The other day the French, who we Americans know cannot do anything right, sent one of their trains hurtling down a railroad track at 357 miles per hour. France has more than 1,000 miles of high-speed railroad track. The United States does not have one inch.
The United States sticks with its climate-warming, congested and inefficient Eisenhower-era transportation system. It was back then that the modern federal highway was begun and it was decided--perhaps by default--that cars and airplanes would be the nation's people carriers and choo-choos would chug off to the nearest transportation museum.
Americans, who seem to spend an ever greater percentage of their waking hours bragging about how much better they are than everybody else, have not noticed they are falling behind. It is, for example, the French, the Japanese and the Germans who are competing to sell a high-speed railroad system to the Chinese. Visiting American tourists will enjoy the ride.
Fewer of them are enjoying domestic air flight. Air travel in the United States has become a slow, exasperating, sometimes humiliating, sometimes painful and always uncomfortable experience. Even Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would classify what the airlines put children and older people through as torture.
Personal miseries aside, consider the contribution our transportation chaos makes to global warming. Actually, it is something we try not to consider or act on at all. Here we are after thirty years of warnings about what carbon dioxide is doing to life on the planet and the United States has no plan or program for curtailing its own magnificent donation to what Al Gore calls earth's "fever."
Hey, no Al Gore, please. Do not listen to that man. He's a politician. He's doing it to get elected even if he is not saying so. Listen to George Bush, who has gotten himself elected and is running the country on the premise that carbon dioxide is nothing but the bubbles in the beer he no longer drinks.
The Bush position is: Why should we do something if the Chinese are not doing anything? As long as they are ruining the earth, we must do it first and bigger. Bush is hardly by himself on this one. It seems almost every major industrial group in the country is as committed to inaction as he.
The global-warming naysayers would have us believe there is a one-shot, magic cure that will preserve the earth in a coolly livable form without our having to do anything or change our ways or spend any money. For the time being the magic cure is ethanol. Ethanol will stop global warming, and as an added plus, it will make the agribusiness interests richer and insure that the GOP carries the corn-growing states of the Midwest. Talk about living happily ever after!
In a few years the articles and books about the ethanol hoax will begin to appear, and we will learn who got rich while the earth got warmer and almost nobody--at least nobody important, nobody with influence and power--took note. The effects of global warming are all around us. Anybody with a backyard garden knows about them, but the garden lobby does not swing a heavy club.
So here we are, like the polar bear marooned on his little melting iceberg, snuffling here and there, looking out across the warming sea, hoping to God somebody throws him a fish. Well, bless us all, but are we truly too dumb and too selfish to save ourselves and our children?
Nicholas von Hoffman is the author of A Devil's Dictionary of Business, now in paperback. He is a Pulitzer Prize losing author of thirteen books, including Citizen Cohn, and a columnist for the New York Observer.
© 2007 The Nation