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The first Ethical Man film

Justin Rowlatt | 14:35 UK time, Thursday, 9 April 2009

Phew - the first of our films, finished at last. I hope it speaks for itself. Tell me what you think.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Bicycling is a valid form of transportation that reduces carbon emissions dramatically. May is Bicycle Month in Austin, Texas and we are celebrating with a friendly challenge for Austin, and surrounding communities. The Austin Commuter Cahllenge works to promote cycling as a green alternative for trips to work, school, the market, or other distinations. They Mayor of Austin proclaimed May to be Austin Commuter Challenge month in a press conference last week. Check it out: Keep up the great work ethical man. We're working hard here in a state with the most Coal plants in America. Sigh. You can follow me on twitter #lluciano or facebook

  • Comment number 2.

    OK, I have given you my 17 minutes. Now for the 2 cents.

    It's a mixture of questions and thoughts, the latter as requested.

    First up, this is the first of how many? What for? To whom? Where and when? Here on the blog to show all the guys back in the USA who you met? What's the anticipated audience for all that has been consumed... with what intended message?

    Top of line while fresh in mind, there seemed near zero by way of any information worth much. It was also hardly cutting edge documentary. How many of these have we seen before, and will get again? At what cost... to licence fee and planet? Lugging star and entourage and kit does not come cheap.

    The original EM had some value; I learned a lot and got some nifty links. And why on earth would a (genuine) experiment in ways and results of trying to reduce GHG's on a personal level be bizarre?

    Odd to mention the giving up flying, and then fly to the USA next. And then make a point about not flying whilst there (except back here when it was necessary).

    This was billed as what America could teach us. I am struggling to think of one thing in this first piece that taught anyone anything, though there was a Brit telling some Americans how their lives are measured in Hershey bars. Looking at the audience I think that may have sunk in.

    Whilst engagingly acknowledged, the whole asking folk what they thought of ‘Global Warming’ at every turn, during a blizzard, was... quaint. I thought it was now 'climate change', and in The Guardian even this is being deemed so last year before records stopped. And the BBC has a spotty record on reporting science at best.

    Whilst obviously a very nice family, I fear the time with the Howards is time I will not get back. But I must say Dad's powered driveway shovel looked waaay cool. I’ll get rid of the spade right away. Did it run on coal?

    Because I think I did get the message that this is bad stuff, and the USA has lots more bad stuff than anyone. So President O's efforts in ditching their primary energy sources in favour of others will be an interesting one to watch. Environment vs. economy can be a tricky one. A bit like PM Brown's latest wheeze (frankly he spins so much on green issues each month we could run the National Grid on him) on making us all buy as many electric cars as we can is novel, without seeing certain ironies in steel mills cranking out more cars to run on a fuel produced, currently, how? And later on, how? And how distributed?

    It was great to see that even in the snow you got a nice audience at the show, but let's get real. If Fox advertised an event with cameras in our town hall, half the town would turn up to get on the telly. Hope they thought it was worth it.

    Without knowing where this is going, I can only hope that if I am to invest more time in these pieces, there will be something in there of more value to help me with making tough choices on climate-related issues, and better yet with proactive solutions for the future. Flying to the USA to make a telly show on high consumption Americans isn’t really spinning my turbine. But I hope it was fun.

  • Comment number 3.

    JunkMale #2. wow, would that I could put my thoughts to "paper" like that..

    it seemed to me that the local people are well aware of the issues; the icefisher who talked about the changes re. lake ice during his lifetime, and the man relating the changed habits of the local bird variety which now breeds further north.

    full marks for entertaining presentation (Hershey bars) though.

  • Comment number 4.

    I've just found out about your visit to my area in Michigan. I am sorry I didnt know sooner or I would have loved to make your meeting at the hall about your topic here. Anyway as for those not from Muskegon I think you did a good job on the footage of the city of Muskegon. And am glade you got to see what a greatlakes winter is like. And if any one has an questions about Muskegon or the area and its stuff, I've lived here my whole life. Ask and I'll anwser to help the blog.

  • Comment number 5.

    First there’s some news: some people at U Penn have discovered a way to make methane from CO2 and water at 80% efficiency. This would make natural gas into renewable energy. Keyword search ‘microbial cell methane’ should lead to at least one link. Depending on how one computes capital asset depreciation, it should be possible to produce the energy equivalent of a gallon of gasoline for $2.00 to $4.00 per ‘gallon’. This would be stored using MOF (metal-organic frameworks). This is viable with technology already in hand.

