:35
Yeah, well, in it, it got really awkward. As you know, he couldn’t really even respond to Jon Stewart’s jokes. It was kind of a mess. But, he said some even more outlandish stuff. You know, Stuart was like, ‘well, how are we going to make this happen? How are we going to get there?’ And get this… and this is in 2009 when this episode aired, so Sperling says, ‘well, we got to get a minimum price on gasoline, something like $1.75 or $2.
Asher Miller 6:02
Wait, no. He did not.
Rob Dietz 6:04
That’s exactly what he said. $1.75.
Asher Miller 6:06
Are you sure he wasn’t talking about it in liters?
Rob Dietz 6:08
Yeah, no no, it was gallons. Yeah. Come on. This is America. We’re not gonna talk about liters.
Asher Miller 6:14
I can’t fathom this. A dollar seventy-five?
Rob Dietz 6:18
Yeah, that was his, like, ‘we got to have a minimum price… prices have to be so high that people will switch off gas. We better keep it at a buck seventy five.’
Jason Bradford 6:27
Price of a cup of coffee.
Asher Miller 6:29
Yeah wait hold on second. So did… I mean, does he know or did he know that just a few months earlier… I mean, gas prices in 2008 got up to like in some places close to $5 a gallon.
Jason Bradford 6:40
Rob Dietz 6:41
I don’t know. I mean, you know, some professors. Do they know anything outside of campus? Any guesses?
Asher Miller 6:45
Yeah, exactly. He’s just riding his bicycle around on campus.
Jason Bradford 6:48
He has a good campus for that.
Asher Miller 6:49
Yeah. Maybe he was struck back in the 1970s.
Rob Dietz 6:52
Well, you know, look at gas prices now. In the US, it’s around $3 a gallon. And some places higher.
Asher Miller 6:59
So we must be well on our way then.
Jason Bradford 7:02
Rob Dietz 7:03
Well, okay. Yeah. But so if you look at the last year that it’s available, what percentage of cars sold in the US were not gasoline? It’s amazingly tiny. So gasoline powered cars, only gasoline. 97.2% of new cars sold in the US.
Jason Bradford 7:24
Aw, poor Daniel. He’s not feeling good about this.
Asher Miller 7:27
Well, that’s probably a lot higher than what it was at that point.
Jason Bradford 7:30
Yeah. But still, it’s not enough. It’s 9 years later!
Rob Dietz 7:34
Yeah. 2% of cars sold are hybrid, which means, 0.4% are fully electric and 0.4% are a combo like a plug-in hybrid.
Asher Miller 7:45
Nice. Baby steps, people. Baby steps.
Rob Dietz 7:49
Well, and you know, we’ve got growth. There are more cars in the world.
Jason Bradford 7:53
Rob Dietz 7:53
Estimate is 1.4 billion. So we’re on our way to 2. The amount of vehicle miles traveled in the US has increased by about 10% since then.
Jason Bradford 8:05
It went down for a while.
Asher Miller 8:06
Yeah, it was down for a while during the recession.
Rob Dietz 8:08
Yeah. Well, that seems to be the one thing that can curb emissions is a recession.
Asher Miller 8:13
High prices, but $1 and 75 cents?
Rob Dietz 8:16
A dollar and seventy five cents!
Asher Miller 8:17
Rob Dietz 8:19
Yeah. Well, you know, the last 10 years have not been so kind to Daniel Sperling and his predictions, but I think it’s been… you know, when you think about the damage that cars have caused, I mean… it’s horrendous.
Jason Bradford 8:36
Yeah. How can you say ‘driving to sustainability’ when it’s like driving us extinct? You know?
Asher Miller 8:42
I mean, it gets to the fact that, you know, he was right in a certain way of saying like, it was sort of inconceivable that we wouldn’t be driving more cars, right. Like, we’re just sort of locked into this idea of cars. And, obviously, we’re not anywhere near driving to sustainability, you know, but we seem to be… like, we seem to be complacent or okay with all of the, like, the downsides of cars. I mean, you know, we’re just joking about, you know, nature being done in but if you think about the toll on like, human lives, you know, it’s pretty profound. I mean, let’s see – over the last 15 years… so around, you know, the turn of the century, a little bit after that… You want to guess how many people have died? You know, on highways and streets?
Rob Dietz 9:33
12? 13? 27?
Jason Bradford 9:38
It’s like… it’s like a war every year.
Asher Miller 9:41
We’re talking 400,000 people. It’s 53,000 people a year.
Jason Bradford 9:47
Asher Miller 9:47
You know, who are dying because of toxic tailpipe emissions and like, 400,000 in that time period from, you know, accidents, you know, that happened on roads. Like, that’s insane. That’s I mean, you’re right to compare it to war.
Jason Bradford 10:03
Yeah. It’s like war. And a pretty good size war too.
Rob Dietz 10:07
Jason, I think you’re not going to be hired on to write the subtitle for any of these books. You’re like driving to war, driving to extinction, driving to the big shit show… like, they’re not gonna sell many copies. You gotta think here, if you want that job.
