WE CAN’T CHANGE

Today I read in the paper that the changes that have to be made to reduce fossil fuels and to conserve gasoline are not possible.

The impact to the economy would be catastrophic I read over and over again. We can’t do it, the change would be too fast. It would ruin the economy.

There is little doubt that we are saddled with a Trump Presidency because people are afraid of the change that we need to do to avert a catastrophe. Venice is under water as it suffers from its worse flood in history, and this won’t go away, because the ocean levels are rising.

There was a recent article that “This is the last generation to have a chance to save animal life”. The extinction of animal life is at an all time high, rivaling the die off that was caused by an asteroid many million years ago.

In short, this is a real threat.

But we can’t change?

If you look at pictures of the beginning of the twentieth century (see above) you will notice empty streets and roads by today’s standards. You will note trolly cars, and yes horse drawn vehicles; plus some automobiles.

What you won’t see is gridlock, car after car and truck after truck!

Those are all additions to our madness of the past fifty years.

In short, it has not been that long that we have been fossil fuel gluttons.

Of course the populations were smaller then. But there were many more trains than today in real terms. Trains were the modality of travel and moved freight. There were no long haul trucks. Nobody owned more than one car. Most did not own a car.

This persisted until after WWII. A family that owned more than one car, or any car for that matter was an exception. People moved around again by train.

And the amounts of fossil fuel consumption was minuscule compared to today.

The change that has endangered our very existence has occurred during the past fifty years. It has happened during my lifetime.

In the 1950s, foolishly, passenger train services were virtually eliminated by automobile travel. The interstate highway system was built in about 20 years (with additions added since) moving freight and passenger travel from trains to trucks and cars. Buses still move, providing low cost and efficient travel until about ten years ago, when Greyhound actually almost shut down.

Leaving us with a God Awful mess.

The bay area commute is a real thing in California. The past twenty years has seen home values sky rocket in the Bay Area forcing middle class people out, moving into the San Joaquin Valley. People get in their cars at 3 a.m. and drive to work to San Jose for example, 2.5 hours away, then return every damned day. This is a disaster of planning and a disaster for the worker who has to do it. It has destroyed the highways and of course pours fossil fuel emissions into the atmosphere.

But we can’t change.

In the 1950s, as I have already stated, railroad travel was basically wiped out. Millions of rail road workers were laid off. Since the federal government basically caused this, the railroad worker unions negotiated a pension layoff plan, subsidized by the federal government through social security. Most of the beneficiaries of this are dead now, but millions benefitted from this “change”. Porters, conductors; etc., took early retirements or moved into other jobs with the benefit of a buy out through social security.

And the society changed into the trap of global warming.

And we changed on a dime. In 1950 huge numbers of people took the train, in the 1960s hardly anyone. The famous Coast Starlight train that I rode many times was reduced to twice a day run that still sees a ridership that is so low it is pathetic.

The high speed rail that California has tried to build for years is hamstrung by fossil fuel interests that are afraid something will break their strangle hold they have on the traveling public. NIMBE lawsuits have reduced the effort to a sham a laughing stock; as the rest of the world’s nations have dozens of high speed rail systems

And all this because ONLY we can’t change. We used to be the world’s model of change. During the first year of the WWII we moved from a civilian production model to the “arsenal of democracy” in a few months. Do not tell me the United States cannot change…we just don’t want to….

Look at the picture above….that is proof positive that we can change and fast if we decide to.

So demand trains and buses. Demand that the long haul trucks get off the road; and demand a retirement package for those who are laid off or cannot transition to short haul trucking that still will be needed to get goods from the rail terminals to markets.

The picture shows we can change. We just need the leadership we had in the 1950s to get us there.

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Greg Beale

Stanford grad, BA Political Science, MA from Sac State in Government. 36 years in public education as teacher, coach, athletic director, and administrator.