Wednesday, January 1, 2014

What is #autosprawlsubsidy?

For many years, fossil fuels have been artificially cheap. This has allowed people to spread out and live great distances apart. The private automobile got them around, and they could afford to heat and cool buildings individually. Each home had many consumer products made with cheap energy. Population grew. That is autosprawl.

Now we realize that energy was never cheap. Instead, we realize that the costs have been deferred. The carbon that took millions of years to store, and was stored for millions of years, has now -- in less than 200 years -- been returned to the biosphere. Much profit has been made, but no money set aside to deal with the consequences.

There were many other ways that costs have been deferred. They are called "externalities" -- meaning they don't appear on the balance sheets of companies that profit from autosprawl. When these costs come due, they must be paid, usually by people other than those who made the profits. That is subsidy.

The good news is that this system has an Achilles heel, a weak point where it cannot defend itself. The system is so complex that when it loses critical mass, it must collapse. The direct and indirect subsidies to the system are so burdensome that people are turning against it. A simple path to a different type of life is available. A way to end the critical mass. That path is through fare-free public transit.