Thursday, December 8, 2011

California High-Speed Rail:What are we thinking? Where do we think we're going?

Listen to this 20 minute speech of Naomi Klein.  Set aside your beliefs about whether there is such a thing as "global  warming" or "climate change."  Or not.  That's not her issue.  Her point is that we are acting and will continue to act as if there is none. And our ways of fixing the problem is by creating solutions which are, themselves, even greater problems.

Regardless of which side of the climate debate you are on, all sides do agree that things are bad and getting worse.  We are consuming more, wasting more, polluting more. (I need to ask, assuming that global warming is not produced by people, but the planet is getting warmer without our help, should we just ignore it and let future generations deal with it?) 

For our perspective on this blog, what Naomi Klein describes is the context wherein our current problems; jobs, the economy, the environment, energy, and greater productivity requirements demand the creation and promotion of high-speed rail.  As it happens, the problems that high-speed rail are intended to solve, were created by us in the first place.  

We've made a mess of transportation and transit, are consuming vast amounts of "dirty" fuel, are sterilizing our oceans and farmlands, over-using our depleting water sources, and at the same time, have created technologies that increase human productivity one hundred fold.  By way of these technologies, we are therefore polluting our atmosphere, consuming the planet on which we exist, and congesting our highways which we built, and there are more and more of us doing that. 

So, now we have to "fix" it.  Our response calls for a technological solution to the technologically initiated problems we have brought upon ourselves. 

Regular rail once met our needs. That modality is no longer good enough. We solved it by creating air travel to get from point A to point B far more quickly than rail. Faster cars, faster planes, faster trains; whatever we create must go ever faster.

We are in a race for speed; faster is better, whether it's computers (the race for more and faster GHz processing) or ourselves. Now we need to "fly" on the ground: "Fly California," as it says on the side of our intended high-speed trains. 

It permeates all our language; race to the top, race for the future, we are behind the Chinese and must get ahead, etc. etc. 

Such races exemplify our obsession with productivity; time is money. We must travel faster so that we can do even more with even less (or fewer).  We successfully produce more with more technology and fewer people.  However, at the same time, ironically, we are producing more people who need to consume more, but will have less work to do. So, we need to create make-work; i.e., build a train, so that they don't riot.

Ronald Reagan famously said that government is the problem, not the solution.  We can, herewith, safely say that high-speed rail is a problem although it is being sold as a solution, or even a panacea.  Yet, we have created all the problems the train is intended to address.

I don't know how to fix this.  I just know that we are already in a deep hole, figuratively speaking, and high-speed rail is merely a way for digging us deeper.  And, worst of all, we are losing the ingenuity and creativity to solve the problems created by the solutions we devised to solve prior problems.  

Buying high-speed trains off the shelves of other countries and laying 500 miles of new track in California does not look like the solution to anything.  It's just a clever way to require the expenditure of vast amounts of money we don't have.

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