The 2nd Annual Alternative Car and Transportation Expo: Part 1
by Nicholas Freilich
AltCar 2007 was held this weekend at Santa Monica Municipal Airport. Despite having to face the uncomfortable irony of an ecological trade show’s being held at an airport that primarily services private planes, I eagerly trekked across town on my father’s 20 year-old mountain bike to catch a glimpse of the future of sustainable mobility.
The Future of Transportation Is In Its Past
I coasted down a steep hill adjacent the airport and scanned the grounds for bike racks. I couldn’t find any and was close to chaining my bike to a YIELD sign when I saw what looked like a bike parking lot. I pedaled over, hopped off my bike, and was handed a claim check.
Nobody ever taught me how to tip valet bike attendants.
“I’ll take that from here,” a fellow said. I watched as he strolled off with my bike. This was the future of transportation: free valet bike parking.
As I walked off I heard a more serious rider ask, “you’re really not going to lock my bike up?”
“Sir,” the attendant replied, “we have a lot of expensive bikes here. Yours will be fine.”
“Oh, please – like anyone would want to steal your fixed-gear fan-boy ride.”
“No Cars Go” – The Arcade Fire (mp3)
A Tale of Two Tents
Outside Barker Hangar were two debate tents, one for technology and the other for transportation. I walked into the transportation tent and planted myself in the back.
A few young people with feral beards and old t-shirts watched an MTA official talk about bus service. “They operate on a concept of starvation,” he said. “They can’t raise prices, not a dime or even a nickel, so they just drop services, turning 15-minute waits into 30, 30 into 60, and cutting some lines entirely.” A woman scowled, but little else happened. The real action was elsewhere.
The other tent was packed. “What’s going on?” I asked a camerawoman.
“Oh, they’re about to talk about electric technology,” she answered.
“You mean, like quick-charging Lithium-Ion batteries?”
“I’m not sure, but I heard the director of Who Killed the Electric Car? might be speaking.” It seems that even green people are not immune to the power of celebrity.
Outside, I watched an old man ride an electric scooter with a huge smile. He couldn’t have been going more than 15 mph, but the zero-emission experience more than made up for his being stuck in first gear.
Doing the Right Thing
I gravitated towards an enormous truck with the CLIFF BAR logo painted on it. “What do you do?” I asked a man standing behind a table dotted with a jar of biodiesel. He explained that he was part of the third-generation of a family-owned warehousing, transportation and packaging service.
His company, States Logistics, is based in Buena Park, California, and sacrifices a fair amount of money each year in order to power its truck fleet with biodisel fuel.
“People call it the ‘urine sample,’” he told me.
“Why do you do something that loses you money?” I asked, rhetorically.
“We don’t mind the little bit of money,” he answered, “because we know we’re doing the right thing.”
“So why don’t the larger companies and corporations do that?” He considered the question for a moment.
“It’s two things,” he offered. “First, you can’t find biodiesel everywhere. We’re a regional company and we drive routes where you can get biodiesel.”
“And the second reason?”
“Those companies have far more trucks than we do, so their losses would be much more significant.” Ecology is economics, after all.
“Is There a Ghost” – Band of Horses (mp3)
Do as I Say, Not as I Do
Inside Barker Hangar were nine aisles of exhibitor stations. Front and center were Honda and Toyota, two companies making a killing off what some in the green community call ‘greenwash’ – advertising positive environmental practices while acting the opposite way.
But wait, you cry in protest, my Prius is a green car! Really? Some would beg to differ.
A company that was a “climate change dynamo” wouldn’t be creating over a million SUVs a year and building factories to make even more, let alone using improvements in efficiency to make even bigger SUVs instead of reducing consumption.
In an effort to avoid getting sucked into a booth too early and missing key exhibits later on, I walked the entire hall right away. At one end I found an orphaned scooter that looked more like modern art than it did a cutting-edge vehicle.
I put three quarters in and nothing happened.
Next to the scooter was the AltCar Sustainable Café. The menu was strictly vegetarian. I was impressed, especially because many ‘green’ festivals inevitably compromise their integrity and serve hot dogs. An informational poster explained the Café’s meat omission:
A historic report released in February of this year by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization soundly concluded that livestock is responsible for 18 percent of our world global warming emissions. This is even more than the World’s combined transportation.
The carbon footprint of a burger is just shocking, really.
Sun Day, Bloody Sun Day
A growing eco-fad – which I support enthusiastically – is solar power. Unfortunately, like most major energy improvements, it isn’t cheap. PermaCity impressed many passersby with examples of its helping people produce, create and own their own renewable energy.
The most prominently displayed part of their exhibit was a massive picture of CostCo’s solar powered warehouse. If any movement in history is more riddled with irony than the current green movement, I’ve yet to encounter it (how green can a warehouse of economy-sized consumer products really be?).
Of course. nothing in the green movement tops Wal-Mart’s green plans.
To be fair, PermaCity seemed on top of its game and some of its residential samples are very impressive.
More tomorrow in Part 2.
Nicholas Freilich is This Recording’s Legal Correspondent. He’d ride his bike to work, but they don’t offer free valet bike parking.
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