    Very few people think in two and three dimensions. To illustrate, take the square root of 6.4 billion (people) in your head, or the cube root of 1 trillion (cubic feet of natural gas). Most people will insist on using a calculator. Numbers that appear huge when measuring area and volume look a lot less significant when one looks at the respective linear root.

    Americans have traditionally been concerned about A) getting their education, B) remaining employed, C) taking care of their health, D) raising their kids, and E) retirement. Energy conservation is simply not on the radar. For those with any interest in crunching numbers, they note that there are 300 million people living in 4.5 million square miles, and that the population of North America when the Indians lived in a largely hunter-gatherer lifestyle was 1/30th of that. If we want to cut CO2 emissions back to 1901 levels, maybe 90% of the population should just disappear.

    For someone to grasp the energy issues, it is necessary to first be aware of physical laws regarding conservation of energy. Once that is understood the next concept is understanding some basic concepts of organic chemistry, including the molecular structures of hydrocarbons, water, and CO2. Once basic chemical ideas are understood then the next step is understanding the per-unit energy investments of making a hydrocarbon from water and CO2, including in particular the unit volumes of cubic centimeters, grams, and grams-molar. It’s particularly helpful if politicians, the ones spending the money to avert the crisis, understand the practical effects of their mandates.

    It’s hopelessly unlikely that you can do that in any of the segments you’re composing. So what we’re going to watch is things getting thrown around and a quest for various novel thingies. I predict that you will never been seen on screen without a tie, even in the scorching heat of West Texas or the bare-chested culture of Southern California.

    Americans that are paying attention will get an earful of the European perspective on American lifestyle, consumption, money, and obliviousness to ecological consequences. Europeans will resent American consumption, as usual, and a few will envy us for our material excesses. Both of these miss a bigger point, which is that Americans do get around to fixing things, even if it takes decades. The fact that we fix it won’t change any other country’s attitudes to America much at all: we’ll still be greedy, oversexed, adventurous, and lacking basic social compassion. The Europeans doing this complaining will be doing so on the Internet, in particular Facebook, Twitter, and Google Mail. They’ll be flying in to NYC on cheap airfares on jumbo jets and talking on cell phones using American chips. May as well sit back and enjoy the fruits of our innovation, since that isn’t going to stop.

  • Comment number 6.

    I enjoyed your first reports on Ethical Man because they made a serious point entertainingly. This first EM goes USA seems shifted towards entertaining points on a serious subject. Perhaps that is because the subject is such a challenge. But it is a first episode and I still look forward to watching your progress.

    I recall working in Detroit/Michigan and being invited out to dinner by someone at the office. The guy suggested Chinese and said he'd pick me up from the hotel. So at the appointed time I hopped into the car, we drove out of the hotel entrance and drove into the next entrance to the Chinese next door. It would have been a walk of 20 yards, except as I later discovered there was no sidewalk between the two buildings. Walking 500 yards to a bar in the UK would be unexceptional, but I was thought to be eccentric when I suggested this at the office.

    You have your work cut out. That said, the 'can do' of American life makes me think that the foundation of a proportionate response to global warming (whether man-made or natural) will most likely emanate from the USA.

  • Comment number 7.

    Thank you Ethical Man, for so clearly illustrating how enormous a task it will be for Americans to reduce emissions by 80%. If giving up your car and eating vegan, was not enough, how will electric cars allow American’s to reach their goal?

    Although a positive attitude is required to accomplish anything, it also helps to know the right path. (or at least try them all)

    And since the only way to meet that 80% target, might involve a path that can not be tested until significant effort has been invested, and 85% of the population agrees to switch modes, if might be a good idea to model various emission reduction strategies.

    We might all benefit from co2-free cement and solar-smelted steel. Rail-networks could be extended, and solar-heated housing could be built, without fear of hastening climate change.

    Window frames or window panes, that either generated electrical power from vibration, or directly converted pressure into power without movement, would allow just about anyone to collect wind-power (assuming whoever funded the research, gave away the patent and affordable energy storage).

    But even with all that, it might very well be, that the efficiencies required to meet that 80% goal, cannot be met, without enough electric rail transport to ban private motor vehicles from 50% of America. If the models show that to be true, then a multi-million dollar campaign, that describes the true economic and human cost of autos,(a million deaths a year) might help people see trains as being safer, more convenient, and faster, than grid-lock plagued freeways.

