Utopia Revisited!


 For as long as people recorded events, writings, and other artifacts  demonstrating time and place references, the wonder of a “perfect” society or utopia has been dreamed about. Unfortunately, everyone’s idea of utopia somehow matches their own cultural bias and personal  habits and aspirations. Religious wars seem to get fought over and over again. More often than not over what the other envisions about heaven, another version of utopia. When Europeans sought to colonize other lands, it often portrayed itself as one cultural utopia exerting itself on another less fortunate social structure.

In the 1960’s, and into the ’70’s Utopian societies cropped up as a result of the back to land movement, sustainability become an iconoclastic paradigm, and books like Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, by E.F.Schumaker,  demonstrated another version of capitalistic evils to be shun in order to create a much more harmonious society. In the 1970’s during then President Carter’s tenure, Amitai Etzioni published a poll that showed that 31% of the people were anti-growth, 30% were pro growth, and 39% were not sure. With the election of Ronald Reagan, the US began an era of outright myopic focus on economic growth. The American Dream had no ceiling. If you listen to politicians describing their goal of reinforcing the American Dream, it is certain this includes unsustainable consumerism. Larry Summers declared , “There are no…limits to the carrying capacity of the Earth that are likely bind in the foreseeable future. There is no risk to an apocalypse due to global warming or anything else. The idea that we should put limits on growth due to natural limits is a profound error. ”  

So, when transportation issues surface, topics such as sustainability, active versus passive transportation,  road design, public health in relation to physical activity, all meet at a basic economic crossroads. The pervasive economic view belies utopian ideals, at least realistic ones. Somehow to believe that the earth has an infinite supply of resources to feed, clothe, shelter, and supply consumer demand to an ever increasing world population somehow seems to be more of a dream than utopia might be. The economy of bicycles and walking, basic human powered has some physics behind it. IF utopia is sought, then the bicycle must be a part of it. Physics tells us that the bicycle is the most efficient way to move in both the human and natural world. It is more efficient than salmon swimming, cheetahs running, and people walking. It is way more efficient than any motor vehicle ever will be. Urban designs must then build on the physical efficiencies that can then sustain economic movements. Where people live has a great deal to do with economic sustainability. The further people live from work and meeting their basic needs the less efficient and sustainable life becomes. The argument might be made for getting off the grid here, but that is not realistic for the bulk of the population. We must evolve into a rather more grid-less type of society in some fashion. We need to adopt some of the characteristics of living off the grid, and others that keep the grid going.

Changing our paradigms of economic growth somehow has lost sight of Schumaker’s ( and others) look at sustainable economics. Another more current author offers the moral decision for going with sustainable economics and lifestyles. This entry could have been titled “What about the children?” Kathleen Dean Moore in her book titled, “Great Tide Rising” lays out a the moral arguments for responding to global warming and climate change. ” I am uncertain of the prospects of the little ones.” She raises the moral issues that we have a responsibility to leave a healthy legacy to our children and grandchildren, something we are avoiding at this time. She goes on to add, “A statement of scientific consensus, led by Stanford Scientists, has badly shaken me: Unless all nations take immediate action, by the time today’s children are middle-aged, the life support systems of the Earth will be irretrievably damaged.”

All of the changes necessary for people of the Earth to somehow slow the warming of the Earth and the results that stem from climate change remain an economic decision. Decisions we must be making on a person by person basis. IT is already evident that transportation systems as we know it in the USA are no longer sustainable. More roads built fuel the ambitions of a ceiling-less society, driving anywhere and everywhere. These roads can not be economically maintained. Pure and simple. When we lose sight of maintaining any sense of balance, the resulting extravagance, lack-of-disciplined approaches, to spending, and the health ills resulting from these decisions will continue to cause decline and decay.

Somehow, active transportation is seen more as a counter-culture movement than a realistic approach to a more sustainable future. The economics of active transportation show us the way to better investments in infrastructure, jobs, economic sustainability, and a healthier future. Please get more informed and share that information with your neighbors, family, and friends. Thomas Jefferson put it best in a letter to William Jarvis, September, 1823 ” I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their controul with a wholsome discretion, the remedy is, not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.”