Thursday, June 01, 2006
A Streetcar Named Disaster
Corporate interests bear more responsibility for the likes of Hurricane Katrina than they will ever admit. As we grapple with the consequences of global warming, we should do well to remember a little known episode in the history of corporate malfeasance. In 1949, General Motors, Firestone and Standard Oil were convicted of conspiring to replace the clean and efficient electric tram systems of California with bus lines that polluted the air with toxic fumes. The conspirators had labored for more than a decade to engineer the victory of the internal combustion engine, illegally extracting agreements from public transportation providers never to purchase equipment that did not use petroleum. Sadly, fines imposed by these convictions were minimal, and the effects were nil. Nothing could stop the inexorable replacement of pristine electric crackle with carbon monoxide. GM spent another six years acquiring electric rail companies only to refit them with bus lines and diesel locomotives. By 1974, GM's efforts had helped destroy the electric rail systems of more than one hundred American cities. What rail systems remained used diesel engines almost exclusively while those of Europe and Japan had long ago switched to electricity. It wasn't the craving of the American public that created our "addiction" to petroleum, but the deliberate and unlawful efforts of American greed. Let us damn the pusher, not the addict.
"Road To Perdition" from The Nation