Exerpt from Peak-Oil Prophet James Howard Kunstler on Car Dependancy & the Obvious Link to Obesity in North America

KT: A study has just come out showing that although the French spend two hours eating each day — roughly twice as long as we do — they’re among the slimmest of the 18 nations in the study. Americans were the fattest, with more than 1 in 3 Americans qualifying as obese. How would you explain this phenomenon? What compels Americans to eat so many of our meals in our cars?

JHK: Americans eat so many meals in cars because: 1) The infrastructure of daily life is engineered for extreme car dependency, and 2) because the paucity of decent quality public space and so-called third places (gathering places) for the working classes (and lower) — and remember, it is the working classes and poor who are way disproportionately obese. The people portrayed in Vanity Fair magazine are not fat. I suspect that the amount of time Americans spend in their cars is roughly proportionate to the amount of time French people spend at the table.

Fast food is not a new phenomenon in the USA, however. Frances Trollope’s sensational travel book of the 1830s, The Domestic Manners of the Americans dwells on the horrifying spectacle of our hotel dining rooms, where people bolted their food with disgusting manners. Americans have been in a tearing rush for 200 years.

To read the full AlterNet Interview:


It’s time to clear the air | To cut carbon emissions, we must switch to renewable energy sources – and get polluting industries to foot the bill

It’s time to clear the air

To cut carbon emissions, we must switch to renewable energy sources – and get polluting industries to foot the bill

George Monbiot is correct in asserting that “If we behave as though it is too late, then our prophecy is bound to come true.” But it’s not, so let’s not.

I attended the Science Conference in Copenhagen last week, and, like many there I was dismayed by what I heard, but also heartened. As senior researcher to Colin Challen MP I have been listening to pronouncements of the “end of the world is nigh” variety at meetings and conferences for several years now, and continue to be amazed at the intellectual contortionism of our species in clinging to old, dirty technology rather than embracing the means of harnessing resources that are freely available all around us, such as wind and solar power. At these same meetings and conferences I often hear that the UK has the best “wind resource” in Europe – so why not take advantage of this? Instead we try to convince ourselves that we can carry on burning coal as long as we can “bury” the nasty side-effects underground? Haven’t we already realised that this is unsustainable for household waste, and have developed alternatives to “landfill”?

Ironically, it was in a session at Copenhagen on carbon capture and storage (CCS) that I saw positive possibilities for the future. It was not the presentation of a model (there were a lot of “models” at the conference) of risk of leakage of CO2 from a storage site in a former oil well, and the statement that there was no empirical evidence to offer because oil companies would not release such data that was heartening, as you can imagine. It was the presentation on “mineralisation” of CO2, ie, not treating CO2 emissions as “waste”, but as a potential resource, and converting the CO2 into something useful. It transpires that this is already happening in Finland, that a byproduct is iron, which is snapped up by a nearby steel plant, but which I am given to believe is also what the oceans need to counter acidification. The potential benefits of this process are many and various.

Apart from the aforementioned – far from a mere 3% per annum – dramatic, rapid decreases in CO2 emissions are achievable by switching to renewable sources of energy. Industrialists who have risen to this challenge report decreases in CO2 emissions in the order of 60-70% in the very short term – empirical data, not models. Not only good for the human species, but good for their company’s “bottom line”.

So, there are some reasons to be cheerful: the science conference warned us that we must take action, and also presented examples of ways to clean up the dirty act that some industries insist on continuing to follow. I am not suggesting that we allow these industries to think they can continue as usual, and offload the costs of their clean-up onto the taxpayer – we have already contributed massively to their financial success. Rather, such industries and their shareholders must be the ones who pay for cleaning the atmosphere they have sullied, and for the adaptation measures required by people around the globe whose lives are threatened by the consequences.


Opinion – Who are the ‘Special Interest Groups?

