Year 4, Month 5, Day 13: See The U.S.A. In Your Chevrolet

Well, that’s a relief. The Detroit Free Press:

General Motors officially acknowledged today that implementing policies to prevent climate change is “good business.”

GM became the first automaker to sign the “Climate Declaration” pledge, which is promoted by nonprofit Ceres’ Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP) coalition.

The decision to sign the pledge comes as GM has been pressuring the U.S. government to establish a national energy policy focused on promoting energy security with a diverse range of sources, including natural gas and renewables. The automaker sends no waste to landfills from 105 of plants, and is trying to boost that figure.

GM CEO Dan Akerson told the Fortune Green conference on Tuesday that “sustainability is woven into our global strategies.”

“It’s not a regional strategy; it’s a global strategy for us,” Akerson said, adding that it’s “pretty hard not to be convinced that something is going on in the world” with the climate.

I remain unconvinced. May 1:

While it’s good news that General Motors acknowledges the existence of climate change and the importance of a robust strategy for combating the greenhouse effect, this turnaround in corporate thinking won’t make much of an impact unless we address some of the root causes of the problem. Our national addiction to fossil fuels goes hand in hand with our consumer society; as long as we continue to believe that we can buy our way out of trouble, we will never be able to make the broader societal transformations necessary to provide happiness and prosperity for our descendants.

There are deeper questions that need asking. Can profit-fixated corporate systems function sustainably over the long term? Is an economy focused on consumption good for our species or our planet? Yes, preventing climate change is “good for business,” and allowing it to continue is “bad for business.” But is business good for us?

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 1, Day 27: Long As I Keep Drivin’, I’ll Keep Surviving…?

McClatchy’s Erika Bolstad writes on the World Bank’s move towards supporting more mass transportation infrastructure:

WASHINGTON — There’s an unexpected method governments can use to reduce poverty, improve public health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, top world leaders said Friday.

Their idea: Make transportation in the world’s megacities more available and sustainable to reduce congestion and benefit populations – and economies – that are projected to boom in the coming decades.

Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, said Friday at a global transportation conference that working on sustainable transportation is part of the bank’s moral responsibility and will be a major focus of its lending in the coming years. Lifting people out of poverty is the bank’s chief mission, Kim said. But climate change caused by global warming threatens that mission, he said, particularly for future generations.

The bank recently issued a report that outlines what the world could be like if temperatures rise by 7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2060. It’s sometimes difficult for people to understand that, Kim said, but he offered the example of his own 3-year-old-son.

“To put it very bluntly . . . when he’s my age, he’ll be living in a world where the oceans will be 150 percent more acidic, the coral reefs will have all been melted away, the fisheries would have been completely disturbed, and probably every single day, there will be food fights and water fights all over the world,” he said. “The world that I’m literally handing over to him as an adult will be one that does not exist today. For me it’s very real.”

Time to put Kerouac to bed. It wouldn’t be the same if he’d written it about riding a bus, I suppose. Sent January 20:

There are few aspects of modern civilization more baffling than our continued reliance on automobiles for every aspect of our transportation. An intelligent alien watching humanity would no doubt wonder why we spend so much time sitting in heavy metal boxes many times our own weight, often moving no faster than a slow strolling pace — and why those metal boxes seem trigger frequent episodes of rage, competition and conspicuous wastefulness.

Once, the automobile represented the most tangible aspects of the American Dream: the freedom to travel, the siren call of the open road. Now, the full impact of our consumption of fossil fuels is making an environmental nightmare, and it’s clear that we must put the brakes on the accelerating greenhouse effect before careening, Thelma-and-Louise style, over the climate cliff. It’s time for a massive national investment in public transportation, for we cannot drive recklessly into the twenty-first century.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 4, Day 11: I’ll Show Him That A Cadillac Is Not A Car To Scorn

A guy named Randy Salzman writes an op-ed in the New York Times that’s well worth a read. It’s titled “Invitation to a Dialogue: Our Addiction to Cars.” The final few grafs:

While oil worldwide costs the same, other nations put higher fees on gasoline and diesel consumption. Japan’s high gas taxes make its 127 million people a huge test market for energy efficiency, while our lower taxes cajoled Detroit into selling gas-guzzling S.U.V.’s.

Of course, decreasing driving in a culture famed for its “love affair with the automobile” is difficult. No one, yet everyone, is to blame for our national default position of key in the ignition to get anywhere, everywhere and — often — nowhere. Our politicians are not willing to tell us the most inconvenient of inconvenient truths.

If we’d use our cars smarter, we’d mitigate a host of problems and prevent our grandchildren from following our children in fighting wars in the Middle East.

To begin using our cars intelligently rather than habitually, we need a rational federal gasoline “user fee” rolled in slowly over a decade.

It’s time politicians led an adult conversation with America.

Couldn’t have said it better myself, though I tried, in this letter, sent April 4:

From the stories of the early pioneers and Horace Greeley’s “Go West, young man,” to Kerouac’s Beat generation tales, the freedom to get up and go wherever we please is a formative element of the American myth. But the individual liberation implied by the automobile is chimerical; our society rightly castigates those who would abdicate their responsibilities to family and community, and our collective responsibility for the past century’s profligate consumption of fossil fuels is not something from which we can simply drive away. There is no freeway that will let us avoid the environmental consequences of introducing so much extra carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Yes, contemporary America’s social infrastructure is utterly dependent on the automobile — but this cannot be an excuse for inaction. If we are to steer in the direction of planetary good citizenship, we must change our oil economy, and the myths that lend it credibility.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 4, Day 9: Little Deuce Coupe

General Motors is now a certified left-wing tree-hugger (The Boise Weekly):

The Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank that promotes denial of climate change, lost funding from General Motors last week. The Los Angeles Times reports that a leak of confidential funding documents showed that the General Motors Foundation provided funds to the institute during the last two years.

“GM operates its business as if climate change is real,” said GM spokesman Greg Martin.

The move received immediate praise from environmental groups.

“We applaud GM’s decision and the message it sends—that it is no longer acceptable for corporations to promote the denial of climate change,” said Daniel Souweine, campaign director for Forecast the Facts, a group that urges meteorologists to talk more openly about climate change. “Support for an organization like Heartland is not in line with GM’s values.”

It’s about eleven meta-levels away from actual good news, but I’ll take what I can get. Sent April 2:

In pulling its funding from the anti-science Heartland Institute, General Motors is demonstrating readiness to engage with the factual realities of climate change. While nobody enjoys contemplating a civilizational threat of such magnitude, the evidence of impending drastic alterations of the Earth’s climate is now so irrefutable that denialist posturing is morally, environmentally and fiscally irresponsible.

Since Americans’ love affair with their cars shows no sign of ending, it’s imperative that the automobile industry recognize the urgency of the crisis and begin developing newer, less wasteful technologies — a move that General Motors seems to be making.

Heartland Institute, by contrast, is doubling down, rejecting unambiguous science in favor of ideologically convenient misinterpretations that support the profitability of their funders. GM’s decision to sever ties with this secretive right-wing think tank reflects a deeper understanding of a simple fact: a global climate catastrophe would be terrible for business.

Warren Senders