The Enclosed Habitat of Modern Man

© Andy Singer

Chris Coleman takes a biological point of view at the favourite habitat of the Homo Sapiens in the Post-Industrial Age.

Each species has its preferred habitat: tigers favouring plains full of grazing prey, or sloth a rich, broad-leaf forest canopy. We humans are no exception. However, we are – along with the rat – the most versatile animal going on earth, meaning that we can settle in all but the most extreme conditions. Though we may be capable of thriving in the Arctic tundra or thickest jungle, we have chosen (or the mechanisms of industrial capitalism) to settle in the cozy confines of the city.

Not unlike the bear lured in by easy food from waste bins in mountain towns, we couldn’t resist the temptations of gas heating coming to our home at the turn of a knob, or food provided in exchange for minted coins and paper notes. We have chosen the path of convenience first, creating a living environment of sterile, lifeless, climate-controlled what I’ll call “insulated boxes” (rooms) and transforming more and more wild nature into monocultural land and industrial parks.

Our Post-Industrial/Information Age has decidedly embraced these insulated boxes as home: work is done inside in front of computers and desks; purchasing our daily wares is done under ultra-bright lighting in shopping centres; and transport moves from point A to B in cars and buses. Every activity possible – even sports – seeks a controlled, air-conditioned cubed box bereft of all but human life. This is the very opposite of the spontaneity, and cooperation between a diverse range of species found in nature. The closest most city-dwellers come to nature is the park where grass, a few trees and bushes provide habitat for only squirrels, stray dogs and the occasional homeless man.

The city is clearly coiling in on its grey, concrete self, leaving the modern man sadly unaware of the miracles of the unfolding seasons. In the US, for example, the Spring’s dandelion is perceived as an obnoxious weed, not a wonderful herb used in salads, syrups and teas. Also, the city dweller is only dimly aware of the phases of the moon as the brightness of ubiquitous street lights even overpowers the magical glow of the full moon. Is it any wonder that the average citizen does little to stop the destruction of our natural forests, meadows and traditional farms when nature is so distant from their daily lives?

Sensing guilt and emptiness due to our separation from nature’s bountiful joys in the rigid grey-black cityscape, modern man over the 20th Century sought a compromise in the suburb. But poor planning led to unforeseen consequences: as the urban nucleus spread out, so did the city’s cultural and municipal services, to the point that the foundations of civic engagement such as the theatre, town hall and local pub became further apart and less accessible. Furthermore, public transport became less and less viable as urban density decreased dramatically during this exodus to the outskirts. Coinciding with the fall of the tram and train was the rise of the car, which soon clogged our streets. Where children once played ball games and neighbours shared stories is now under the reign of the car. Even children are stuck in these insulated boxes.

The habitat we’re creating for ourselves now seems to be in profound denial of what has been usual through the history of the Homo Sapiens: a sustainable interaction with nature. A mere 200 years ago, 97% of world population worked in a rural setting. Compare that with current figures where an average of 3% of citizens in developed nations work on farms (most of which are highly industrialised). Our habitat is simply not “natural” in both meanings of the word. Could this explain the alarming rate of depression  as seen in the U.S. where 30% are or have been diagnosed as depressed, not to mention the decline of ethics that define our era? There is not room in this article to analyse the solutions available, but the fact is clear that we aren’t satisfied, fulfilled humans in this artificial environment.  Its time we evolved our city into a more natural form where are parks are more wild, and transportation more self-propelled, and make the biologically rich small farmsteads of our villages economically viable again.

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Motor Mania

For the pleasure, an old cartoon from Disney studios. Goofy stars as a Jekyll and Hyde character, Mr. Walker/Mr. Wheeler. When he’s a pedestrian he’s mild-mannered and rational; when he’s a driver he’s mad and bad. Enjoy and don’t forget to have a look at our You Tube channel.