    Noam Chomsky recently said, “a free market, will not build you a public transit system”

    Since people will not demand a better system, unless they know one is possible (or if they are lied to about the current system), maybe a little more honesty about the current situation, and more analysis and disclosure of the costs and benefits of the above, is in order?

    If easing the health-care crisis and ending famine, are not good enough reasons to extend rail service world-wide, we can always say we are trying to save the world.

  • Comment number 8.

    On reading the entry on Methane in Wikipedia one discovers that the energy potential of a gram-molar of methane is equivalent to 891 kilo-joules. For the typical reader that might have suffered through one chemistry class in high school, this is all gobbledegook.

    If one takes the atomic weight of carbon at 12, and adds 4 hydrogens of an atomic weight of 1 each, one gets a molecular weight of 16 for the entire molecule. One gram times the molecular weight is a gram-molar, or 16 grams in this case.

    A Joule can also be called a Calorie or a Watt-second. A watt-second is the amount of energy needed to heat one gram of water one degree Celsius. Thus the energy potential of sixteen grams of methane could easily vaporize one gram of water, or heat a kilogram of water to 891 degrees.

    The Calorie of chemistry and physics is not the Calorie of nutrition, which is a kilocalorie in chemistry. Thus a 200 calorie chocolate bar would release 200,000 joules of energy if eaten and metabolized.

    A watt-hour is 3600 watt-seconds, so dividing 891,000 by 3600 yields 247.5 watt-hours per gram-molar of methane. There are about 28 gram-molars in a pound of methane, so a pound would be equal to 7022 watt-hours, or 7 kilowatt-hours. A typical American household uses about 30 kilowatt-hours per day, or the equivalent of 4.2 pounds of methane. A gallon of gasoline weighs about 6 pounds, so this means a typical household might use something close to the equivalent of a gallon of gas per day to run their house. Using 'conventional' power production technology, only about 30% of the energy from fuel is converted to electricity, so power station consumption is closer to 12.6 pounds, or a bit more than two 'gallons'.

    Supposedly someone has discovered a way to produce methane from CO2 dissolved in water, at 80% efficiency. If this is true then one can multiply the 4.2 pounds of methane by 1.125 to find the energy needed to make the methane accounting for energy radiated as useless heat. Doing the math we realize it might take 8.4 kilowatt-hours to make the 7,022 watt-hours stored in the methane, or 25.2 kilowatt-hours if we burn the fuel in a conventional power plant to convert it back to electricity.

    'Conventional' mono-crystalline silicon solar cells convert about 20% of incoming light energy to electricity. A typical tilted but otherwise fixed panel produces the electrical equivalent to five hours a day of exposure, so a 200-watt panel (covering about one square meter) would produce 1-kilowatt-hour per day. If a house uses 30 kilowatt-hours per day, it would need 30 panels covering a square meter each. A family of four might live in a 100 to 200 square meter house (in the US home sizes run from 800 to 2400 square feet). 30 square meters covering a 100 square meter house doesn't look like an impractical proposition.

    The real value in creating methane, however, is for use as a motor fuel. If you have solar panels on your roof, the most efficient use is to simply consume the power as it's produced, which is practical during daytime hours. Short term storage is best done with batteries, which are far simpler to install in one's house or neighborhood than a gas processing plant.

    As is pointed out in the show, Americans drive everywhere. A typical car is driven 40 miles per day or 14,400 miles per year. Trucks and SUVs get around 20 miles per gallon, smaller cars around 30. This suggests we need from 1.3 to 2 gallons per day per car, or 9 to 12 pounds of fuel. Producing 12 pounds of methane would require 25 kilowatt-hours, or solar panels covering 25 square meters. Given a home in the US with two working spouses and two kids, one might be living in 180 square meters (2000 square feet), needing 30 square meters of panels to run the house and two 25 square meter arrays to fill both cars with 'gas'.

    The price of solar panels standing alone, sold retail to homeowners is about $3 to $4 per watt. To install 6000 watts times $4 one is spending $24,000, and one might spend another $24,000 to have a contractor install the panels on the roof. The payback, in this situation, is beyond one person's normal lifetime.

