Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Back to the State of the Union....

My favorite doomsayer J.H. Kunstler had a nice piece on Monday referencing the perceived failings of the latest State of the Union address. One bit that stuck out for me relates to trains:

I hate to keep harping on this, but Mr. Bush could have announced a major effort to restore the American railroad system. It would have been a major political coup. It would have a huge impact on our oil use. The public would benefit from it tremendously. And it would have put thousands of people to work on something really meaningful. Unlike trips to Mars and experiments in cold fusion, railroads are something we already know how to do, and the tracks are lying out there waiting to be fixed. But the reigning delusions of Hollywood and Las Vegas prevent us from thinking realistically about these things. We're only into wishing for grand slam home runs and five-hundred-million-dollar lottery jackpots. Anything less than that makes us feel like losers.

Unfortunately, I don't think many Americans are into the whole mass transit thing anymore. That may be been the classy way to travel circa 1959, but a train sure isn't a Hummer H2 (which, by-the-way, is what I believe to be the most absurd use of automotive ingenuity known to man). Mass or public transit, as the neocons like to call it, goes against every individualistic fiber in our star-spangled bodies.

Kunstler's right on the flipside; train freight is the best and most efficient way to get products and people around (excluding ships on intrastate waterways and canals). The reality is, long-haul trucking and personal vehicles are the current trend and will probably remain popular as long as fuel is cheap and readily available. And to think, "we" are all hoping for ethanol, biodiesel, and hybrids to save the day. Useful tools in the quiver of post-petroleum technologies for sure, but the key problem remains reducing demand and recognizing there are indeed limits to growth, determining alternative definitions of success in our society, and not returning to the days of low wage-earning train porters (perhaps this time replaced by Latino immigrants or offshored to Indian telemarketers?).


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