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End of the Road:Clean-burning Cars Ignite Fight Within Dealers’ Ranks

Man Running from Car - © Carbusters

Man Running from Car - © Carbusters

When Monty King called around his Oregon Vehicle Dealers Association in recent months to gather opinions on Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s strong-arm push for clean car rules, he found the unexpected.

The dealers weren’t necessarily opposed.

“The overwhelming response was, `We like clean air, too,’ ” said King, who works in Salem as president of the auto group. The dealers also said, ” `we don’t see it’s that big of a deal.’ ”

Though some auto dealers had furiously battled Kulongoski’s plan in the Legislature and had sued the state when the governor went ahead anyway, the industry, it turns out, is not a monolith of opposition as Kulongoski’s plan proceeds.

Joseph McKinney, CEO of Eugene’s Oregon Roads Inc., points out the difference in opinion within his own business sector. And McKinney – admittedly a breed apart from many dealers – is enthusiastic about the governor’s plan.

The governor’s order will require that all cars sold in Oregon meet California’s famously tough auto emissions standards the same year the Golden State’s new rules take effect: 2009. They require auto- makers to cut car emissions by 25 percent and SUV and heavy truck emissions by 18 percent.

Opponents say the rules will raise the price of new cars, thus reducing sales, and many argue that the changes won’t do much to reduce overall air pollution.

The state is rushing to institute the plan by late December, so the rules will be in place for the 2009 model year. If Oregon’s plan advances, the Washington Legislature already decided that the northern state will follow suit, which will create what activists call a clean car corridor from Canada to Mexico.

Hoping to stop those dominoes from falling, another Oregon auto manufacturer’s group and four Oregon car dealers squared off with
the state’s attorneys on Nov. 7 in Marion County Circuit Court. Both sides asked for summary judgment.

Now they’re all awaiting a ruling by Judge Mary Mertens James that will decide whether Kulongoski can go ahead – or, conversely, that the governor’s new rules are unconstitutional.

Fault lines:
The clean car drive has proven a dicey issue for a few of Oregon’s new and also used dealer associations.

The Oregon Auto Dealers Association, which represents 200 franchise new car dealers in the state, didn’t join the lawsuit because doing so wouldn’t have reflected the views of the organization’s total membership, said Greg Remensperger, association executive vice president.

“We represent all of the dealers in the state of Oregon,” he said. “The majority of them are of the same mind, but not everyone is.”
The 57-year-old Oregon Independent Auto Dealers Association also has its dissenters, said McKinney, Eugene’s iconoclastic dealer and an OIADA member. The organization sent out a message urging members to let the governor know that the clean cars initiative was the work of “environmental extremists,” McKinney said.

“(But) it was not a message from the OIADA,” McKinney said. “It was from one of the members on their board: a used car guy, a broker in Portland.”

Four car dealers – from Coos Bay, Wilsonville and Portland – joined the national Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers to oppose Kulongoski’s plan in court. The dealers are Coos Bay Toyota, Suburban Ford, the Don Rasmussen Company and Ron Tonkin.

Medford-based dealer Sid DeBoer, chairman and CEO of Lithia Motors Inc., did not join the lawsuit but said he doesn’t support the governor’s efforts. Lithia is one of the largest full-service new vehicle retailers in the United States, with 89 stores and 179 franchises in 12 states, with total revenue of $2.75 billion in 2004. DeBoer believes that the new-car requirements won’t be effective in cleaning up the air, an assertion disputed by supporters of the rules.

“We’ve been encouraging him to support an increase in the gas tax,” DeBoer said of the governor, “to encourage people to buy more economical cars and also to improve our highways in Oregon so people aren’t stalled in traffic burning gas needlessly and emitting both carbon dioxide gases and polluted gases by not getting where they need to go.”

“Lithia’s totally for having clean air. We’re an Oregon company. I was born here and raised here. But this is foolishness,” he said.
None of the auto dealers based in Eugene-Springfield is on the plaintiff’s list, and that’s significant, McKinney said.
“Dealers are good neighbors. Dealers are not the big, bad guys up on a hill that you might think. They have to operate in their community.”