Asher Miller 10:25
Put a positive spin on it.
Jason Bradford 10:25
Yeah, the PR division of Jeep is not gonna hire me.
Asher Miller 10:30
And we’ve been, you know, on the death side of the equation. I mean, we’ve been, kind of okay, or living with that reality since sort of the beginning. You know, I remember reading about all the deaths and accidents that were caused when people were first driving, you know, this was before they were driving, you know, people having to take tests to get a driver’s license.
Jason Bradford 10:51
Yeah, there were less than a billion cars back then.
Asher Miller 10:52
Oh, yeah. So like, 1925. Okay, this was, you know, in the early days of cars, I mean I think the Model T came out, you know, I think was 1908. Okay, so not much later than that, right? 1925, auto accidents accounted for two thirds, two thirds… of the entire death toll in cities that were larger than 25,000 people. And it felt like people were like, super healthy. And you know, they weren’t other things killing people.
Jason Bradford 11:21
They were like leaving the speakeasy.
Rob Dietz 11:23
Maybe it was by choice. Maybe like you get to be, I don’t know, 65, you’re retiring and they just put you in the street and run you over. Was that it?
Asher Miller 11:32
I don’t know. I think honestly, people didn’t know what the fuck that they were doing. But still, okay yes, we have the population of people that are dying, you know, in auto accidents has gone way down as a per capita percentage, but…
Jason Bradford 11:46
It’s still a lot. Yeah.
Asher Miller 11:48
It’s a lot of fucking people, you know, a lot.
Rob Dietz 11:51
I don’t know about you guys. But it seems like most people you’ve talked to have been touched by some kind of tragedy.
Jason Bradford 11:59
Yep, I have.
Rob Dietz 11:59
Friend, family… I know… In fact, while you were talking Asher, I was thinking, maybe this is why I rebel against cars and have… you know, sort of a beef or a bone to pick with them is… in my family, I have an uncle, who was kind of one of these people that everything he does can turn to gold and his son, my cousin, they were killed by a drunk driver, and it really affected our family. And I think you’re right that we tend to disregard or sort of put aside the dangers and we kind of live with this risk. But people who have been touched by that kind of tragedy, you know, there’s a real reason to rebel against this, you know, this kind of car culture.
Asher Miller 12:43
I’ll tell you a story. Like when I was maybe 14, I was riding my bike, you know, and in front of my house, basically, I was riding sort of weaving in and out between the sidewalk and the street, you know, going up and down driveways. And I wasn’t really paying attention what I was doing, I was kind of goofing around, and just further down the street, it goes downhill, and there’s a car that was actually coming up that hill, you know, cresting it. And I was on the wrong side of the street. And I look up and all of a sudden there’s this car there. You know. And the woman who was driving it saw me and she like slammed on the brakes but it was too late.
Rob Dietz 13:19
Was it a Ford bike? On the thing that it destroys?
Asher Miller 13:22
Ford cyclist. No, it was not.
Rob Dietz 13:25
Ford teenage boy out having fun.
Asher Miller 13:28
Yeah. So I slammed right into it, you know? And…
Rob Dietz 13:32
Wait wait, I think we can call it… it slammed right into you, can’t we?
Asher Miller 13:36
We’re both moving.
Rob Dietz 13:37
Asher Miller 13:37
Yeah. I’m gonna take… actually responsibility.
Jason Bradford 13:40
Yeah, it doesn’t sound like you were doing a really good job riding the bike.
Asher Miller 13:42
So I just… I still have this, like, visceral memory of like, looking down, right. I hit the front of the car, I look down and I see… I see my handlebars going through between my legs. And then I do a flip over the car. Literally flip over the car and happen to magically land on my hands and knees. Okay? And then I look behind me. And I see my bike also flipping in the air…
Rob Dietz 14:07
Eclipsing the sun as it…
Asher Miller 14:09
And then it slams right into me, hits me in the head, knocks me out a little bit.
Rob Dietz 14:13
That’s okay. Your helmet protected you, right?
Asher Miller 14:14
I wasn’t wearing a helmet.
Jason Bradford 14:15
There were no helmets back then.
Asher Miller 14:16
I was not wearing helmet. Now. I got super lucky. You know, I had like a minor concussion. They did take me to hospital. My poor mom, she’s in the house, she heard this… you know, she heard this screech, slam, boom, you know?
Rob Dietz 14:28
She heard the thud of bike to skull…
Asher Miller 14:30
Yeah, it was… you know, I think I probably shortened her life quite a bit. But my point is that that was a really close call. I think a lot of us have had close calls driving or being passengers in a car being pedestrian or whatever. But you know, two years later, I get my driver’s license, I’m like all psyched. You know, I’m driving like a motherfucking idiot. You know, I’m driving this two ton weapon and just reveling in the freedom I have, have the windows open, blasting music and I was like having the time of my life.
Rob Dietz 15:00
You know, it’s become so casual, I mean, when I was a kid I remember going to soccer practice in the… you know, the bed of my friend’s dad’s pickup, right? There’s like four of us in the pickup of a van!
