On cars

A story from NPR discussing the domestic auto industry and the challenges of making eco-friendly cars. The discussion boards continue the conversation. It's basically about the convergence of industry, policy, and consumer preference.

When I went to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, which essentially is a rural area because everything is spread out, it was necessary to have a vehicle to get from place to place if you expected to get there in a reasonable amount of time. In the suburban sprawl where I grew up, people find vehicles necessary not because of distance, but because of time constraints. All the necessities, including restaurants and recreational sites, tend to be less than three miles away (that's <3, how cute!). Three miles is doable for walking or biking, but most people will not spend an hour making a grocery run by bike or on foot if they can spend 20 minutes and be able to carry more in their cars. Plus, if Kid X has karate on one side of town that starts at the same time as Kid Y's soccer on the other side of town, a car becomes handy. Also, I remember how much walking around wore me out as a kid, having to take more steps and everything, and it would be a shame to wear a kid out before a game or lesson. My town does not have public transportation and has scarce bike lanes; some of the surrounding towns don't even have sidewalks in non-residential areas. All of this makes it difficult to leave the car at home even if your schedule is flexible enough. (Coincidentally, I've been leaving it at home anyway - but I'm on break and have all the time in the world.)

My Uncle Joe had a stroke of brilliance. Since most families in the suburbs own two cars, he said, it would be efficient to have one short-range electric car and one conventional car. The short-range would be for running errands, maybe driving to work if it's close enough. The long-range would be for trips that the short-range car couldn't make. At the same time, we should be making the switch to renewable energy so that when we plug the electric cars in, they're not using dirty energy to charge up. Congress, Barack Obama, Nobel Prize committee, are you listening?

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