The coldest winter I ever spent
From TED, Ads Worth Spreading
For my money, it’s this Chrysler ad.
Chrysler Born Of Fire Eminem Super Bowl Commercial
“The hottest fire makes the hardest steel” ?
Yes, I know, it’s just advertising.
…but it’s bullshit. Just get it up to 1100 degrees or so then quench it quickly to lock in some carbon into the body-centric cubes of the Fe3, and you’ve got all the hardness you want. TOO much, actually.
1400 degrees isn’t any better…and it’ll melt your steel!
detroit is a great example of a lot that is wrong with big business thinking and overconsumption – the car companies in bed with the highwaymakers in bed with the oil companies all pushing an unsustainable short-sighted agenda, and turning out bad products to boot.
detroit should die.
this tugging-at-the-heartstrings advertisement is just sad posturing.
Erik, there’s a lot going on in the dynamic you mention. I don’t think it’s as simple as what you say. For instance, there’s Detroit’s (“Detroit as a city and as a metonym for the American auto industry) decline. There’s also dirty and clean politics in America. There’s the American shift from manufacturing to service work. And there’s the shifts in the college educated work-force around the world. That’s just a start.
If Detroit doesn’t make a good car, someone else will. Many other companies and countries have.
It’s generally important and useful for a country to build a good car because of what an expensive and important product it is. Likewise for a country’s food production facilities.
Erik, if you can find an industrialized culture that does well with different “big business thinking” (I take that to mean “dramatically fewer use of roads, oil, and personal automobiles) please point it out to me! To make this list realistic, you must include a culture that uses this strategy in both cities and suburban areas (preferably rural as well), because a “culture” is not a single city.
As for the dirty and/or clean politics in America pushing cars. People simply love their cars. It’s not businesses brainwashing people into wanting them, it’s people wanting them. They make people’s days more productive, enjoyable, independent and comfortable, plain and simple. Next we should talk about American’s errant love affair with the clothes washing machine and how Maytag has brainwashed us into wanting them.
my missive was overly broad because I didn’t really have time to fully go into my worldview, which would mean arguing about things like whether capitalism is a good idea and the arc of human civilization.
long story short, the environment and wildlands conservation is far more important than our convenience, or these fantasy ideas people have about “the economy”.
back in the 70s, environmentalists talked about the 3 Cs … cars, chainsaws, and cows (Lovelock). I think that the automobile is probably the dumbest thing we’ve ever come up with, because it has enabled/encouraged humankind’s consume-until-its-gone-with-no-thought-to-foresight tendency. cars begat the suburbs and so more land was lost, and we stopped doing the smart thing (we kind of stumbled into by accident) of concentrating our impact into efficient cities.
a car should not be a right, it should be a privilege. keep them around for things like farming, ambulances, and fire trucks. but everyone using them as their personal chariots to facilitate ridiculous commutes? madness. i grew up in texas where a pickup truck is a birthright, never mind that it is more for fashion than utility (a dually needs a gooseneck trailer hookup in the bed to actually be anything more than for-show). how do we make less people use them? artificially set high gas prices and tax them, I guess.
from ed abbey’s rant on the issue of people driving in national parks (another thing americans assume is their right without really thinking about the impact):
“… (1) No more cars in national parks. Let the people walk. Or ride horses, bicycles, mules, wild pigs – anything – but keep the automobiles and the motorcycles and all their motorized relatives out. We have agreed not to drive our automobiles into cathedrals, concert halls, art museums, legislative assemblies, private bedrooms and the other sanctums of our culture; we should treat our national parks with the same deference, for they, too, are holy places …”
( http://lvk104.wordpress.com/2010/03/12/polemic-industrial-tourism-the-national-parks-by-edward-abbey/ )
as far as detroit making bad cars, i am sure there are tons of resources out there that talk about how american automotive companies lost sight of making superior products that were meant to last, in favor of built-in-obsolescence and obsessing about the bottom line and increasing value for shareholders.
as far as america investing in a highway system instead of a train system… our heavy shipping via big rig solution is an inefficient travesty that again highlights how broken our system and our culture are. (story of stuff: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GorqroigqM ). western europe is a pretty good example of a robust train system that allows people and stuff to move around way better than our car dependent situation.
