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Environmental Stewardship Vs. Economic Development

Petroleum: Once Blessing, Now Curse

  Doubling Co-Generation A Productive Idea

By Rod Diridon, Sr.

Tenry Ford's dream of mobility has had a staggering impact. The Nation has been provided mobility, jobs, exports, and an auto-worship that carries us physically and mentally from puberty to the grave.

During America's industrial revolution, those were great assets. But now Henry's "car for every working family" has grown to three or four. His dream has become a strangling nightmare of fouled air, hopelessly congested highways, and a massive national deficit balance of trade caused by the

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need to import more than half the petroleum those cars use each year.

We've become so physically and emotionally auto-addicted that we viscerally oppose any restrictions on their use, especially the gas taxes that every other country in the world uses to build fine multi-modal transportation systems.

The result: During the last decade the European Community has spent nearly ten trillion dollars ("T" trillion) on new transportation infrastructure based primarily on clean, energy-efficient, 150 to 200 mile-per-hour high-speed trains.

Our governments have quarreled over a relatively meager couple of trillion dollars invested primarily in more highways that become long parking lots the moment they're opened in our urban areas. Moving people and products efficiently is a major component of economic competitiveness. What countries do you think will win the international geoeconomic competition of the next century?

Silicon Valley-style American ingenuity may allow us to prevail economically, at least for a time. But we, as temporary custodians of space ship Earth, have a bigger problem. A flashing red light warns that global warming is accelerating faster than at any time in the history of the World. And North America, with 4.5 percent of the World’s population, creates 22 percent of the "greenhouse gasses" that contribute to global warming. While Asia, with 51 percent of the population, creates only 2.5 percent of the greenhouse gasses.

Will there be anything left when our time as custodians of Earth is past? Are we being good ancestors?

More than one-third of the North American greenhouse gases are caused by the internal combustion engine.

Surprise! In the 1997 Kyoto Accords, nearly all of the World's nations supported requirements that the U.S. significantly reduce our greenhouse gases.

Those other nations have fine rail, bus, bike, and pedestrian systems that offer environmentally sensitive alternatives to the automobile. Because we're so wedded to our cars, we've not developed those systems and, indeed, seem determined to invest our mobility dollars into the latest and greatest gas-guzzling sports utility vehicles. Well, that will sure be more comfortable for our families now ... but how about their children's children? Will there be anything left when our time as custodians of Earth is past? Are we being good ancestors?

Rod Diridon, Sr. served 20 years on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. He chaired the County Transit Agency, the region's Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and the national American Public Transit Association. He was recently appointed to chair the national panel on "Combating Global Warming Through Sustainable Transportation Policy." He commutes each day in an electric car. Although he is the Executive Director of the Mineta Transportation Institute, these are his personal views and are not the result of any research conducted by the Institute


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