Cars, Climate And Creature Comforts

By Tuesday, November 17, 2009 2 0

My post Rethinking Our Entitlement To Travel drew a thoughtful, in-depth comment from Tyler Karaszewski which draws my respect but not my agreement.

In Tyler’s vision, 50 years from now we’ll still be driving as much as we please, but in cars emitting little or no carbon. The transformation to a low-carbon world will have been triggered by the law of supply and demand. Tyler K. states that Americans are unwilling to accept a decline in their standard of living, i.e., not taking long trips by car or airplane. Due to that and the eventual sharp and permanent rise in gas prices, he states that car manufacturers will within a few decades develop electric and/or hydrogen fuel cell cars that perform as well as current cars, without emitting the carbon dioxide that causes global warming. “No one will have given up their current creature comforts”.

Here is the thing: the law of supply and demand as we know it is based on a social order which is based on steady resources which is based on a stable climate. Tyler’s perspective assumes that our world will remain stable, allowing our market system and economy to march along in orderly fashion for decades, giving smart innovators the time they need to make hydrogen fuel cells viable and electric vehicles universal. But the world is actually no more stable than its climate. And  the climate is already unraveling, more rapidly every year than scientists had anticipated the prior year. We don’t have decades to design dream cars.

The melting Arctic ice cap is one of the most obvious indicators that the near future will be sharply different than the present.  In twenty years, maybe less, significant portions of all the continents’ current coastlines will almost certainly be underwater, creating millions of refugees who will flood other countries, draining those countries’ resources and creating economic chaos. I challenge the assumption that social order, drivable roads and reliable electric grids with which to fuel electric cars are all waiting for us a few decades in the future. Rather, I think climate change and the disruptions that will follow in domino effect will make all our lives very different than they are now.

I agree with Tyler that most Americans do not want a decline in their standard of living. But look at the assumption — that Americans will always get what they want. The climate and the natural world do not care what people want. They have no inherent responsibility to us or our lifestyles, and it’s worth mentioning that we haven’t been demonstrating any responsibility to the climate and the natural world, either.

What I maintain here at Diamond-Cut Life is that it’s perfectly possible to practice stewardship of the earth and have full, happy lives based on relationships, honest work, connection to nature, and community, rather than endless consumption and creature comforts. It’s hard for us to see beyond ourselves and our here-and-now preoccupations into a higher, broader perspective. But our cars and other creature comforts that we cling to so tightly are a tiny blip in the very long history of this world. Let’s not assume we are entitled to them.

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  • Laura
    November 18, 2009

    THANK YOU for pointing this out in so few words! As gas prices increase, demand for more efficient/alternate fuel vehicles will increase. But our ability to design and manufacture these vehicles is constrained by the same oil shortage that caused gas prices to increase in the first place… which suddenly sets the system up for an epic FAIL.

  • Crafty Green poet
    November 17, 2009

    well said. One of the things I find most disturbing in the current discussions about climate change is that so many people, even green campaigners, make that assumption that we will find technological fixes to enable us to continue to live basically unsustainable lifestyles…