Jason Bradford 15:01
Right. I did that all the time.
Rob Dietz 15:11
Jason Bradford 15:12
Yeah, so bad. But isn’t that just… you know what, I was recently taken aback by a New York Times article about the roadkill in Brazil. Brazil’s the most biodiverse country in the world. And all these new roads are going in through the Amazon. And it’s just like, slaughtering an estimated 1.3 million animals every day.
Asher Miller 15:34
What? Wait, you mean a year?
Jason Bradford 15:36
Rob Dietz 15:37
1.3 million animals a day? Just getting pancaked on the road. It’s like… for a southern man like me, it’s a dream. I just get out there with a spatula and I scoop ’em all up.
Jason Bradford 15:49
Rob Dietz 15:50
Taking them home. Yeah. Eating like some caiman tail or something.
Jason Bradford 15:53
Yeah. I mean, it’s just nuts. It’s just absolutely nuts. And in the US, I mean, of course, we’ve all seen plenty of deer and raccoons and crows or whatever. But in New York State, about 65,000 deer each year are killed.
Asher Miller 16:09
Just in New York State?
Jason Bradford 16:10
Rob Dietz 16:11
I’ve been hit by a deer. In a car.
Jason Bradford 16:13
Rob Dietz 16:14
Yeah. And this was… the car did not hit the deer. Like the guy who was driving hit the brakes and the deer ran into the side of the car, like smacked it with his head and then ran off.
Asher Miller 16:24
Rob Dietz 16:24
But actually dented the car. We had to go get it fixed.
Jason Bradford 16:27
How did it taste? Did you eat it?
Rob Dietz 16:29
No, I mean, it ran off. But I got two more good… well, I was gonna say deer stories – the first one’s an elk story. A friend of mine was driving her truck along a highway. And an elk came through her windshield. And it was like still alive, like kicking her in the face and the neck and stuff. And, you know, I don’t know if most people are familiar with with elk. But yeah, it’s quite large. It could be like a 400-500 pound animal.
Jason Bradford 16:57
There are 1,000-pound elk around here.
Rob Dietz 16:57
Yeah. And in another instance, I mean, this is I think getting to that… makes that 65,000 number like… I know these people who are getting hit by deer and hitting deer, a friend of mine, he used to go hunting with his family. And they were driving two trucks, you know, a little bit before dawn to get to the site where they wanted to go hunting. And my friend was in the lead pickup truck and they were going along and he looked back and noticed that the truck behind him wasn’t there anymore. Like – what the hell? Where’d they go? So they pulled over and waited and waited and they’re like – okay, we got to go back. So they went back and they found the other truck and that truck had hit a deer and killed it. So they just loaded it up in the truck, ‘hunting done! Time to go home.’
Jason Bradford 17:14
You know, that reminds me of a family I knew – they were called the Hendersons and they went on a camping trip and they hit a Bigfoot. And then they stuck that on the top of their car. I think he made a documentary about that.
Rob Dietz 17:51
I didn’t know you knew them ’cause.. Yeah, I mean…
Asher Miller 17:54
And then they called it Harry.
Jason Bradford 17:55
Your kids are younger than mine. I missed that one.
Rob Dietz 17:58
I know… Don’t worry. I know all the ’80s movies.
Asher Miller 18:01
This is John Lithgow!
Rob Dietz 18:03
Harry and the Hendersons.
Asher Miller 18:04
This was the pinnacle of his career.
Rob Dietz 18:09
Was it even bigger than 3rd Rock? That horrendous TV show?
Asher Miller 18:13
No, I’m just talking about the quality of the production and the storytelling. Yeah.
Jason Bradford 18:19
I missed out.
Rob Dietz 18:20
Yeah, you really did. We’ll get that on Netflix for you later.
Asher Miller 18:24
Okay, so we’re talking about, you know, human deaths, animal deaths, any other issues with cars?
Rob Dietz 18:30
Yeah, I got an issue. Like, why don’t we just talk about the colossal waste that cars are. When you look at spending money, a car’s got to be the worst investment. And a lot of people are starting to realize that. You get millennials who are like, ‘I’m not gonna buy a car. That’s, that’s ridiculous…’ You know, as soon as you start driving it, the depreciation kicks in…
Jason Bradford 18:52
Right. They can’t afford insurance.
Rob Dietz 18:53
Well, do you guys know the average car owner in the US pays $12,500 a year for their car. That’s the… you know, sort of taking into account the purchase price or the lease, the gas, the insurance, the wear and tear, all of that.
Jason Bradford 19:11
That totally sounds right.
Asher Miller 19:13
That’s like a $1 a mile, right? Because doesn’t an average car go…
Rob Dietz 19:17
Yeah, well, and even Morgan Stanley, the “revered” investment bank, which we’d have some down things to say about them, but we’ll save that… they call cars the world’s most underutilized asset. And the reason they do that is because you’re spending all that money. And yet each car is only driven around for about 14 hours a week. So you know, if you start doing the math on that, it’s like, you’re basically paying, what 18-20 dollars an hour for driving your car.
