Defending Autos Against the Environmentalists

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What do progressives hate? In a word, progress. Especially if that progress is achieved aboard a wheeled, fossil fuel-powered vehicle.

Progressives have been complaining about the brute savagery of the automobile ever since the first horseless carriage burst forth from Hell and immediately killed fourteen feminist vegetarian power walkers on their way to yoga class.

Well, that never actually happened. But if it had, it would explain the modern loathing of the auto. Explaining the real reasons why automobiles are so despised by progressives is rather more difficult.

The number one reason cited by enviro-harpies: cars pollute! They destroy our planet!

Except they don’t. A modern car is so efficient and advanced that the emissions it produces are usually less laden with pollutants than the air in a typical large city. These days, cars clean the air. And every year, wily automotive scientists are making their cars ever more clean.

Does this make the anti-pollution folks happy? You’d think it would, but it doesn’t. Al Gore, for example, famously announced in his anti-progress testimonial Earth in the Balance that he wanted to outlaw the internal combustion engine:

"Within the context of the Strategic Environment Initiative, it ought to be possible to establish a coordinated global program to accomplish the strategic goal of completely eliminating the internal combustion engine over, say, a twenty-five year period."

Do you recall this Al fellow? He was alleged to be the cleverer candidate in the 2000 presidential race. Here’s another Goreism to assist your memory:

"We are content to see hundreds of millions of automobiles using an old technological approach not radically different from the one first used decades ago in the Model A Ford."

Never mind that the internal combustion engine has evolved to a point where it is as efficient as an Al Gore electrical dream machine; anything that compresses a mixture of fuel and air into a combustible mixture easily ignited by a tiny spark is clearly evil, and must be banned.

(Maybe some of them should be banned. Go to any World Wildlife Fund rally or Greenpeace festival and you’ll notice a battalion of ancient, smoky — but, hey, way cool — retro cars, all bearing pro-Earth bumper stickers. Where are the pollution police when you need them?)

The bigger the car, the more evil they are. The New York Times last year panicked the populace with tales of the Biggest SUV Ever — a German supertruck out to crush all before it. According to the Times’s story, which ran under the headline, "Unimog Global Warming System":

"With sport utility vehicles becoming bigger and bigger, perhaps it was inevitable: Freightliner, the nation's biggest maker of 18-wheelers, plans to start selling a four-wheel-drive vehicle that dwarfs even the largest family vehicles on the road.

"Based on a German military transport, the vehicle, called the Unimog, makes even the Hummer look petite. It is 9 feet 7 inches tall, nearly the height of a basketball net and almost three feet taller than the tallest sport utility. Its front seat, mounted six feet high, is reached by a three-step ladder...

"Most remarkable is the Unimog's weight: 12,500 pounds. That is more than two Chevrolet Suburban sport utility vehicles or four Toyota Camry sedans. The company says the vehicle gets about 10 miles to the gallon of diesel fuel, less even than the most fuel-hungry sport utility vehicles and pickups."

Most remarkable is that the Times didn’t realize the Unimog was suited only to extreme rural or military applications. To this day, Manhattan remains Unimog free.

As I write, I’m within hearing range of Melbourne’s Albert Park race track, site of this weekend’s Australian Formula One Grand Prix . This is the most politically incorrect sporting event in Australia. Imagine, people burning precious fossil fuels for nothing more than fun!

Many protesters rallied against the first race in Melbourne, in 1996. Fewer were there in '97. Less still in '98. In '99, there were but a dozen or so; in 2000, you could count the anti-Grand Prix people on the fingers of a leper’s hand. Last year just the diehards remained.

But the anti-car race people persist. Why? WHY? The recently late (and forever lamented) Warner Bros. animation director Chuck Jones once explained the Coyote’s pursuit of the Road Runner by way of the philosopher Santayana : "A fanatic is one who redoubles his ambition when he has forgotten his aim."

That’s our anti-race people. And , in a broader way, Santayana describes all anti-car environmentalists. Hey, you’ve won; cars are cleaner now than ever before. So stop moping.

And stop demonizing cars. They’re good. If you want to discover how good they are, wait until you suffer a heart attack and try catching public transport to a hospital.

Tim Blair is an Australia-based journalist who first encountered the horror of environmentalism as a grade school student, when a bearded teacher told him that all the fossil fuel in the world was about to vanish and everybody would soon be driving electric cars. Born in 1965, he has been a senior editor at Time magazine, a columnist at Sydney's Daily Telegraph, and the editor of Sports Illustrated's Australian edition. He currently writes for various Australian newspapers and magazines, publishes and has owned dozens of cars and motorcycles — none of them electric.

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