    Furthermore, most people like their houses surrounded by trees, which are grossly incompatible with solar panels (and wind turbines, for that matter). One finds large chunks of clear space in the local big box retailer parking lot (car park), often (in the US) on the order of 10 acres, 450,000 square feet, or 45,000 square meters. Again, in the US, many of these sites are currently vacant. Other appropriate locations are, of course, factories, warehouses, rail/truck/lorry/container marshaling yards. Due to the losses in power transmission, these should be as close to the consumer as possible. Dividing 45,000 square meters by 80 square meters per household indicates there is enough area to power 500 hours per vacant lot. A city of a million people has about 400,000 houses (2.5 people per house), so 400,000 divided by 500 is 80 vacant 10 acre lots.

    On a commercial scale solar panels cost about $1 per watt. This means the homeowners equivalent investment would be about $6000 for the home electricity panels and $5000 for the fuel producing panels, or $11,000 combined. One other relevant point at this scale, there are natural gas powered fuel cells (Solid-oxide fuel cells) that can be combined with gas turbines that produce power at 80% efficiency (keyword search 'SOFC'). Usually these are about the right size to install in neighborhood commercial districts.

    What's left is the issue of recovering the CO2 expended from cars. One could actually capture the CO2 from the exhaust and store it, if one was willing to have another 'gas tank' in the car. Failing this, there are several other capture mechanisms, but a simple and widely available option is to spread lime (calcium oxide, or CaO) over a wide surface area to absorb CO2 from the air. Once this lime is gathered up and heated to 800 degrees, the CO2 is driven off. This is otherwise known as making cement, and the heat could be provided by solar concentrators. This would be a great role for desert third world areas that have lots of surplus labor and little income. These could be described as CO2 harvesting farms.

    This creates a 'closed loop': solar power is converted to fuel, when the fuel is burned, the exhaust is recaptured and recycled. This might appear exotic and expensive, but it's really no different in complexity from the infrastructure of exploration, pumping, pipelines, refineries, tankers, and terminals that span the globe. We can simply make the choice to invest in this direction from here on out.

  • Comment number 9.

    Greetings from the Middle States. Let us bang some citizen politics shall we! Ah yes the mighty commuter train. It is beneficial to all socioeconomic classes and in most big cities the train is invaluable. On the outskirts of the metropolitan cities there are the rural communities grounded in over 300 years of tradition. When our city council here in Kansas City, Mo attempted to supplement the regional bus system with a small line light rail train it caused a ruckus so big that the next time it was considered was 8 years later in 2008. Why wouldn't citizens in the middle of the rural pastoral lands want to own 5 cars per household knowing that their carbon footprint is ruining the lands for which they dwell? I am so glad you asked. First and foremost, an argument that never makes it to the front lines of debate on this issue is race and class. Without sounding too negative, it is a fact that rural communities in the U.S (middle or otherwise) do not want the inner city coming into their "moral" communities. Yes, I do believe it is a secular issue based on years and years of skewed information about cultural diversity and a lack of acceptance toward others. The second issue, Americans want everything but do not want to pay for it. Because we have to pay over half our salary for health care and are chained to our expensive cars, anytime a government official wants to raise taxes to compliment transportation infrastructure the masses riot. It is 2008 and Kansas City does not have adequate public transportation. Our story is not unique. Rural America will always fight against the train. It is acceptable if the train is located miles away from civilization, but if the train stops multiple times it has the potential to bring diverse crowds of people. Moreover it is brilliant if Missouri adopts a plan but Kansas City, Kansas doesn't have the same plan. States must cooperate with each other and share the same tax burden for infrastructure. Most rural folks have been driving since they were 13-14 years old and have never experienced the luxury of public transport. It would be beneficial if they would stop voting against earth sustainability, as well as their own best interests. They do not want to be in the mainstream, that is why they live in the country. Hell, most people in rural areas don't even have internet access. The term "carbon footprint" might as well be written in Latin. Welcome to America!

  • Comment number 10.

