Are Cars Killing America ?

In today’s Washington Post, Ted Balaker and Sam Staley of the Reason Foundation debunk five common myths constantly propounded by the environmentalist left in their never-ending quest to force us out of our cars:

1.Americans are addicted to driving.

Actually, Americans aren’t addicted to their cars any more than office workers are addicted to their computers. Both items are merely tools that allow people to accomplish tasks faster and more conveniently. The New York metropolitan area is home to the nation’s most extensive transit system, yet even there it takes transit riders about twice as long as drivers to get to work.


2.Public transit can reduce traffic congestion.

Transit has been on the slide for well more than half a century. Even though spending on public transportation has ballooned to more than seven times its 1960s levels, the percentage of people who use it to get to work fell 63 percent from 1960 to 2000 and now stands at just under 5 percent nationwide. Transit is also decreasing in Europe, down to 16 percent in 2000.


3.We can cut air pollution only if we stop driving.

Polls often show that Americans think that air quality is deteriorating. Yet air is getting much cleaner. We miss it because, while we see more people and more cars, we easily overlook the success of air-quality legislation and new technologies. In April 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency reported that 474 counties in 31 states violated the Clean Air Act. But that doesn’t mean that the air is dirtier. The widely publicized failing air-quality grades were a result of the EPA’s adoption of tougher standards.


4.We’re paving over America.

How much of the United States is developed? Twenty-five percent? Fifty? Seventy-five? How about 5.4 percent? That’s the Census Bureau’s figure. And even much of that is not exactly crowded: The bureau says that an area is “developed” when it has 30 or more people per square mile.


5.We can’t deal with global warming unless we stop driving.

What should be done about global warming? The Kyoto Protocol seeks to get the world to agree to burn less fossil fuel and emit less carbon dioxide, and much of that involves driving less. But even disregarding the treaty’s economic costs, Kyoto’s environmental impact would be slight. Tom M.L. Wigley, chief scientist at the U.S. Center for Atmospheric Research, calculates that even if every nation met its obligation to reduce greenhouse gas, the Earth would be only .07 degrees centigrade cooler by 2050.

In other words, all of the empircal arguments against personal automobiles is pretty much a bunch of nonsense. Would recognizing this cause the environmentalist left to give up its anti-auto crusade and stop trying to get us all to take the train ? Frankly, I doubt it.

I’m convinced that the real reason that Americans like their cars, and the real reason that certain people hate them so much, is because of the degree of personal freedom it gives them. Rather than having to depend upon the schedule of a government-run mass transit system, they can go where they want, when they want. There are people out there for whom that degree of personal autonomy is a bad idea. They would rather see us all living in high-rises, near train stations that can take us where they decide our jobs and shopping malls should be. Even if automobiles were 100% friendly to the environment, they still wouldn’t like them.