I was reading a popular news magazine last week and two stories followed each other directly. They described events in two neighbouring continents, North and South America. Yet they might have been describing events on two remotely separated planets.
The first story was about an Italian car-industry expert who has, in the past few years, restored the Chrysler motor company to profitability. I quote directly from a section on models planned for production in the near future:
‘Jefferson North [a Chrysler factory] is producing one of Chrysler’s showcase cars, the $60,000 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, with a 470-horsepower bruiser under the hood . . .’
A truck? A rail locomotive? No, this gigantic machine will be a private car, mainly used for carrying one or two people.
You don’t need that much horsepower to carry one or two people, or even a large family. In my home town of Perth, Western Australia, the public buses are between 200 and 300 horsepower, and the West Australian Liberal government, with its traditional bias against public transport, has recently increased the maximum load these buses are allowed to carry from 59 to 76 people, in defiance of safety concerns. This is to delay spending money on buying more buses.
In the very next story in this magazine, there is concern about the Yasuni National Park, an unusually rich and varied nature reserve in Ecuador. This park sits over an oil reserve estimated at nearly 900 million barrels. The Ecuadoran government is trying to blackmail the international community into paying them $3.6 billion over 13 years not to allow extraction of the oil. Developing the oilfield would inevitably degrade and possibly destroy this vital reserve of biological diversity. All to feed the ridiculous waste required by huge cars like the JGC SRT8.
The oil will probably be extracted, and the reserve destroyed, because our current economic system must grab, gobble and consume everything it can to feed ever-growing wasteful consumption. Our current economic system will call this growth, creating wealth, but in fact it is quite the opposite.
The Italian car magnate at Chrysler is a hero in current economic thinking, someone to be revered and imitated, and paid an enormous salary. But in the future, will our descendants think of him as a criminal lunatic, along with the advertisers who use lies and manipulation to sell these huge cars and the egotistical freaks who buy them and cram them into crowded, polluted city centres?