    OI! This will be a quick synopsis as there is so much that I can relate to regarding your series.
    I am a Michigan born Muskegonite. Lived in North Muskegon from the age of 5. I am a prideful Michigan boy forever. I have been in Albuquerque, New Mexico for the past 12 years working my landscape company. I was extremely entertained by episode one and am DYING to see the outcome of the townhall meeting. My first car, at age 18, was a Datson 210 that I drove into the ground and is likely buried around there somewhere. My Brother and Mother are still there. With this I can address JunkkMale's comments as detached from the people that are there whereas thedissenter had some real-life experience. These people, my people may have a "clue" on varying levels but the life experience they have now runs deep. Add to it the serious depression of that town. Unemployment in the US is the worst in Michigan and the worst of Michigan is Muskegon. What type of pride do these people have to hold on to. It was Muskegon that rebuilt Chicago when it burned in the late 1800's. It was here that Chicago elite built their summer homes.
    I am now in Albuquerque where one of my construction comrades helped convince our Governor to fund our light rail system which now travels from Belen to Santa Fe. Central Ave. of Albuquerque may actually get its trolly system in a few more years after decades of snuffing. I have my bus pass to get me to my new job (no longer have my own company). In 2007, I took an Amtrak with my daughter back home and used family vehicles one I got there.
    Through Facebook I have reconnected with highschool friends. One is South Carolina with a landscape design business dealing with drought. I have been working on a greywater system for a few years now and have come across a study from U Penn about reclaiming water. If folks like mnpoor believe that we can solve energy problems with sucking water then it will be tremendously important to maintain water integrity and water rights (being bought by the French) and conserve now rather than run into the problems they are having in drought stricken areas such as India, etc. etc. (see "Water Wars" by Vendana Shiva)
    Maybe some of these things are what Muskegonites have some insight on...

  • Comment number 11.

    Dear Justin, I originally posted this message on an older blog entry, so I will repeat it now. I enjoyed your blog and comments about Muskegon, as well as your movie. I am originally from Muskegon, Michigan and I attribute my acute sensibilities toward the environment to the budding grass roots environmentalism of the sixties and seventies there when I was growing up. I feel because of the historical continuity of communities and families in Muskegon, people have a stake in -- feel a strong connection to -- the surrounding environment and take action. The richness of the aquaculture in Michigan inspires stewardship. It's refreshing. As for me, I left the area years ago to attend school in California and remain here. I have been for the last five years the development director for an international environmental organization devoted solely to preserving the world's islands: their threatened ecosystems, endangered species and historic cultures. We have a handful of international affiliates, one of which is in the UK. Please let me know if you would be interested in meeting with the principals in London to learn more about us and what we're doing re: global warming and the world's changing climate. We are making great progress globally with our programs such as carbon offset, reforestation of mangroves and other indigenous trees, and coral reef restoration. Mangroves and coral reefs are now more endangered than the great rainforests of the planet. However, we could quickly make the whole planet a desert if we're not vigilant and active. The Great Lakes could easily become "The Not-so-Great Lakes" without preservation. I invite you to visit for more information. Again, please contact me if you are interested in talking with our UK affiliate in London.

  • Comment number 12.

    I've just watched the report on Newsnight about GM's electric car, the Volt. I find it extraordinary that at no time, as far as I could tell, was the question of 'where the electricity comes from' addressed. Without it, the report is meaningless. GM have created a car which is quiet and which doesn't pollute locally. That's it. Big deal. It adds nothing to the debate. It's not even new technology.

    Incidentally, if your next report considers hydrogen as an alternative fuel for vehicles, you might want to consider the question: 'Where does the hydrogen come from, how is it produced and how much energy is required' before you get too far.

  • Comment number 13.

    Thanks bikegirlluciano #1 and gungadan; #12

    Some think that solar panels can be used to create enough hydrogen to meet our transport needs. But this will be a lot like electric cars only moving the pollution source from tail-pipe, to smoke-stack, until we have a surplus of solar panels

    We should not bury our problems in the ground for who knows which future generation to deal with. We should build enough solar and wind generating and energy storage capacity, to shut down every coal, oil or uranium plant on the planet.

    Co2 accumulation looks very much like it could create serious problems.

    We know uranium is the most toxic naturally occurring element. We also know that nuclear power plants are required to build nuclear bombs. So if we want to eradicate atom bombs, we need to shut down every reactor, and monitor all known uranium deposits.

    In order to keep the lights on, we first need to create enough renewable energy resources to meet demand. That day could be a long way off. If we also want to power all our transport needs from the grid, we have the choice of maximizing rail and bicycles usage to minimize total energy consumed for transport, somehow increasing renewable energy production capacity a thousand fold, or just keep polluting like there is no tomorrow.

