This past week I read in the comments section of some online article about (I believe) rising gas prices a statement to the effect of: "Well, I'll be fine because I bought a Smart Car?"
I restrained myself from replying to the comment, but its been bouncing around in my head for a few days now and I finally have to let it free.
What is the problem with that statement? Before I get to problem inherent with the statement, let me first identify what I believe the commentator sees as the benefits of driving a so-called Smart Car. There is the presumed high fuel efficiency. A quick read of the Wikipedia entry for the Smart Fortwo shows a paltry 36 mpg city and 43 mpg highway. Huh? I expected something like 80-90 mpg. While the Smart's efficiency is better than say, a Hummer, its not leaps and bounds beyond a well running new moderate sized sedan. But the perceived intelligence of owning one of these flashy little go-carts just doesn't compute.
So what IS the problem with the notion that ownership of a Smart Car will somehow save individuals from a crumbling economy and maybe also save our environment? It's in the name: Smart Car. As long as we rely on the car our society will be dependent on fossil fuels. It doesn't matter what type of SOV you own and operate. Because the scale of our lives exceeds that of a human we necessarily need diesel driven trucks to cart our food from hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. As long as we are dependent on cars to move us around for the most minimal of trips we are making necessary a huge support fleet of fossil fuel powered vehicles.
The real problem with focusing on high fuel efficiency is that we aren't finding solutions to the problem of scale. As long as we continue to perpetuate a society built on the scale of the automobile and not on reducing the scale of our economy and culture to that of a human we will be dependent on oil (domestic or foreign matters not) we will be dependent on huge corporations to supply our basic needs and we will be living with a tenuous connection to the earth. We need a solid connection, to understand our personal impacts. We need that solid connection to guard against disease, famine and pollution.
I'm sure if you have email you have recently gotten another round of the "Don't Buy Gas" forwards. Remember the "Gas Outs" of a few years ago? Last time gas was $4.00/gal I was a big proponent of a concerted effort against Big Oil. Of course the effort is futile. If the Gulf Oil Spill this past year didn't put BP under it's obvious no boycott on the part of consumers is going to affect long term stability in oil prices, nor will any such consumer protest really hurt the oil companies.
Have you heard that the current administration is considering tapping into US oil reserves? Should we be tapping into our reserves just to keep prices down? Again, we're focusing on a car problem, not really a problem associated with human beings. Oh, I know most people would argue that high gas prices are oppressive and create financial hardships for average citizens. But those financial hardships related to high fuel costs would be much less if we weren't dependent on fossil fuel.
If we can reduce and scale back our use of fossil fuels and transition to a more locally scaled economy we can stop worrying about turmoil in the Middle East and the associated sticker shock at the pump.
Smart Cars won't save us. In fact, cars with a range of I.Q. are our major problem.