Joseph McKinney of Oregon Roads Inc., based in Eugene, agrees he’s not the typical auto dealer — he’s an activist who sings in the Eugene Peace Choir. But he says many new and used car dealers in Oregon support the proposed emissions standards: “It’s the future of the car business.”

McKinney, meanwhile, has linked arms with Oregon State Public Interest Research Group activists to promote the technologies the governor’s plan eventually would require.

His Eugene-based Oregon Roads Corporation does $12 million in sales a year leasing fleets of cars and trucks to businesses across the United States. Still, McKinney is not your standard auto dealer.

He’s a self-described “leftist” who has campaigned for increases in the minimum wage because he believes in a “trickle up” theory. He sings in the Eugene Peace Choir. He’s been arrested at the Pentagon.
But he says he’s not the only dealer who supports clean cars.

“It’s the future of the car business,” he said. “The new car dealers I
talk to; they’d prefer clean air. They’re not opposing progress.”
The dealers and manufacturers bringing the lawsuit contend, however, that the clean car standards will add “thousands” of dollars to the price of a vehicle, reduce the demand for new cars and make a sizable dent in their revenues.

McKinney, on the other hand, says the evidence in the marketplace proves the reverse.

Hybrid cars are hot commodities, he said. They burn gas, but they also run on electricity part of the time, so they’re cleaner. They also get upward of 50 mpg.

Chuck Gittere, fleet sales manager for the Eugene-Springfield based Kendall auto group, said he can sell “as many as Honda will let us have.”

“Demand is really high,” he said. “We don’t have any Civic hybrids in stock. Toyota is sold out also.”

Manufacturers are responding. This week, Toyota announced plans to boost production to 600,000 hybrids a year by 2008. In September, Ford said it would ramp up to produce 250,000 hybrids per year in 2010. Both are 10-fold increases.

Hybrids are in such short supply that they retain their value, McKinney said. “Right now the (Toyota) Prius has the best resale value of any car on the street,” he said.

Two-year-old Prius hybrids sell for only $2,000 less than their new price. Other cars can lose upward of $10,000 of their value during the same period, McKinney said.

“Dealers profit selling hybrids,” he said. “There are lists of people for these hybrid cars. People pay list price for hybrids when, on the other hand, there’s a $5,000 rebate on a ’05 Ford Explorer.”

Front Page Article: Eugene Register-Guard, by Diane Dietz
Published: Saturday, November 19, 2005

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End of the Road:Acknowledgements

Carwars © Carbusters

Carwars © Carbusters

A great many people contributed to this book directly or indirectly. We thank first of all our incredibly accomplished, knowledgeable essayists, Andy Singer, Paul Scott and Jim Wilcox. Each of these writers is working hard in their professional and personal lives to bring about the kind of changes we advocate for in this book. We do not all agree on all the issues, but share the same values. These men are treasures in their communities and the world’s. Many others granted us permission to use their words and images; there are too many to list and we are truly grateful to all of you.

We are deeply grateful to Andy Singer for freely and graciously sharing his wonderful cartoons. Thank you Andy, for your excellent writing and hilarious, thoughtful images. You help lighten up and enlighten a potentially painful topic. Change is hard even when it’s wanted.

It is a particular delight to live and work in a community with a Mayor, Kitty Piercy, whose vision is so thoroughly about sustainability and a truly healthy world. We appreciate her contribution and constant encouragement. No one has ever stood up for, or thought about, the balances of community more than she has. She has given her life to these issues.

Deep thanks to our families, who put up with busy parents and partners being even busier way too long. You sustain us; you motivate us. Our most heartfelt appreciation goes to Saul Isler, editor extraordinare, and a highly accomplished fiction and non-fiction writer in his own right. You are a renaissance man, tremendously talented and sensitive to language. Yup!

