20050913

The Age of Unreason, Katrina and Transportaion Policy

If Thomas Paine where alive today, perhaps he would view Hurricane Katrina is a reminder, sent by natures God, of the fragility of our petroleum dependent culture. Some Europeans are pointing to Katrina’s strength as a natural consequence the United States’ disregard of global warming issues. While the contribution of global warming to the strength of Katrina’s fury may never be scientifically correlated, a preponderance of data prior to Katrina was supporting the conclusion that global oceanic surface temperatures are on the rise as a result of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The strength of Hurricanes is driven by oceanic water temperatures. Drawing the line of logic based on current science a Deist such as Paine may view Katrina as a natural consequence of our disregard of a natural God’s natural order.

As Thomas Paine wrote in his still controversial “Age of Reason” :

“We can know God only through his works. We cannot have a conception of any one attribute but by following some principle that leads to it. We have only a confused idea of his power, if we have not the means of comprehending something of its immensity. We can have no idea of his wisdom, but by knowing the order and manner in which it acts. The principles of science lead to this knowledge; for the Creator of man is the Creator of science; and it is through that medium that man can see God, as it were, face to face.”

At the core of the global debate regarding carbon dioxide and global warming is the recognized fact the we Americans contribute more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere per capita than any other nation of consequence। The most cost effective means of reducing our per capita output of carbon dioxide is to increase federal funding for rail based, electric powered mass transportation and non fossil fuel based electric power generation.

Peel the onion back and you will find that the largest contributor to CO2 in America is the automobile. We need transportation alternatives.

Transportation systems work best when they are layered (i.e. local, intracity, interurban, intercity) and intermodal , to wit, pertaining to two or more different modes of transportation in conveying goods or people.

Population densities east of the Mississippi and in select corridors in California, Washington State and Texas can and will support high speed rail, especially when fuel prices climb toward four dollars a gallon.

Most US cites with a metropolitan area greater than a half million can support light rail systems. Larger cites can support heavy rail rapid transit systems. These are not systems that can be built over night, but take years of planning. Years of minimal maintenance on systems in cities such as Chicago and New York show the strain as riders flock to mass transit in the face of high gasoline prices.

Electric powered transportation systems can use and form of power generation currently available. Trains powered by third rail or overhead wire have increased efficiency over transportation systems requiring on board power, be it from batteries or fuel, because they need not expend energy on the hauling the energy source. Rail is more efficient than rubber wheeled transportation systems due to the friction coefficient of steel wheels on rails vs. rubber wheels on roads.

All in all, the operating and maintenance costs of high speed intercity rail and light rail systems are below that of bus systems and superior to air transportation and on runs less than 400 miles it has proven a superior form of conveyance in Europe. I am certain Jefferson and Franklin would support building a new national rail infrastructure today, with as fervor as gave to canal building in their era.

The CO2 footprint of electric powered rail systems vastly superior to anything short to bicycles, canal barges, and sailboats. So if we are truly persuaded by All Gore's argument that reducing CO2 is a moral imperative, then it is a moral imperative to build light rail in our cities and TGV style high speed rail between or cities.

Energy production based on renewable fuels such as wind, solar, bio-mass, and hydro are far less susceptible to disruption by nature, terrorist, and global politics. These renewable are twice blessed by the Deist’s God, being both an investment in the stability of our economy while being in harmony with nature.

Production of hydrogen from coal, oil and gas as an “alternative fuel,” is a short sighted “fix” to our problems, offered by an administration populated by politicians with close ties to the existing coal and oil industry. A renewed reliance on nuclear energy seem imprudent given lack of wast storage facilities and a reliable global structure that can prevent the conversion of nuclear power technology into nuclear weapons.

Katrina is a wake up call to our Nation. We need to heed the call and craft legislation that creates a future society free of dependence on fossil fuels and petroleum powered internal combustion engines. The hand of self interest will inevitably push us toward mass transit and renewable fuels as the cost of fossil fuels follow the inevitable economic result of diminishing supply and increasing demand.

Perhaps the hand of self interest is bound to inaction by big oil influences. Perhaps the voice of reason has been taken to a back room and muffled by lobbiest.

How many times must the economy bear the brunt of damage produced by increasingly damaging storms fueled by global climate change? How much will we pay in economic instability, and higher fuel and insurance costs? The lead time on building infrastructure alternatives to the car demand an “intelligent design” on the part of our political leadership. Investment in mass transit and alternative fuels now will insure economic stability and save us all money in the long run.

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