there are other reasons why cars are bad (ex: http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/010986.html): obesity, sprawl, greenhouse gases, oil addiction, etc. I would like to see numbers of how countries that have large newly middle class (with disposable income) populations (India, China) are doing with the automobile question. Are they blithely going to follow our example (and eventually outpace our emissions?)?
in David Brower’s “Let the Mountains Talk, Let the Rivers Run”, he talks about a cool idea – hyper-efficient very light cars. I don’t have the text to share with you, but I will try to find it. These light, aerodynamic carbon-fiber-shell cars could go the same distance and speed as current cars using much less energy. Why don’t we have them? Another example of auto companies colluding with the oil & gas industry. Also our current system isn’t very well set up for it … what happens when you run a featherlight bubble into a Chevy Tahoe at 70mph?
So … solutions. Concentrate people in efficient cities. Kill the suburbs, let them decay. Stop shipping so much stuff from so far away. Build society around trains and other robust public transportation. Light, efficient cars. Re-establish migration corridors (and let’s tear down all the fences while we’re at it). Bicycles.
The washing machine is actually one of the most efficient, time-saving devices ever. Completely green. I approve. Let’s let Tim Hunkin play us out: http://slom.1121.org/slom1/Secret%20Life%20Of%20Machines%20104%20The%20Washing%20Machine.avi
Erik, in your comment, you talk a lot about what is bad, but you don’t say too much about what is good. You open with a vaguely negative “…my worldview, which would mean arguing about things like whether capitalism is a good idea and the arc of human civilization.” And you talk about a few bullet points as to what could be better. But they are all throw-away ideas. Some examples:
* “what happens when you run a featherlight bubble [car] into a Chevy Tahoe at 70mph?” It’s exactly the same as hitting a brick wall, and we can’t outlaw brick walls.
* “No more cars in national parks”. Have you ever been to any national park? Cars are hugely restricted. In the 1200 square miles of park in the Sierras, there are just 250 miles of roads (via)
* Story of Stuff you link to. It’s crap. It’s filled with thousands of half truths and one-offs designed to evoke an emotional response with precious little substance. For example, 13:00, on Planned Obsolescence:
Have you noticed that when you buy a computer now, the technology is changing so fast that in just a couple of years it’s actually an impediment to communication? I was curious about this so I opened up a big desktop computer to see what was inside. And I found that the piece that changes each year is just a tiny little piece in the corner. But you can’t just change that one piece because each new version is a different shape so you’ve got to chuck the whole thing and buy a new one.
Oh yeah, the CPU is the only thing that changes every year. Those computer makers are bastards, in league with the case manufacturers.
I admit, I only skimmed through the video because I quickly tired of the half-truths and heartstring pulling. We could talk about it point by point but that is a loooooooong discussion for another time.
I do appreciate your comments about “…how american automotive companies lost sight of making superior products that were meant to last, in favor of built-in-obsolescence…”
So Erik, what does your better world actually look like? Here are some of the negative parts I am gleaning. Can you tell me what some of the positive parts are:
* artificial and substantial restriction on personal transportation for the sake of world resource management and Gaia (Lovelock)
* artificial restriction on the production and consumption of products with the goal of world resource management, especially forest conservation
* artificial restriction on capitalism and free trade for the sake of people
Am I close?
I also should point out another comment of mine that pits Sierra Club’s Carl Pope and Chevron’s CEO Dave O’Reilly.
Hmm! Tim Hunkin makes observations of quality vs price at end of the The Secret Life of Machines: Washing Machines. Start watching at 23:00.
i’m sorry i can’t apologize for my negative skew on things. recently a lot of environmentalist types have realized that hard-line negativity and intractability on their stances (eco-terrorism, or sticks-in-the-mud) are less effective than having a positive, solutions-oriented outlook. for examples of this, check out the viridian design movement, worldchanging, Steward Brand’s “Whole Earth Discipline”, and other “bright greens”.
my feeling is humankind’s general attitude is that if it’s there, it’s ours to take – and i think this stinks of such hubris. this sort of thinking set up things like manifest destiny (“let’s keep pushing west, and plundering and taking, because there’s so much of this limitless bounty”) and has filtered into corporate and economic models that give short-shrift or no allowance to the environment, or the idea that resources + clean air and water are valuable.