June 24th, 2008,

If there’s an “interest group” out there in London’s drive-thru debate it is certainly the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association – not the large coalition of citizens, physicians, climate scientists and environmentalists asking for a little corporate restraint to literally and figuratively clean the air. Fast food restaurants, which have an “interest” in selling junk food (and not much else), were taken off guard by overwhelming local support for a moratorium on new drive-thru restaurants. The Council of Canadians, which represents tens of thousands of citizens across the country, and the many other groups backing a municipal ban on new drive-thrus, including Greenpeace and Canadian Physicians for the Environment, have nothing to gain from this moratorium than clean air for our children and a brighter future for everyone. Time after time we are told by climate experts that if we do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions we are toast. A moratorium on new drive-thrus is a small step toward a future that is less dependent on cars and therefore on fossil fuels. Everyone wins. So what does the restaurant association do? Incredibly, it launches a campaign to convince Canadians that idling is good for the environment! I hope these restaurants will forgive us if we find their research problematic. According to Natural Resources Canada, 10 seconds of idling uses more fuel than restarting an engine and releases twice as much exhaust as a moving vehicle. London’s fast food restaurants might want to “get back to serving Londoners safely, quickly and conveniently,” as Michelle Saunders wrote in her letter this week (Manoeuvres indicate ban coming), but surely the City of London would be acting within its rights to put limits on where and how these restaurants make money if it takes us even a small step toward a cleaner more breathable future. And surely the restaurant association can agree that this kind of future is in all of our interests.

Stuart Trew, Ontario-Quebec regional organizer, The Council of Canadians

Seeing the Big Picture on Drive-Thrus and the Need to Start Somewhere

Thank you to author of article: Tony Weis: Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, University of Western Ontario. Tony is also author of: The Global Economy: The Battle for the Future of Farming
In the increasingly heated debate over whether or not the city of London should establish a moratorium on new drive-thrus, an advocate for the moratorium was recently told by a vocal opponent that they had lost sight of the ‘bigger picture’ of jobs and economic growth.
Conversely, the intensive public relations campaign led by Tim Horton’s has sought to narrow the debate to a claim – based on a paid consultant’s report – that drive-thrus are environmentally benign when compared with crowded parking lots.
This is reminiscent of the reports paid for by big oil companies which, for decades, helped justify inaction on climate change. In classic ‘greenwashing’ style, this spin has been coupled with an appeal to people’s sense of entitlement, as though it were outrageous to suggest we might be deprived of our ‘right’ to fast food without leaving our cars (including the fear-mongering inference that all drive-thrus could be closed, though this is not what is before Council).
Some ‘big picture’ context is sorely needed.
Canada and the US together represent less than 5 percent of humanity yet consume over one-quarter of the world’s oil, and contribute to more than one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon is the most significant greenhouse gas, and Canada’s per capita carbon footprint is more than twice that of the average European, roughly five times the world average, and more than 20 times that of many developing countries.
And this average world carbon footprint is already vastly too high, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In 2007, the IPCC described the “warming of the climate system” as scientifically unequivocal, based on evidence “from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.” It called for swift and dramatic emission reductions to avert the most dangerous fallout.
If we place the average Canadian carbon footprint in the context of the IPCC’s sustainable emissions targets, we need to make per capita emissions cuts on the order of 90 percent. Cars are a large part of this. In 2003, Canada had 561 passenger cars for every 1000 citizens, one of the highest levels in the world, along with very high levels of per capita mileage driven and oil consumed.
Meanwhile, the IPCC has long highlighted the uneven vulnerability associated with climatic change. Many of the world’s poorest nations face the most adverse and immediate consequences of rising climatic variability, higher temperatures, and drought and water stress, with obvious impacts on food security and malnutrition.
Canadians must urgently face up to our grossly outsized and destructive carbon footprint, and changes need to start somewhere.
London already has 160 drive-thrus. Whether in blissful ignorance or conscious disregard, to continue to act like we are simply entitled to more – and more urban sprawl, more cars, more oil, and more greenhouse emissions – constitutes a planetary arrogance of frightening proportions.
This debate on drive-thrus should not be dominated by facile industry sloganeering on t-shirts, buttons, leaflets, and radio ads, nor should we accept that this has anything to do with jobs. Corporate fast-food drive-thrus do not create any more jobs than do independent, community-centered cafes and restaurants closer to people’s homes and workplaces. Rather, they represent an outmoded approach to urban planning that is centered on oil and the primacy of the automobile.
A moratorium on new drive-thrus would represent an important first step towards a new vision of denser, less resource intensive cities, and one which is ultimately more in step with our responsibilities as global citizens.
In this, we could be very proud to see London take a leadership role on a Canadian scale.