This article by Michael Hobbes entitled “Democrats’ Baffling Blind Spot On Cars” posted on Huffington Post chastises Democrats for their failure to address America’s biggest source of carbon emissions: driving automobiles. Hobbes calls the failure a blind spot, but it’s more like a third rail that all politicians, Republicans as well as Democrats, are loath to touch. Telling Americans they have to drive less is not a vote-getter. In most places, people have no viable alternative. Disinvestment in public transit for decades has left that option so unattractive or unavailable as to be moot.
For the most part, Hobbes does a good job laying out the dimensions of the problem, and assessing the pros and cons of adopting (or merely proposing) the various alternative ways to cut US transportation emissions significantly. Bernie Sanders’ Cash for Clunkers proposal gets short shrift as a very expensive way to make far too slow an impact on emissions, given that only 6% of Americans buy a new car each year. No Democrat has endorsed the type of restrictions on cars in urban areas that various European cities have implemented over initial opposition that quickly dissipates. Nor has a Democrat spoken out against Trump’s attacks on Obama’s CAFE emission standards, an especially egregious failure given Americans’ propensity for gas-guzzling SUVs. Nor has there been any Democratic defense of California’s special status to set its own emission standards, which automakers initially supported but are caving under Administration pressure to end.
Simply put, Americans need to drive less, which may impinge on where they live. There is a nascent movement to return to the denser living of the cities from the sprawling suburbs, but for most people it’s a hard sell, given the perceived levels of urban crime and the actual quality of most urban schools. Hobbes doesn’t discuss decentralizing workplaces to reduce commuting time, nor high tech virtual conference software that would enable more people to work from home. Still, Hobbes has done the country — and the planet — a great service by highlighting the transportation emissions issue and politicians’ reluctance to address it. It’s telling that he never once mentions Republicans.