When everyone is mad, only madmen are respectable. The sharp collapse of automobile sales in America is supposed to be a dire omen of economic failure, and pressure is mounting on the government to “save” the US auto industry. But on closer inspection, the US auto industry has been encouraging wildly wasteful and environmentally destructive behavior for decades, and “saving” it is the last thing we should do. This industry should be shut down and rebuilt from the ground up. Here is why:
1. Automobiles are ecologically and socially destructive. Producing, fueling, and disposing of them consumes vast amounts of precious resources. Yet their impact on world society has been to spread unsustainable living patterns and isolate individuals from contact with their neighbors.
2. Automobiles have been sold as disposable fashion merchandise, an extremely wasteful practice. There is no reason an automobile cannot be designed to last 20 years, like a refrigerator, stove, or washing machine. (The billionaire founder of IKEA drives a 20 year old Volvo.)
3. Automobiles generate a huge number of deaths and injuries and inflict enormous insurance costs on their owners. Actively selling “high performance” cars and encouraging drivers to drive them as fast as possible contributes to this mayhem.
4. The toxic wastes produced by automobiles are substantial. Discarded tires alone account for a huge problem, since no efficient recycling system has been developed for them. Similarly, vast amounts of plastics and toxic fluids are dumped into the ecosystem because of artificially stimulated junking of cars to permit the frequent replacement that is vital to the current industry model of selling cars as fashion statements.
We need to stop this madness. The world auto industry should be producing only about 1/3 of its current output of cars, and these cars should be engineered to last indefinitely, with a minimal negative environmental impact. GM, Ford, and Chrysler should be shut down, because they are unlikely to reinvent themselves as “green” vehicle manufacturers. New organizations should replace them, and the US government should provide appropriate research and development subsidies to help these newcomers rebuild the US auto industry.
The future of the world automotive industry should be grounded in sustainability, not disposability. We literally cannot afford to keep making and buying cars as we have for the last 60 years.