Asher Miller 19:49
Well, so I guess the solution there is to utilize it more. Right?
Rob Dietz 19:53
Yeah, you should drive all the time.
Asher Miller 19:55
Actually, I gotta say, 14 hours a week – that’s two hours a day. That actually feels like a lot to me. That’s…
Jason Bradford 20:02
I’m glad I don’t find that much time.
Asher Miller 20:03
That sounds miserable.
Jason Bradford 20:05
We don’t live in a place you’d commute for an hour each way.
Asher Miller 20:08
That’s true. But so you’re paying out the nose to do something that fucking sucks.
Rob Dietz 20:12
Yeah, that’s why with road rage, why everybody’s so angry at one another.
Jason Bradford 20:17
We all pay out the nose for something we use even less.
Rob Dietz 20:20
Yeah, that’s a good point. Because it’s not only the expense of the car, there’s also, don’t forget, the car infrastructure.
Asher Miller 20:27
Right. So we’re all paying for not driving.
Rob Dietz 20:30
So state and local governments are spending on roads and highways. $500 per person. I mean, it’s insane. Think about it. You know, they could just be handing us 500 bucks a person.
Asher Miller 20:42
That’s 500 a year right?
Rob Dietz 20:44
Yeah, yeah, every year. And that doesn’t even include federal spending…
Jason Bradford 20:48
Which is a lot more I’m sure.
Asher Miller 20:49
Yeah. Cuz the highways. Right?
Rob Dietz 20:50
And of course, there’s plenty of private costs with parking facilities, you know, garages, whatever driveways, all that.
Jason Bradford 20:58
You can’t build a house today without putting a garage in. Right? I mean, you’re gonna have to do that. The bank will not give you a loan unless you put a garage in your house. Yeah. So yeah, we have to do it. It’s like we’re required… and cities and counties and… they’re all required to put in so many parking places and have road systems that are so big to accommodate the cars.
Asher Miller 21:17
Right behind our… so the Post Carbon Institute where Rob and I work, right next door building, we work in this old building that was built what, in early 1900s or something. Maybe earlier than that right. It’s on the National Registry of Historic Places. Beautiful building. Right next to us is you know, what, a 500 car garage?
Rob Dietz 21:39
Yeah, a 500 car parking garage.
Jason Bradford 21:41
So that one’s going in there?
Rob Dietz 21:42
Yeah. Well, and some… probably some student housing.
Jason Bradford 21:45
Rob Dietz 21:46
But the garage is more offensive. I mean, suppose we get rid of car culture. Like what can you do with a parking garage. What’s it going to become? Like an awesome skate park or something? That’s basically it.
Asher Miller 21:59
Yeah. Some people can live in it. Shelter from the storm.
Rob Dietz 22:02
I’ve always wanted to live on a concrete ramp. What an awesome way to live.
Asher Miller 22:09
You just roll down the hill every night.
Jason Bradford 22:11
You’ve got like, little living stalls like…
Asher Miller 22:14
Rob Dietz 22:16
Public service announcement, don’t let Asher design your next homestead.
Asher Miller 22:20
Homeless shelter for all the climate refugees in the future.
Jason Bradford 22:22
Right. Yeah. I live in number 198!
Rob Dietz 22:27
Okay, well, that’s the money side. But what about the pollution side?
Jason Bradford 22:33
Well yeah, I mean, so greenhouse gas emissions are a big deal nowadays. I think people really care about them. Yeah, I mean… so transportation is 28% of greenhouse gas emissions in the US. It’s the largest, it’s pretty darn close electricity, but it is the biggest, you know, and then cars and trucks… so this is sort of like… not the stuff that necessarily is commercial vehicles, but the cars and trucks we might drive around are 83% of those greenhouse gas emissions. It’s just a huge proportion for private vehicles.
Rob Dietz 23:07
So when the climate scientists say we’ve got 10 or 12 years, where we’ve got to just cut our entire use of fossil fuels in half, I mean, seems like that would be the place you go after the biggest. Yeah, but are we ready for that at all?
Asher Miller 23:21
Well, I mean, it’s a big challenge. I mean, you know, you talked earlier about how many electric vehicles there are, you know.
Exactly, you have one of them. So to others, we got a long way to go if we’re gonna substitute, you know, and they’re real limitations in that, I mean, by far, most of transportation is driven by liquid fuels. You know, that’s oil right now, you know, in the form of gasoline and diesel and whatnot. And there’s a reason why we burn that stuff, you know, it’s incredibly energy-dense, has a ton of literal power in it, you know, you could transport it safely, relatively safely. It’s been incredibly cheap for the amount of energy that it provides. And it’s just a big challenge to transition the vehicle fleet to alternatives, I mean…
Jason Bradford 24:15
But it’s also in our heads. It’s like the status symbol. Like we’ve been marketed, you know, that this is an extension of ourselves, you know, like, you know, some people will buy the the Ford 350 Powerstroke, because it’s, you know, it’s incredible, and it’s sort of, and others though, are supposedly agreeing. You’re gonna buy that Prius hybrid, but then they’re gonna, you know, fly to Italy for vacation, so I don’t think anyone’s like necessarily better, but I’m saying, this is like an extension of our identity.
