Stuck Accelerators

Toyotas and the Fossil-Fuel Growth Economy

© Erik Lundberg Scott

The story of Toyota cars having accelerator-pedal and brake problems, causing out-of-control speed and death, is a near perfect allegory for something far more serious: the burning of the planet with fossil fuels including gasoline for cars. But the difference is, when it comes to fossil fuel use, we have the ability to apply the brakes.

It is doubtful that people will learn what they should from the Toyota fiasco: that driving cars is the problem, and that technology fails. When Ford Motor Co. calculated that Pinto cars could be made with gasoline tanks prone to rupture and explosion just to save a few dollars per car, the news of this crime did not cause people to question the dominance of automobile transportation. Lately, the problem of cell-phone chattering and texting has become a big deal, with New York Times editorials punctuating the apparent crisis—when it is really the driving that kills people. Take away cell phones, and over 40,000 U.S. citizens are still killed each year in crashes.

So can we finally question driving? Is our society incapable of reform, so that car-sharing and a preference for bicycling and mass transit can prevail? Not only would people be saved from crashes and climate-change-induced health impacts, but they would save money and exercise more. The average speed of the U.S. motorist is but five miles per hour, when adjusted for the time spent in traffic gridlock. Unfortunately, the capacity to reform the system of dominant industries over human and animal life and to protect our precious climate is about nil.

That is because the accelerator of the fossil-fueled growth economy is stuck, and we are speeding toward the wall of resource limits and ecological degradation. To take our foot off the accelerator of the fossil-fueled growth economy is to support local economies, stop commuting long distances, maximize local food production, establish cooperatives, engage in bartering and mutual aid, and love for nature far more than accumulating dollars for hyper-consumption. These changes all have to come, but why smash into the wall at full speed when we can at least slow down and possibly lessen the impact? What can the average person do to gain some safety and to support local, ecological economics? Do not buy a car. If you must, buy a used one in order to keep money in the community. Don't fool yourself that there's a "clean car" to "help Mother Earth." And, as the Transportation Secretary told Congress regarding the unsafe Toyota—but applying his advice also to the fossil-fueled growth economy—"Stop driving it."

JAN LUNDBERG is a car-free activist challenging petroleum industry expansion, and the founder of