Finally, there could not be a better work partner than Joseph McKinney. Disagreements were never once arguments. Joseph is an incredibly gracious, knowledgeable, values-driven businessman. I admire the way he lives his life, and he has taught me a great deal. I am going to venture to say, and say it for him because he is a busy guy, that he feels just the same about working with me. Me? I generally know more than I say, but I try not to take that too seriously because I would rather be learning every single day.

We hope you take our vision to heart. The time is now; the money is being spent; the moment will pass too quickly. You can contact us on our blog: www.greenhorsepower.wordpress.com

Amy Isler Gibson

Joseph McKinney

Eugene, Oregon

August 2009

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More colours in car adverts?

On the streets just outside the EU Parliament in Brussels we’ve asked people about the information in car adverts, showing two versions of our imaginary MOTOKA car advert.

In the first ad the info is very similar to the way it is currently displayed on car ads. In the second ad the info is more prominently displayed with a colour code label.

Which one is more clear? Do you understand the figures?

Video by Friends of the Earth Europe : http://www.drivingthechange.eu

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Cars, Cell Phones & The (Sponsored) Culture of Narcissism

Raymond Williams called it “mobile privatization.”

I think of it as “life behind screens,” or “bubble life.”

It — experiencing life predominantly through video screens, work sconces, and automobile glass — is not just part-and-parcel of corporate capitalism, but perhaps its first intention and requirement vis-a-vis the organization of the lives of the masses.

The latest bubble life news confirms, in spades, that the private automobile may be, as Plan C author Pat Murphy posits, “the greatest creator of alienation between humans that has ever existed.”

To wit, some excellent reportage from a July 18 New York Times story:

Extensive research shows the dangers of distracted driving. Studies say that drivers using phones are four times as likely to cause a crash as other drivers, and the likelihood that they will crash is equal to that of someone with a .08 percent blood alcohol level, the point at which drivers are generally considered intoxicated. Research also shows that hands-free devices do not eliminate the risks, and may worsen them by suggesting that the behavior is safe.

A 2003 Harvard study estimated that cellphone distractions caused 2,600 traffic deaths every year, and 330,000 accidents that result in moderate or severe injuries.

Yet Americans have largely ignored that research. Instead, they increasingly use phones, navigation devices and even laptops to turn their cars into mobile offices, chat rooms and entertainment centers, making roads more dangerous.

A disconnect between perception and reality worsens the problem. New studies show that drivers overestimate their own ability to safely multitask, even as they worry about the dangers of others doing it.

I’ll let the excellent CARtoonist Andy Singer have the last “word” on this totally unsurprising phenomenon:

by Andy Singer

Michael Dawson (The Consumer Trap)

What’s New, Waste-o-crat?

Welcome to Car Culture

Welcome to Car Culture

Insanity, they say, is redoubling the same old efforts while expecting different results.

Have you ever stopped to wonder what’s going to be “new” about the post-bankruptcy auto industry?

I always say that it would take a committee of experts to conceive a more wasteful arrangement than our autos-über-alles transportation system here in the USA.  Indeed, profitable economic waste — maximum foisting of saleable parts and services — is the whole point of the thing.

Over at the “new” Ford, they are getting more blatant than ever about this.

In a report on how Ford designers are using virtual characters and “mindset segmentation” to focus their manipulative efforts, The New York Times for July 16 conveyed this quote from “Murat Yalman, Ford’s director of global advanced product strategy, is a strong supporter of an approach that personalizes the ideal buyer for everyone involved in a vehicle’s development”:

“We had done lots of models based on rationality, but now we are recognizing that emotions play a much more dominant role than we ever admitted,” Mr. Yalman said. “In buying a car, you have to fall in love.”

He added: “We now focus quite a bit on aspirations and dreams.”

These can be embodied in products. “Think of someone who has a really high-end parka in which you could climb Mount Everest. But the person only wears it on the train to work.”

Straight from the horse’s _____.

Michael Dawson

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