The role of G.M. in the creation of this many-sided disaster was more than merely accidental or structural. Over three decades in the last century, for example, G.M. pursued a deliberate strategy of dismantling the nation’s electrical railways – including urban streetcars and inter-urban railways – and replacing them with cars, trucks, and buses. In 1921, fully 90 percent of American trips were by rail, mainly electric rail. Just one in 10 Americans owned an automobile. There were 1,200 electric street and interurban railways in the U.S. – “a thriving and profitable industry with 44,000 miles of track, 300,000 employees, 15 billion annual passengers, and $1 billion in income.” Nearly every U.S. municipality with at least 2,500 residents enjoyed its own electric rail system….
…As the onetime U.S. Senate Counsel Bradford Snell noted, “The streetcar [and the inter-urban lines] did not die ….because of demographics or economics or disinvestments or evolution; [the] died because GM in 1922 made a conscious decision to kill [them] and, for the next several decades, pursued a strategy designed to accomplish this objective.”
…The point, rather, is for government to make a conscious decision to reconvert the nation’s transportation technologies and systems in accord with ecological principles, creating a new national fleet of very low- to zero-carbon-emitting automobiles and rebuilding mass electric transit in accord with more localist, anti-/and post-sprawl patterns of work, residence, mobility and consumption. The re-conversion required would put millions to work in new green jobs, including many of those formerly employed in the manufacture of eco-cidal gas-guzzlers that have ravaged the world for decades.
- Paul Street