Articles

Cars and Homes Almost All Dinosaurs
By Dennis Goodenough
The Capital Times
June 2, 2009 

Cars and homes almost all dinosaurs My pickup truck is 10 years old, and I've driven it more than 200,000 miles. I won't be buying a new one for a couple of reasons. First, like you, I'm worried about money. Second, the new stuff isn't much different than what I'm driving.

My truck gets 20 miles per gallon. Not bad for a full-sized pickup. Still, after 10 years, the mileage on the new trucks isn't any better. If I could buy something that would get 40 mpg and run on hydrogen, I might trade up.

The story is the same for most of the cars: 35 mpg is no big deal in spite of the government's proposed new mileage standards. Something more in line with our economic and environmental needs would be 70 mpg.

It seems everything on the road today plus everything on the new car lots is a relic of the last century. In fairness to the automakers, up until the recent gas crunch, we were buying these dinosaurs.

I've got two reasons we should have better choices when we get the urge to go car shopping: No. 1. This is America. Supposedly we can build anything we set our mind to. No. 2. There are cars on the road today getting over 100 mpg. And others in southern California running on hydrogen. It's time to think Manhattan Project.

If building obsolete automobiles isn't a foolish enough endeavor for the greatest nation on Earth, we can fall back on the antiquated housing industry. Today's houses are the domicile equivalent of a 1958 Buick Roadmaster.

I started working in the building trades in 1961. Over the years I've repaired and worked on homes from one to 100 years old. Since the start of the last century to the present, housing hasn't changed much. As with cars, a welcome improvement would be better efficiency. For the past 25 years viable green building systems have been largely ignored. A few design changes could cut in half the resources necessary to build and operate homes.

Hello! McFly! The U.S. is the most consumptive, inefficient country on Earth. Each American's ecological footprint covers 9.5 hectares of the planet. By contrast, a citizen of the United Kingdom requires 5.3 hectares; a person in China, 2.1 hectares. For those that haven't heard, we comprise 5 percent of the world's population yet consume 25 percent of the world's resources -- much of it in boxes stacked in the basement or junk crammed into three-car garages, thereby evicting the Hummers to the driveway. If that isn't decadent enough, we are literally eating ourselves to death.

Conservation and efficiency should top our priority list. The old "economic engines" of the world are grinding to a halt. If we find a way to run those engines on ethanol, swamp gas, or sawdust, I doubt they will be "green" enough or efficient enough to yield a sustainable economy. After all, even windmills leave their environmental footprint. It matters little where we get our energy if we don't use it sparingly. Yes, this means we'll have to give up some of the things we enjoy doing, like maybe driving cars.

It's time to consume less and try to get the biggest bang for the buck. With world population pushing 7 billion, everyone's share of limited resources is getting smaller. Economic collapse is devastating only until we compare it to environmental collapse. Any number of climatologists (or for that matter demographers) are predicting a calamity sometime in this century and once the "ride" starts, it won't be a lot of fun. An ominous prediction indeed, for middle aged people or their children, to say nothing of their grandchildren.

What has passed too often foreshadows what's ahead. The Polynesian people of Easter Island have a brutal history. Overpopulation exceeded the carrying capacity of their island home. The ensuing tribal wars, cannibalism and resource depletion caused population and ecological collapse. Was their fate avoidable, or did they show us that ours is sealed? Dennis Goodenough of Stoughton is a longtime green builder and environmentalist. Dennis Goodenough — 6/02/2009 5:15 am CapTimes monitors comments. We reserve the right to edit or delete