Rob Dietz 24:44
I know. I’m gonna get the KITT.
Jason Bradford 24:46
Rob Dietz 24:47
That’s a… you know, Michael Knight’s car that talks with the red light.
Jason Bradford 24:51
Rob Dietz 24:51
This was across the front. ‘Michael, you’re driving too fa-…’ ‘Hey, I’m Rob. I’m not Michael.’
Jason Bradford 24:58
Asher Miller 24:59
Well that’s true. I think that’s what’s crazy. This guy that you’re talking about, you know, that was on The Daily Show, Daniel Sperling, I mean, he’s talking about how we’re gonna get to 2 billion cars and I think a big part of the reason, beyond the fact that we are kind of locked in, you know, in terms of the infrastructure that we developed towards it, is the fact that people can’t imagine themselves, at least in a lot of America, not having a car. It’s tied to their identity. You know, it’s some… people take an immense amount of pride in the kind of car that they have, you know, they’re willing to waste a shit ton of money on this thing because of what it represents for them. And we’ve got so much of our language tied to cars. Great music, Springsteen, you know, there’s like, you know, it’s like, part of that rite of passage when… you know, when you grow up, you know, get a driver’s licence…
Jason Bradford 25:51
You had a Jetta, right?
Asher Miller 25:52
Yeah. I had the Jetta.
Jason Bradford 25:53
Okay. I had a Volkswagen Rabbit. So we’re Volkswagen friends.
Asher Miller 25:56
Yeah. Yeah, we’re all the people. So it makes it…
Rob Dietz 26:00
Screwing up the environment for the rest of us.
Asher Miller 26:02
It makes it hard, you know, and, I mean, what are the alternatives? You’re gonna ride your bike?
Rob Dietz 26:08
Well, yes. But I do want to say that I… you know, I think we’ve all had some pretty outstanding experiences, you know, taking a car somewhere that we couldn’t have gotten to, you know, I wasn’t gonna walk to Yosemite. I understand the allure of having a car, being able to… it’s a freedom kind of a thing and…
Jason Bradford 26:27
Oh, car camping was so much fun, you know, just going hours away and sort of… end of a road.
Asher Miller 26:32
Yeah. One of my best memories is road tripping with my brother across the country.
Rob Dietz 26:37
But you know, you open the door to bikes. I… you know, I think of the three of us, I’m the most like nerdy. And I feel like, you know, when I learned to ride a bike, it’s probably like how a lot of people feel like when they got their driver’s license. Like I just felt free. Like, here’s this thing that I could get around on, I could go fast, I could get where I wanted to go. And I think a lot of people, when the car becomes available to them, they lose that sense of fun with a bike, but I just never did. And I love commuting by bike. I love…
Asher Miller 27:06
That’s cause you didn’t get hit by a car when you were 14 years old.
Rob Dietz 27:08
Yeah. I suppose that’s a little bit of a deterrent; you do have to be kind of crazy to get out there on our streets where 400,000 people have died in the last 15 years. Like you got to kind of pretend like you’re not going to get hurt, like that semi isn’t going to flatten you out there. But no, really, I mean, I’ve ridden a bike, actually all the way across the United States. Like you can take a bike really far. Now obviously, I didn’t do it in two days or three days, like you could in a car. But I think what people don’t realize is that the bicycle is the most efficient form of transportation humans have ever invented. By efficient, I mean the amount of distance that you get for the amount of calories that you put in. So you know, a car you think about…
Jason Bradford 27:50
Wait wait wait. I just sit on my butt in the car, and I just sit my big gulp. I’m not putting in anything. I’m… I’m… What are you talking about?
Rob Dietz 27:56
Yeah. I think you forgot about Asher and the highly dense energy that he was talking about?
Jason Bradford 28:01
Rob Dietz 28:02
Remember that? The oil that goes in there?
Jason Bradford 28:05
Okay. So you’re counting that?
Rob Dietz 28:07
Jason Bradford 28:08
Rob Dietz 28:08
Yeah. And I mean, also think about when you are driving your car, you know, let’s say you’re just going to the store, you’re carrying like 3000 to 5000 pounds with you. That hardly seems necessary to pick up you know, carton bags.
Asher Miller 28:24
Yeah. And the engine is not particularly, you know, efficient. I mean, they’ve tried to make cars more efficient, but it’s not, particularly efficient.
Jason Bradford 28:32
There’s limits to what you can do with the Carnot cycle.
Asher Miller 28:34
I mean, at the end of the day, it’s something like 1% of the energy, you know, goes to actually move in your ass.
Jason Bradford 28:39
Asher Miller 28:42
A bike has got to be better than…
Rob Dietz 28:43
But also on a bike, I mean, there’s a few other things I love, like… let’s say you’re doing your daily commute, you’re actually waking up, you’re getting in shape, you’re staying fit, you actually see the place that you’re going through, you know, when you’re in a car surrounded by that glass and steel, you kind of just move through it and don’t pay much attention. You fiddle with the radio or whatever, but…
Asher Miller 29:04
But you get to listen to Rush Limbaugh.
