Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It Shouldn't Have To Be A Choice

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

A British organization, Friends of the Earth, released a report calling for greater investment in high speed rail in Britain as a way to reduce reliance on air travel and eliminate the need for further expansion of Heathrow Airport. One of the articles about the FOE report quoted an "industry-lobby group" as saying something interesting in response:

However, voters are more concerned with the cost of living than with the environment, according to a poll commissioned by industry-lobby group Flying Matters last year.


Flying Matters appears focused on promoting Heathrow expansion so their claims aren't surprising. And they may not be wrong. Certainly here in the United States we don't have to strain to see examples of people seeing this as a choice between keeping a low cost of living or helping the environment. We can expect the HSR deniers to continue arguing that HSR will cost Californians too much money as part of their effort to kill the project.

But it shouldn't have to be a choice. In fact, it is a false choice. High speed rail is a perfect example of this, because it shows that the environmental option IS the the low cost of living option. Sure, gas prices are on the temporary downswing, but they will continue to rise over the long-term. By the time high speed rail opens around 2018, it will likely be the more affordable option than driving or flying. Even if gas prices increase at a slower rate, it will still be affordable anyway, create jobs, and promote business development.

Nor should we forget the environmental benefits, which also save money in the long run in reduced pollution, reduced carbon emissions, and reduced oil consumption. The notion that helping the environment was an economic loser was never an accurate claim, but it holds even less water than usual with regard to high speed rail.

High speed rail benefits both the environment and the economy. In fact, it's probably time we started seeing the two as fundamentally linked. We who support high speed rail here in California would do well to emphasize those connections.

9 comments:

Rafael said...

It's no secret that the primary driver behind the recent rise in inflation is the price of oil and other fossil fuels - their price is more or less tied to that of oil. The mortgage crisis and the falling dollar have exacerbated the situation.

In the past, environmental policy has been directed either at improving sanitation and/or reducing risks to human health or, to protect natural spaces and wildlife from human encroachment. Business interests have traditionally regarded these efforts as burdens and/or missed opportunities for economic development.

High speed rail falls into a completely different, new category of environmental policy: weaning ourselves off oil to protect our standard of living. To a casual observer, that might appear to be a contradiction in terms, given that our prosperity depends so heavily on the intelligent application of oil to virtually everything we do.

However, there is a big difference between using oil as a raw material and using it - directly or indirectly - as an energy source for space heating or transportation. In volume terms, the latter type of use dwarfs the former.

With China, India and many other countries now growing strongly and generally adopting Western technolgies and energy usage patterns, it is only a matter of time before rising global demand for oil triggers a series of geopolticial crises that will make Iraq look like a walk in the park. Even in purely financial terms, waging war to retain access to oil is horribly expensive compared to the cost of avoiding its use and/or increasing the efficiency of the processes that consume it. Military actions also lead to massive long-term commitments, e.g. nation-building, peacekeeping and protective umbrellas over former enemies.

Note that I haven't even touched on the indirect costs of oil consumption, e.g. air pollution and global warming.

The HSR project, by itself, will be no more than a drop on the bucket to weaning California off its risky dependence on oil - never mind the US as a whole. Granted, it is a fairly large drop. However, its primary significance will be that is the first to fall on US soil, with others likely to follow.

High speed rail represents not only an excellent way to travel but also a sea change in how Californians think about their energy usage in the transportation section and its wider implications. Not a moment too soon, IMHO.

Car-less in San Diego said...

Rafael...

What a simple way of stating the facts.

"Even in purely financial terms, waging war to retain access to oil is horribly expensive compared to the cost of avoiding its use and/or increasing the efficiency of the processes that consume it. "

I would also venture to say that exploring new sources of oil is horribly expensive compared to the cost of avoiding its use, increasing the efficiency of its use and adopting proven green energy solutions.

Robert Cruickshank said...

That's a brilliant comment, rafael, top to bottom. I especially like this part:

"High speed rail falls into a completely different, new category of environmental policy: weaning ourselves off oil to protect our standard of living."

Perhaps it's because that is what drew me to HSR in the first place. The conviction that to sustain our standard of living, California must change. We need to develop alternatives to oil-based transportation if we are to affordably travel around our state in the decades to come.

Cal said...

Americans spend large amounts of money on Cars/Gas..For the same amount of money that was spent on this war we would have HRS all over America.This nation spends huge amounts of money..when it comes to rail/transit some people act like its going to bankrupt us!
HRS will be a huge boost for us in jobs and new business.

Spokker said...

I for one can't wait to bang my girlfriend in the restroom of a California high speed train. You've heard of the Mile High Club. Well, I'm founding Club 220.

Not as intriguing as the Mile High Club, but still fun!

Brandon M. Farley said...

^^^ That's a good one.

Robert Cruickshank said...

"I like the girls with the boom
I once got busy in a high-speed bathroom"

(apologies to Digital Underground)

I think that's the comment of the year, spokker.

Anonymous said...

I thought you were gay..Spokker? then hopefully there will be a First Class ,,do it right

Spokker said...

"I thought you were gay..Spokker? then hopefully there will be a First Class ,,do it right"

No I'm just gay for trains.