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Dim-City

A recent Viewpoint in the IJ spews a lot of gas—well, hot air.

The piece is an attempt to dispell the "myth" that "gas extracted from the nation's vast shale deposits can help release the U.S. from the vise grip of our dependence on foreign oil." -- a quote from former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge.
 
Attempt: failed. 
 
This is an example of an bus and car-pool advocate invested emotionally in a cause unable to see beyond their portfolio.
 
The strawman in the piece is that "Passenger travel is the gas-guzzling beast."  The monster, the real issue is "transportation — daily, short-trip, commute, errand, run-of-the-mill mom-and-pop travel." 
 
Reality: given a choice, people—even students in liberal Ithaca—generally choose personal transportation over public options like TCAT.  Have you seen the fancy cars these kids bring to town?
 
Now that's not everyone, to be sure.  Yes, some people prefer the bus, or car sharing or even car pooling options.  And those options should be available.  But beyond emergency, lifeline levels, these options should compete with all of the other available alternatives on their own rather than being unfairly supported beyond their economic value.
 
Cars and light trucks can certainly be converted to run on natural gas...or more easily converted to methanol which can be produced efficiently from natural gas.  Methanol would be a great alternative to ethanol production, which takes vast amounts of farmland out of food production and creates vast corn monocultures which are disrupting migrating species.  But I digress.
 
I'm not a big fan of T. Boone Pickens, but some things he's said bear pondering.  For example, the truck fleet in the US is where some serious energy use is concentrated.  And because of intense wear that fleet is replaced about every three years, making adoption of new technology when replacing vehicles pretty quick.  One of the few possible replacements for diesel fuel for those big rigs is natural gas.  Moving big trucks to natural gas could free up lots of other energy for personal transportation.
 
Our future is not all natural gas or nothing... we run around in one of those sissy Prius things when we're not hauling something serious in our big (pre-Government Motors) Silverado, and I've been known to walk to work on the county's pedestrian trails.  These are solutions that serve specific people at a specific point in life. 
 
But the heart of the no-gas program goes like this:
To address air quality, climate change and true sustainability, the U.S. transportation system needs to become more efficient and strive to move away from fossil-fuel use in all its forms. To that end, it is imperative that research continues on alternatives to fossil-fueled motor transport. It also is imperative that alternatives to single-occupant vehicle use be supported by policy and funding. Transit in all its forms, car-sharing, ride-sharing and enhanced bicycle and pedestrian mode use are all part of the immediate solution. Most difficult will be adjusting our lifestyles to reduce the number of car trips we make every day and to consider how we can use other modes to get around.
Essentially all of this is wrong.  
 
Using natural gas would improve air quality.  We can go off on climate change myths another time. Using the resources we have under our feet is the key to sustainability and energy independence.
 
The market, not inefficient policy and public funding, is the most likely mechanism to produce workable, acceptable transportation alternatives.  
 
Transit in all its forms, yes, including big honking single-occupant vehicles, chosen, and not chosen, on their own merits, by individuals and families themselves, will make adjusting our lifestyles to changing circumstances of work, family and society the easiest.  
 
The outrageous assertion that we must change our lives and reduce the number of car trips we make to "save the world" is the kind of pronouncement made by progressives who think they can play Sim-City with real people's lives.  Individuals, set free to solve the problems they face, will beat central planning anytime.
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