Rob Dietz 29:06
Oh, well, geez, I’m done. I’m gonna go, I’m gonna go run over my bike now with a car and just listen to Rush.
Asher Miller 29:14
Yeah. That’s what Rush is telling you to do.
Rob Dietz 29:15
Right. You know, besides interacting with place, it’s also a way to interact with people. You know, like on that trip I was talking about where we went across country, people would invite us to stay with them. People would just offer us food. They were interested in what we were doing and why we were riding our bikes. Like that’s never happened to me when I’ve driven my car across. Like nobody gives a shit about who I am or what I’m doing. And they’re certainly inviting. Yeah, they might want my money, right. But yeah, i I think bikes, there’s just… it’s a much different experience, both environmentally and socially.
Jason Bradford 29:53
Yeah, I would love to have it easier… easier and more friendly to bike more.
Asher Miller 29:59
Yeah. I mean, I think that that’s what it’s gonna take. Because right now we’ve kind of created an infrastructure, especially here in the West, you know, we live in Oregon, that is completely built around the car, you know, it’s like, it’s almost like an obligation to have to have a car and… but the funny thing is, it obviously didn’t used to be that way. There was… there was life before car.
Jason Bradford 30:24
A hundred years ago.
Asher Miller 30:25
It’s hard for us, you know, in suburban America, the communities that were built, you know, after World War Two, and the highway system was built to… sort of imagine that, but like, if you go to the east coast, or cities were established, you know, before cars existed. The road was not there for cars. In fact, streets were communal spaces. People would walk down the street, you know, they’d have to watch out for horses and carts and shit, but, you know, it was a place that people congregated. Kids would be playing -literally playing in the street all the time.
Rob Dietz 31:02
Yeah, I’m picturing Spanky and Alfalfa, playing marbles, or whatever.
Asher Miller 31:07
And in fact, you know, I talked earlier about all the deaths, you know, that occurred in kind of the early days of car culture. And part of that had to do with the fact that like, that transition, took a while, you know, it’s like, it took a while not only for there to be like speed limit laws and stop signs and all the things that had to be put in place to protect people who are driving. It was also just the fact that people didn’t think that this street was something meant for the car and there was actually a big backlash, you know, against cars. There were protests, there were… I think it was in Chicago, there was like a protest of thousands of kids. They organized and they’re marching down the street because they wanted their fucking street back.
Jason Bradford 31:46
Well you’re playing hopscotch or jacks or something like that.. and some jerk just starts flying through your playground. I’d be pissed!
Asher Miller 31:56
And so a lot of politicians, elected officials felt like that they had to kind of push back, you know, against cars. And car aficionados, you know, this isn’t even really before there’s like a powerful industry. They felt like they were on the defensive all the car clubs, all the people that were like really into cars, a lot of them were of the… kind of wealthier class…
Oh you know, rich bastards I’m sure.
And they sort of said we gotta get organized and push back on this whole thing. In fact the term jaywalking, that came from the sort of pro-car auto club cultures basically saying, we got to make people that walk in the street look like assholes, like it’s their fault. Right? So Jay was a term for somebody who’s like kind of a country bumpkin. Right. So calling somebody a jaywalker man like you’re a fucking country idiot walking in the middle of the street like you don’t know what you’re doing. So you got to get out of the street.
Rob Dietz 32:45
So we should start jaywalking as a protest. Just get out on I-5 and just walk right down the middle lane.
Asher Miller 32:53
I hope you’ve got like a very protective bubble that you can wrap yourself in.
Rob Dietz 32:56
I will ride my bike. I’ll recreate the scene that you had of watching the bike go through your legs as you’re flying through the air.
Asher Miller 33:05
But so we… I mean, this was not something that always was, right. There was like an orchestrated effort to kind of take over these thoroughfares, these public spaces in the interest of the car.
Rob Dietz 33:17
And you hit it – orchestrated. I mean, you know the case with GM, where were they the street car conspiracy, there were… GM and Firestone and Standard Oil and some other companies – they got together, they colluded, and they bought up the transit systems of 25 cities with the express purpose of dismantling them so that you would have to buy a car to be able to get around any kind of an efficient way. And then, in 1949, GM was actually… they were convicted and fined $5,000. You know..
Jason Bradford 33:51
That’s not enough.
Asher Miller 33:54
Rob Dietz 33:55
The company’s treasurer, who kind of spearheaded this conspiracy, he was fined the princely sum of $1. So you know…
Asher Miller 34:07
Come on with inflation? That was probably…
Rob Dietz 34:09
$1.75. The limit on gas. Yeah. Well, you know, you wonder like, how far did the conspiracy go, did they pay off the judges or…
Jason Bradford 34:13
Well, that’s the thing. You realize that what’s going on is probably – government’s kind of going – Ohhh, yeah, yeah, yeah, here, we’re gonna make you pay for this.