    Our leaders seem ready to act on co2, we need to evaluate all possible paths so we can present to them the best ones. If only governments have the resources and access to the required numbers, we may still need to try our best, to consider every possible path, guesstimate which ones are best, and then present our math to our leaders, so they can send it to who ever actually has the numbers.

    Newsigal #9;

    Thank you for telling it like it is. A few concerned people, speaking truth to their leaders, is the only force that has ever created positive change. All we can do is try, in the hopes they will hear.

  • Comment number 14.

  • Comment number 15.

    Sceptic_Kev #14;

    I am not sure how that news helps you win. It says nothing about your favored Honda, let alone anything about where the hydrogen will come from.

    We need to let our leaders know, they need to seriously rethink our dependence on private-motor vehicles. They need to weigh ALL the carbon, financial and human costs of private motor vehicles, against the safest rail system we have built. If Japan can move 40 billion passengers with only one fatality, imagine how a similar word-wide system could perform.

    From the #14 link;
    Running cars on electricity is an exceptionally good idea if we could produce the electricity in a green and carbon free manner

    That is one big if. We need to ramp up renewable energy production capacity, something like a thousand fold, as it is, so it can meet all our energy needs. Until we have a surplus of solar-panels, we should direct our efforts at limiting demand, and shutting down all the coal, gas, or nuclear power-plants. The last thing we want to do, is create more demand for electricity.

    As others above have stated, too much carbon is emitted to make all those new cars. If we had solar powered steel smelters, we would want to use that production as efficiently as possible. That would likely mean more rails and rolling stock, not more private autos.

    And to top off all that, cars are too dangerous as it is, silent ones will be worse. So I do not see how electric cars can possibly be a good idea.

  • Comment number 16.

    #15 - Bicycle-Fan writes "cars are too dangerous as it is, silent ones will be worse." Particularly those quieter than bicycles, when they're being driven on sidewalks in the opposite direction of traffic and running red lights and stop signs with impunity.

  • Comment number 17.

    mnpor; #16

    People do stupid things. When they do stupid things with 2-tonnes of steel moving in excess of 50km/hr, much worse things happen to whomever is in the way, than when they do stupid things with 15 kgs of steel moving at 20 km/hr.

    Please do no try to tell me that bicyclists kill more pedestrians than motorists. Look at the real numbers!

    Did you even try to envison a car-free city? Why would a cyclist want to ride on a croweded sidewalk (pavement) when there is a wide and mostly empty street beside it?

  • Comment number 18.

    #17 - Bicycle-fan. I was gently poking fun. Car drivers aren't going to be on the sidewalks, at least not when they're sober. The bicycle riders I know in the town where I live tend to go wherever they want, rules or no rules. This may be one consequence of not having bike lanes or other infrastructure: there's a carry over from skate boards: if you don't have a skateboard park, you are one.

  • Comment number 19.

    I understand that humour can be a great communication tool, so I am sorry if I over-reacted, but I am at a loss, for how to make one million road deaths a year, seem funny.

    It is the motorists, that need to start worrying. They and their passengers, are the ones most likely to be killed in a motor vehicle smash-up.

  • Comment number 20.

    Sorry if that sounded too horrific, but that reality can be a thing of the past, if we make it so.

    Car-free cities could makes transportation a million times safer than today, because cargo-bicycles are not at all likely to derail a train.

  • Comment number 21.

    #19 - Bicycle-Fan - the number in the United States is about 50,000 per year, half due to drunk drivers. Fatalities per miles driven have been going down significantly since the 1960s.

    The kind of vehicle (car, bicycle, subway, airplane) is only part of the story: impaired judgement can kill you in, or on, anything. However, on bicyles it's much harder to take out innocent bystanders or passengers in other vehicles.

  • Comment number 22.

    mnpoor; #21

    How else to envision the safest transportation system possible, except to look at the safest system we have created?

    Japan`s bullet trains have moved seven billion passengers with only one fatality. Compared to that, how does America`s fifty thousands deaths per year represent fatalities per miles driven going down significantly?

    Increased motor vehicle safety is almost entirely a product of auto industry propaganda. The only thing that has significantly reduced road fatalities, has been grid-lock, but that increases lung aliments, and decreases productivity. Surely you don`t want more gridlock?

    Bullet train = 1 death per 7 billion trips, 1 death in 40 years
    World wide road transport = 1 death per 1 million trips, 1 million deaths in 1 year

    The kind of vehicles that are allowed by law on public roads, is the entire public safety story. Our governments have failed to protect us from these dangerous vehicles, by allowing them on our streets.

