Transportation and Social Equity

April 9, 2007 at 6:18 pm 1 comment

What do we know about the sources of poverty? Well, simplistic as it may sound poverty results from systemic failures of the economy. The traditional point of view of poverty stems from our historical past and so do our solutions. The modern response is to create more jobs. However, in our new and global reality this seems to be a catch-22; more jobs create more economic activity resulting in more environmental degradation. I call this solution the “Captain Kirk response” because it reminds me of the Star Trek Captain demanding “more power” to get them out of trouble. As any trekkie knows, sometimes this tactic only resulted in greater problems. What a provocative idea! Maybe if we want to solve the issue of poverty, we need to tackle it differently.

One of the fundamental causes of poverty in the world are the costs of participating in our greater society. In my opinion, a great many of these additional costs stem from our inefficient transportation system. While cars are fun and have even become extensions of our ego and identity, they are probably the most resource intense form of transportation imaginable. This fundamental societal structure necessitates the individual’s need for higher incomes to meet the costs of car ownership. In this way, an entire society needs additional productivity to produce incomes capable of sustaining a transportation system: the cost of automobiles, fuel, insurance as well as the taxes that create and maintain the enormous road infrastructure. The cost of this infrastructure even extends into our private homes in the form of garages and driveways.

A transportation system is the foundation of any economy, however ours has consequences that are rarely discussed. For example, the ability of an individual to go and live wherever that can drive also means that government follows them to provide the services we all expect and demand. Although liberating for the pioneer, it has quietly raised the cost of living for the rest of society who foots the bill for these scarcely utilized roads and services. More importantly, this ability of people to sprawl has had environmental costs in how we continually attempt to change the native landscape according to our whim. And, slightly off topic, but not irrelevant, did you know that 1.2 MILLION people die every year as a result of automobile accidents?

I believe a transportation system based on rail technology and alternative energy sources would help eliminate poverty by eliminating the enormous barriers that the current transportation system incurs upon them. In the same fowl swoop it will also contribute to resolving the environmental issues that stem from it. Of course most modern communities, especially in America, are built around the presumption of the automobile. So how communities are designed and organized would have to be rethought in order to make such a system feasible. However, it does not take a genius to recognize the health dividends of a pedestrian friendly system.

Before we dismiss this proposal, one question we might think about is what’s more important? Tackling the issue in a way that can positively affect billions of people both now and in the future while moving our system to a more sustainable one? Or, maintain a fundamentally flawed system because some of us are already “sitting pretty”? Remember, solutions to problems exist in what we can do, not in what we can’t. While one solution to poverty may seem simplistic just because it can be stated so clearly (i.e., lower the cost of living) that doesn’t discount the elegance of the solution. The problems facing the world can seem overwhelming, and likewise so can the solutions. One thing is certain; the world we hope for will not come about through the will or wishes of any one person, but through the actions of a great many acting in common hope.


Entry filed under: Consumerism, Economics, Environment, People, Philosophy, Sustainability, Transportation.

Morality and Our New Reality The Rising Tide of 5 Billion Others

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. The Transportation Trap « The Sustainability Puzzle  |  March 3, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    […] private car is the foundation of our transportation system in America and in earlier entry, Transportation and Social Equity, I argue that the auto is also a barrier to participation in our greater society. But, if you […]


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