Asher Miller 34:27
And now, fast forward 100 years, right? And even here in… where we live in Corvallis, Oregon. Pretty progressive city. It’s actually known as quite a bike friendly community. The streets aren’t really designed for people using them for anything other than you know, driving in a car. Like when we moved here, we wanted to put our basketball hoop out on the street so my kids could play, you know.
Rob Dietz 34:50
Of course! Who doesn’t want to play basketball out on the street?
Asher Miller 34:50
Our driveway was too steep you know, couldn’t do that. So we wanted to… we parked it down on the street where it was flat. And our neighbors I called the city to complain! And the city basically said…
Rob Dietz 34:53
‘Look! kids in the street!’
Asher Miller 34:54
Yeah, ‘we probably wouldn’t do anything with this. But since we got a complaint, you guys got to remove the basketball hoop. And oh, by the way…’
Rob Dietz 35:13
Did you block in your neighbor’s car with the basketball hoop?
Asher Miller 35:16
If I knew what it was I would have probably done that. But like, you know, they basically said, there is actually, you know, law on the books and ordinance that you can’t play in the street. You know, like, they don’t really enforce it all the time. But it basically is law that your kids can go play in the street. You know what I mean? It’s crazy. So look, what’s our recourse? You talked about… Rob, you talked about the benefits and the pleasure of riding a bicycle. But you know, a lot of people, even if they’re physically able to do it, you know, doesn’t feel safe to do it.
Rob Dietz 35:48
Well, now that I’ve heard that playing in the streets is against the law, I’m not sure I’m allowed to bike anymore, because I’d look at that as playing. Yeah, it’s no good.
Asher Miller 35:58
I think ultimately, this means we got to take back the street, you know.
Rob Dietz 36:02
I fully agree. You know, you guys, we work with Richard Heinberg. And he does this really cool online course called Think Resilience. And, you know, if you go through that, you get this really big systems perspective of the crises we’re facing, and how to move toward building resilient communities. Well, in that the thing that struck me the most in the whole series is when he’s talking about the way that infrastructure informs culture. What he’s saying is the belief systems, the way we behave, is largely dependent on the infrastructure that we have to work with. Richard didn’t make this stuff up, it comes from a lot of anthropological research, started mostly by a guy named Marvin Harris. And if you’re interested, you can look it up. It’s called cultural materialism. But this notion, you know, at first, I didn’t quite get it. But when we started thinking about cars, and I was giving it more and more thought, I really was like, wow, that’s so true. And what really cemented it is, Asher and I got to go visit a colleague, who’s working on getting a train going, a commuter train in Vermont. And I was thinking about when you have an infrastructure for cars, it’s a very competitive infrastructure. Like, if the three of us are driving, we’re kind of in competition with each other. I basically don’t want you…
Jason Bradford 37:25
Get out of my way.
Asher Miller 37:25
Get the fuck out of my way!
Rob Dietz 37:26
Exactly. And I’m gonna honk and I’m gonna yell at you… And you know, it’s like, the more people you service, the worse it is, and everybody’s kind of doing their own thing. And it’s just a real competitive spirit. And then in a train, it’s a much more cooperative spirit. I mean, you’re all going the same way. We might… rather than drive up on each other’s bumpers and yell at each other – instead, we’ll just have a conversation over a beer while we’re riding the train to our destination. And those infrastructures are very different. And your behavior is very different, depending on which mode of transportation you’re using.
Jason Bradford 37:29
You can drink and ride but you can’t drink and drive.
Rob Dietz 38:05
Well, they’re sold right there.
Asher Miller 38:08
It’s true. I think that the physical world around us, we don’t consider it. We don’t step back and imagine how it could be different. But we need to do that. At the same time, I think… where we are here, right? 2018 with the crisis at hand, in terms of climate change, the fact that we spent trillions of dollars, and I don’t even know how many billions of barrels of oil, building this infrastructure.
Jason Bradford 38:40
Asher Miller 38:41
And yeah, James Howard Kunstler, the great critic of kind of the spaces and architecture that we built, called the suburbs in the highway system the worst allocation of resources in human history. But we’ve allocated it right?
Jason Bradford 38:54
Asher Miller 38:55
We have this cost, and not only… you know we might say, ‘hey, well, let’s spend money on something else, you know, let’s do this differently. I think all that requires a ton of energy to build a different route structure.
Jason Bradford 39:06
Right. Do we have that?
Asher Miller 39:07
Do we have it? Do we have the money? Do we have the time? You know, so I think when we think about changing our relationship with infrastructure, changing the infrastructure, it might have to be done in a way where we look at what we have around us, and reappropriate it.
Jason Bradford 39:21
Yeah. Retrofit rather than like, build a whole parallel system.
Asher Miller 39:24
Yeah. So like, if the streets were taken over for the car, right? There were streets before that. Well, let’s take streets back from the car. You know, what if we did something crazy, like instead of putting bike lanes in all… you know, all kinds of places if we don’t have them already? Why don’t we just take over part of the street? At least to begin with. We don’t have to like stop cars driving in downtown, although that would be amazing.