    It will be much easier to regulate train drivers, than 1 billion private motor vehicle operators.

  • Comment number 23.

    #22 - Bicycle-Fan - the word I'm seeing in boldface is 'regulate'. This is the difference between most of the world and the US. People (usually government elites) make rules to save people from themselves. There's no shortage of that in the US as well. The difficulty with this is that second-guessing the vast majority of people removes most of the opportunity from the table. Someone in France has no chance of creating an innovative start-up because a whole string of local and national regulators and agencies will have to sign off on it. When that person shows up in Silicon Valley they create their product, company, and fortune in a few years.

    And so it is with energy and transportation. People have to let their ideas live or die in the marketplace. Railroads and bicycles have been around a long time. They're a good solution some of the time. They're of no help whatsoever to a rancher in West Texas. If people are free to find out how to solve the problem, they'll solve it. It will be messy, expensive, and time consuming, but it will get fixed. Everyone is screaming that we don't have time for this, but some mandate from some authorative body is just as likely to be mistaken as any other resolution, and if they're wrong, the other approaches are discarded before their validity can be proven.

    Life is dangerous. People living in the UK and other parts of Western Europe hope their 'social contract' will keep them safe. The more secure you make it, the more attractive it is for outsiders to settle, and they have their own ideas of the terms they should be able to live their life in. Thus you get a whole string of the events we've been going through the last ten years or so. Putting everyone on trains and bicycles won't affect that state of affairs much at all.

  • Comment number 24.

    mnpoor; #23

    You do not really want a system with no rules or think a return to the wild west, would be an improvement, do you?

    We need better rules, not fewer rules.

    Extrapolate 1 death in 7 billion trips, to 150 deaths in 1 trillion trips, and compare that to today`s 1 million road deaths for every 1 trillion trips.

    150, goes into 1 million, 7 thousand times. Since the safest transport system we have built, is 7 thousand times safer than road-based transport, how can it possibly be argued, that car-free cities won't affect that state of affairs much at all?

  • Comment number 25.

    People seem to have a certain 'set-point' for risk. If they aren't confronted with something dangerous, they go out and find something dangerous to confront. This explains X-Treme sports, BASE jumpers, thugs that terrorize football games, and motorcycle racing.

    About 50,000 people a year are killed by cars, about 450,000 are killed prematurely by smoking (in the US). I'm not sure what bicycles and trains are going to do about the smokers. In short, none of the rules you're promoting are going to affect the carnage much.

    The rest of the question is focused on who is making the rules and why. Focusing back on the issues of CO2 reduction and energy conservation, you are asserting that you have THE answer. Period. Any answer other than yours fall short of being satisfactory. And if we bring all these people in from the suburbs where rail service would be uneconomical and put all the arthritis sufferers in pedicabs and deliver all our groceries with young people that can't afford college, particularly medical school or engineering or agricultural science, and replace 3000 pound cars with 100,000 locomotives on trains that run half-empty during the workday afternoon, and we then discover that this didn't affect CO2 emissions very much, then we've just thrown away a decade or so of people taking initiative and experimenting and collaborating on various means to solve these problems.

    There are places where a few people running the country make the decisions for everyone else. These countries certainly get by on very little: Cuba and North Korea are noteworthy in that respect. Zimbabwe and Venezuela are headed there as fast as their leaders can assert total control. Another place that's great for bicycles, given that there are almost no cars: Laos. Look it up.

    One worthwhile book for anyone thinking about these approaches is 'The Road to Serfdom' by F. A. Hayek. His insights appear from having lived in Austria as the Nazis took over, and saw the Labor Party in Britian doing the exact same thing during and after WW II.

  • Comment number 26.

    mnpoor; #25

    It cannot be said that because a different rule change, could save ten million or one billion lives, my rule change could not possibly save half a million to one million lives every year.

    I do not use any tobacco products, so would be happy if all nations realized they had banned the wrong plant, and will be even happier when the scientific method is used to abolish all true hazards and bad laws.

    We cannot do much about who is making the rules. Even when we get the rare chance to vote, a tiny percentage of us get to choose each candidate and most of those people may not be in the winning party.

    Hopefully here, we can have some influence on the path our leaders choose to take us.

  • Comment number 27.

    Talk about ethics, and what the larger banks are doing to consumers, I have taken my own stance:


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