Friday, November 17, 2006

What can I say about Alfas that I haven't already said?

OK, cars are great. They get us, our passengers and our cargo around more easily and further, in less time, than either shank's pony or the bicycle (and I love both walking and cycling). It's not just time saved but a real economic benefit that cars bring to us and our society. We can get around, shop, have things delivered, get to work in a far more flexible way - and within a greater range - than we could, say, 100 years ago.

But we don't factor the "externalities" into our thinking, or take them away from the sum of the economic benefits. That's to say the costs are hidden - or simply subsidised by the community. We think we pay too much when in fact we pay too little for the convenience and apparent low cost of driving.

How so? Add it up. They spew fumes (try riding a bike around lots of cars, or open a window in a car tunnel - it's foul, chokingly foul). Who pays for that? The elderly, the asthmatic; and us - via the public hospital system. Now to make a car takes energy and iron, plastics and other materials. To distribute the resources to the car plant takes energy and resources, and to deliver it to you takes... you guessed it. Who picks up most of the tab for the energy infrastructure, the loss of environment and diversity, and the holes left in the ground after the miners move on? Mostly it's the community, or the environment itself. And who actually replaces the resources we rip out of the ground? Well no-one. They just get used and maybe a proportion gets recycled (which by the way takes more energy!). So do we factor in leaving some for later generations? Do we as a community charge a reasonable fee to the miners who take these resources and make a profit? Well, no. They pay a pittance.

So when we begin to clean up the mess, we find we have as a community subsidised the hell out of it in order to encourage companies to churn 'em out in vast numbers. Ever-increasingly so. The carbon is spewed into the atmosphere but no-one remediates that or pays a decent cleanup levy. You can look at every aspect - from the roads built and rebuilt to accommodate the volume of car traffic, to the garages that "park" a car overnight - and there are hidden costs. Often it's simply a loss of land to other uses (like parks, gardens, farming or simply left for the other living critters on our planet) but it's also in societal costs like increasing health care because people don't walk as much as they used to, or for accident victims.

Cars are wonderful, and wonderfully cheap to boot. But turn that stone over and a host of nasty critters scurry away from the light. Which leads me back to why I take more than usual interest in Alfa Romeos. They too are merely cars but in recompense they have a history and a style that helps me get over the wanton destruction that is mass production and mass consumption. Now mass production and consumption have brought us wonderful economic growth, jobs and sheer convenience - but as I say - we haven't paid the bill yet, either.

Now if Alfas were Fords, or Toyotas or Hyundais in terms of their history, character or style - or if they didn't have what I think they have - then I reckon I'd lose all of my interest and just treat driving as another chore in life.
As it is I've scaled back my driving (and car-buying) habits as I have realised the harm I have - in sheer, stupid ignorance - been doing. And ignorance is no excuse.

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