It’s a classic leftist rhetorical maneuver. First, they target something normal Americans enjoy for regulation out of existence. Then, when conservatives notice, leftists deny that they are going after the normal thing. And when leftist governments regulate the thing out of existence, leftist activists and media say that of course the normal thing should be banned, and the press will declare opposition to the ban racist, sexist, or LGBTQIA2S+phobic.
The private automobile is joining the gas stove in the target zone of the broader Left. As the InfluenceWatch Podcast discussed with Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Heritage Foundation, the Biden administration is waging a war on private car choice by seeking to regulate gasoline engines out of existence. But the war on cars goes beyond forcing Americans to give up five-minute fill-ups for 45-minute charging sessions: The international left wants the private ownership of cars—even electric ones—problematized and limited.
It is not a war on internal-combustion cars for the benefit of electrics; it is a war on all cars, Teslas and Toyotas alike. Even electric cars, if they are privately owned and operated (whether by human drivers or future computers), are fundamentally incompatible with the collectivist lifestyle that the international Left and technocratic elite expect people to pursue—the utopia in which one will “own nothing, have no privacy, and life [will have] never been better.”
War Were Declared
The short explanation for why the Left declared war on the car is environmentalism. As the logic goes, car engines explode dinosaurs, dinosaur explosions cause carbon dioxides, carbon dioxides raise sea levels (if not by as much as documentary films by retired Democratic politicians might claim), so ban car engines—or failing that, regulate them out of practical existence.
This is an increasingly common left-of-center view. The Green New Deal alluded to it—before the details in the “explanatory FAQ” that included “fully get[ting] rid of farting cows and airplanes” went down the memory hole. This is the official policy of the state of California (and a handful of others that follow California) effective in 2035. So it is unsurprising that the Biden administration EPA would follow suit.
ESG activist investors, including the pension funds of government worker unions, are leading the charge against any dissent from the battery-electric future. Government union pension funds from California and New York, along with ESG-associated proxy advisory firm Glass Lewis, recommended or voted against the reelection of Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda at least in part because Toyoda has supported the continued production of his company’s hybrid vehicles, which pair gasoline engines with battery propulsion to blend the efficiency of electricity with the convenience of combustion. (Toyoda was reelected with 85 percent of voted shares, down from 96 percent the last election.)
Meanwhile, corporations in the car-building industry cynically chase subsidies. Whether longtime industry players like Stellantis (the lineal corporate descendant of Chrysler) or new startups like the George Soros-backed Rivian, these carmakers are feasting on billions of dollars in national and sub-national taxpayer funds.
A Widening Conflict
But for the electric-car environmentalists, there is a problem. There is not enough environmentalist-friendly weather-dependent electricity in the grid—not even if clean nuclear energy is included. There also not enough lithium, a key mineral in most electric car batteries, in the earth to power enough electric cars to replace the internal-combustion cars currently dotting the streets.
If the green aspiration were merely to replace internal-combustion vehicles with electric ones, this would be an enormous problem. But many left-wingers are open about their desire to replace or restrict private car ownership regardless of the means of propulsion. The World Economic Forum, the Switzerland-based band of technocrats responsible for The Great Reset, convened the Global New Mobility Coalition. The coalition includes European heavy electric equipment manufacturer ABB, the Hong Kong mass-transit system MTR, ridesharing service Uber, VISA, and a number of environmentalist groups including Energy Foundation China and C40 Cities.
The coalition recently published a briefing paper promoting its Urban Mobility Scorecard Tool. The scoring itself is uninteresting; it’s the classic trade-cars-for-buses-and-bikes environmentalist and collectivist stuff that has been flying around the green movement since it began to exist. What is more interesting is one of the coalition’s goals (see p. 4, Box 1) for its “Shared, Electric, Connected, and Automated” approach to travel: “Reduce [projected global] vehicles from a potential 2.1 billion to 0.5 billion.”
They might as well have promised, “If you like your car, you can keep your car.”
The coalition’s desire to reduce private vehicle ownership by three-fourths fits nicely within another European-imported technocratic vision: That of the “15-Minute City.” Steven Malanga of the Manhattan Institute explains the concept:
[It’s] the newest flavor in urban planning: a city composed of small districts that include all the key services for residents within a short walk.
Though the concept, dubbed the “15-minute city,” is of recent vintage, it gained traction during the pandemic lockdowns, when advocates observed that the vast reduction in activity created more “human-centric” neighborhoods, with residents exploring their local streets and availing themselves of nearby services that they might once have ignored. “For the first time, people experienced the city without cars, and they understood we can live without cars and it’s better,” enthused David Belliard, deputy mayor of Paris, whose officials have promoted the idea.
Combine the benefit-of-lockdowns framing with coercive bans on motor vehicles (enforced by even more surveillance cameras and license-plate scanners) in cities like Oxford, England, and it is easy to see why populist figures like pro-Brexit politician Nigel Farage and social commentator Jordan Peterson balked. The rhetorically fiery Farage called 15-minute cities a precursor to “climate change lockdowns.”
Why We Fight
While its advocates deny any intention to use 15-minute-city planning to limit personal mobility, restricting private cars out of practical utility rightly alarms those who do not share the managerial-elite vision. In the United States, the private car has offered average Americans liberation from one-party urban-machine government and union-controlled core-city school districts. It has freed millions from rented city apartments and offered the promise of home ownership in the suburbs. Consumers and commuters were liberated from the regimentation of railway and bus timetables and the unsavory practices of both unions and management. Perhaps the most famous instance was the campaign to desegregate public buses in Montgomery, Alabama, which organizers powered with privately acquired cars.
Of course, nothing is free. Traffic collisions kill thousands annually, despite massive improvements in automotive safety. Commuters’ relative liberation is limited by the realities of traffic congestion. And there are places, even in the United States, where alternatives to the car have everyday practicality.
But is the idea that environmentalists and technocrats are callously willing to make middle-class Americans’ lives worse a “conspiracy theory”? Not at all. The more honest proponents, like longtime environmentalist and Green New Deal campaigner Naomi Klein, openly admit it.
The less honest ones, however, likely really believe that when you own no car, you’ll be happy. But the public saw how lockdowns worked in the big, dense, left-wing-managed cities that are the closest American analog to the cities that the technocrats of the World Economic Forum appear to desire. They see the public health community making no effort to admit error, its political allies still endorsing officialdom’s worst decisions, and environmentalists musing about how the COVID-19 lockdowns did not do enough to reverse global warming.
They see. And for now, they can check their fuel gauge . . . because voting with four on the floor is much easier than voting by feet alone.