Rob Dietz 39:47
Well I would love it. Let’s take some percentage. Even any town in America, if you said let’s just start with 10%. 10% of the streets are going to be bike and pedestrian only five years from now. That’d be incredible compared to what’s been done. There is no place…
Asher Miller 40:05
I think we could… I think we can and should be more ambitious than that. I mean, let’s set a goal of saying, hey, half of our streets in 5 or 10 years are not allowed for cars to drive.
Rob Dietz 40:17
I would love it. I mean, think about being able to get around, how safe and comfortable it would feel to ride a current city street where there’s no traffic, and you’re not… you’re not on this tiny little bike lane shoved off to the side where they blow all the leaves. And you know, you’re not the second class citizen anymore. You are…
You’re worried about somebody pulling up because they can’t see you.
Jason Bradford 40:40
Yeah, and this sounds like wow, radical, big thing. But like, let’s look at what we’ve been told by climate scientists. We better cut in half in like, a dozen years, then we better cut a half again, then we better cut in half again. So this is like an answer to that… that actually is at the scale of what’s required. So if anyone says no we can’t do this, like, what’s your idea?
Asher Miller 41:02
Right. And not only that, but if you think about the incentives that people have, right, we’ve incentivized car culture, right? So we reward that and we disincentivize people having to like walk or bike or whatever, if you flip that a little bit, you know, you took away half the streets from cars. All the people who are still driving cars, it can be even more miserable. And they’re gonna see people, you know, happily riding a bicycle, you know? And, and so the incentive, the rewards and disincentives are going to be flipped, which is what we need to do.
Rob Dietz 41:34
And let’s take just a quick moment to… I know that not everybody can ride a bike or can walk or can get around that way. You know, we’ve got people who are aging out or people with disabilities and… but we can find ways to keep the mobility for those people. I mean, I’ll happily rickshaw you two wherever you want to go. I’ll take you to bars all night long or whatever. But seriously, I mean, there are pedicabs. There’s ways we can get people around, even on non-motor vehicle streets.
Asher Miller 42:04
Sure. And they, you know, they’ve done that historically, in lots of places in the world and yet we’re still doing it today, you know.
Rob Dietz 42:12
I love it. I love the simple call to action here. Take Back the Streets.
Asher Miller 42:16
Yeah, just be careful when you step on the street.
Rob Dietz 42:18
Yeah, well, I don’t know about you guys. I’m gonna go down to the Automotive Museum and hit some cars with a sledgehammer now.
Asher Miller 42:24
All right, I will go get some cash so I could bond you out.
Jason Bradford 42:28
I’m gonna go plug in my electric bike.
Asher Miller 42:34
That’s our show. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, please subscribe to the podcast. And while you’re at it, rate it or review it at iTunes. That really helps get it in front of more people. To learn more, visit postcarbon.org/crazytown. And if you want to actually learn something, instead of listening to us bozos, you should check out Post Carbon Institute’s Think Resilience course. It’s four hours, 20 bucks, and will seriously change the way you see the world. Catch you next time on the mean streets of Crazy Town.
Rob Dietz 43:04
All right, Asher, Jason, this is the best part of the podcast – we get to talk about our sponsors.
Jason Bradford 43:10
We love our sponsors. Thank you sponsors!
Rob Dietz 43:13
And this time, it’s the Plastic Wrapping Alliance.
Jason Bradford 43:16
Rob Dietz 43:17
Yeah. Do you know about that company? It’s just unbelievable, what they do. They’re all about efficiency.
Jason Bradford 43:22
Rob Dietz 43:23
So you know, typically, plastic wrapping… you wrap a product, you give it to the consumer, consumer uses it, throws it away… Somehow it ends up in the ocean. Well, Plastic Wrapping Alliance just eliminates the middleman, right? Totally efficient. They take the plastic wrapping, and they just fly it to the ocean and drop it in.
Jason Bradford 43:43
The Pacific Gyre, I think is their target right now.
Asher Miller 43:46
Yeah, it was amazing. They actually took me up on one of their flights to drop. It was incredible looking down on all that plastic.
Rob Dietz 43:54
Brings a tear in the eye.
Jason Bradford 43:55
Yeah, I think you can see it from like the space thing they got up there.
Rob Dietz 44:00
Oh, like if you’re riding in a Tesla that Elon Musk launched up there?
Asher Miller 44:05
Well eventually, that’s going to come back and then be part of the plastic shit gyre.
Rob Dietz 44:11
Yeah. Oh, it’s awesome. The people that Plastic Wrapping Alliance are so good that they even go further – so rather than just dumping it in the ocean, they’ll actually take some of it and wrap it around whales and dolphins and sea turtles. So you know, it’s getting it to that final spot.
Jason Bradford 44:28
Asher Miller 44:28
Incredible. I mean, if that’s where it’s gonna end up anyway, let’s do it as efficiently, and as quickly and as cheaply as possible.
Jason Bradford 44:38
That’s right. That’s right.
Asher Miller 44:39
These guys are geniuses.
Rob Dietz 44:40
Yeah, eliminate the middleman.
Jason Bradford 44:41
Thank you Plastic Wrapping Alliance.