(the movie “the corporation” talks about the practice of business externalities, and the notion of adding the environment back into the economic models:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCGTD5Bn1m0 , http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDMenqKCXdw&t=5m14s )
what is required is systems thinking – acting as if every action has a reaction somewhere else, and our resources are limited. sustainable thinking is the only workable solution.
( valerie casey on elastic systems
http://www.fastcompany.com/1595167/designers-accord-seven-principles-for-interactive-action (esp. point #1 with the diagram of the string))
this idea that our actions don’t have consequences is simply false. most people’s attitude is that if we just sweep those undesirable thoughts under the rug, it’s okay. children have a profound learning moment when they wonder where the trash goes, and their parents tell them just to put it in the magic can and it disappears.
the self-organizing and self-correcting systems of nature are smarter than us, and will probably whomp us, and there’s not much our economic models are going to be able to do about it (what will happen to the world economy if sea levels rise 16 feet overnight?).
(Nassim Nicholas Taleb talks about this at 61:30 http://longnow.org/seminars/02008/feb/04/the-future-has-always-been-crazier-than-we-thought/ … “don’t mess with complex systems… the planet is smarter than us…”)
so yes, i think it was a generally bad idea to take all the dead ferns + dinosaurs out of the ground and burn it all within a century, even though there was no one to stop us or charge us for it. similarly the wanton parceling up and fouling of natural habitats in the name of civilization and progress will probably come to bite us on the ass. the most dangerous animal left in europe is they honeybee (i.e. all the stags, bears, and wildcats are long gone).
(michael soulé (http://www.michaelsoule.com/) talks more about conservation biology, and things like large, connected tracts of wilderness to allow larger animals to be sustained. also: overfishing, the plight of the monarch butterfly migration, the y2y project (http://www.y2y.net) etc.)
as far as the “story of stuff”, i realize it is largely pandering, but these are radical new concepts to most people. i was mostly trying to point out the parts that talk about the massive impact of shipping, which is another thing i think most people ignore and sweep under the carpet.
as far as the light cars vs. heavy cars thing, i was saying that even if we had ultralight cars available, there would be a lot of resistance to introducing them to our roads, because people would worry about their/their familymembers’ safety when deciding what to purchase.
as far as the edward abbey essay about national parks, that is basically unfuckwithable. the US government (Department of the Interior) mandates that roads and facilities for visitors (all the RV campsites, the paved walkway up to old faithful, etc.) be a priority because it brings in money. but that is only because most national park visitors’ habits are to barely get out of their cars (the circular logic is that’s because the national parks have demonstrated that that’s okay…). every time a new road is built through a national park, it fundamentally changes the precious ecosystem by establishing a constant noisy, polluting stream of cars as if they turned on a porchlight to attract moths. talk to any national park ranger about their thoughts on the current system.
now as far as my vision of the future, i don’t know. i think it’s funny/cute that these people had an idea: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgia_Guidestones
all i can say is it would make me happy if more people *got* this stuff, and chose to cooperate, and act like responsible stewards. (this means, among other things, making big changes in how things are done, making incentives for people to act in favor of the public good and the environment as opposed to individual/personal gains.) i know that’s probably not going to happen by itself. perhaps using foresight, we can build some of these ideas into the popular mindset / ingrain them into the cultures of future generations, to help humanity live sustainably without irrevocably breaking the planet’s ability to sustain us. failing that, i would be open to ways (legislation) to try to force people to behave, before nature makes that decision for us.
if you are still with me, watch “180 º South” ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1407927/ – it’s streaming on netflix). If you can get past the sentimentality / dude-on-a-soulful-journey / jack johnson songs, Yvon Chouinard has some really great things to say.
and i almost forgot, this time we’ll let David Attenborough’s final words from his 1984 epic “The Living Planet” play us out…
I still like the Chrysler commercial.
(in other words, I can’t see how you’re going to move toward your world vision without a large involuntary human spaying and neutering program and a powerful mind control ray. And I don’t see how killing Detroit moves us toward that goal.)
PS. Erik, thank you for the thoughtful discussion.
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