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Monday, November 12, 2012

So What is Kyoto Motors, Anyway?

I have gone on at some length recently about the price of gasoline, and why we all may need to examine the issue a bit more closely. In turn, I seem to have established the idea that KyotoMotors is not a “boycott Big Oil” project. There are a number of other things that Kyoto Motors is not. It’s not a commercial auto-makers website, for example (though it has fooled some, in its previous incarnation). Nor is it a think tank for the climate-change denial industries of big oil and the auto industry (obviously).

So what then is Kyoto Motors? 

The short answer is that, like the international protocol from whence the name was derived, Kyoto Motors is an utter failure. Originally conceived as an artistic project composed of two main branches of activity, Kyoto Motors exists today at best as the shell of its former self. Worse, it is a project that never quite came into being: artistically my biggest flop.(For more on the history of the Kyoto Motors project, see the link in the sidebar to the right).

But there is a silver lining. 

I may have driven the original project into the ground, but the attempted collaboration did initiate dialogue with unexpected peers and eventually a new collaborative project emerged. What started off as a handful of neighbourhood activists calling themselves Car Free Mile End, has evolved into a full-fledged non-profit organisation known as Rue Publique. Based in Montreal, this ecologically-minded group has a host of ambitions aimed at the improvement of the quality of life in their corner of the world. One of the main areas of focus is the promotion of and advocacy for the transportation alternatives to the personally owned automobile. These alternatives, in my mind represent the future of transportation in the emerging economy: By necessity society will have to make the shift to accommodate these alternatives. And although RuePublique has no associations or anything to do with Kyoto Motors whatsoever, I can say that my artistic flop helped in some way to get the ball rolling with regard to this excellent project, that truly has taken on a life of its own.

When Kyoto Motors was downgraded from full-fledged website to mere blog, I had in the back of my mind the idea of answering a couple of basic questions: what should a car company of the future look like? How can the automotive industry address the principles of sustainability and serve the interests of the biosphere?
Now, after so much time, it’s clear that too many car companies pretend to have taken care of answering these questions already. But the answers are never as easy, or as snappy, as the trendy commercials would have us believe. It turns out that an environmentally friendly automobile is an oxymoron; an ecological fallacy. And if a sustainable automotive industry is basically an impossibility, it is in large part because a business model predicated on the single owner/ driver principle has no place in a progressive, ecologically-minded vision of the future. It may not even have a viable future period – no matter what we think we’re “achieving” economically.

Meanwhile, the notion that Kyoto Motors might examine an alternative path for the auto sector, in my mind, has to be combined with alternatives to the auto sector. Rather than focusing on alternative vehicles, I’m more inclined to explore the idea of getting around without one, individually or collectively. Therefore, Kyoto Motors has become synonymous to me for everything to do with bicycles and walking as well as public transit. It really has nothing to do with “buying a car” whatsoever, but rather explores the reality of making do without one at all costs: the real Kyoto “motor” may well be your pair of legs, combined with the machinery and infrastructure of transportation systems and services. With Kyoto Motors I aspire to present a stream of thoughts and ideas that help to shape a meaningful response to global climate change.

It’s worth reminding ourselves from time to time the monumental importance of this challenge before us. Recent articles I’ve come across there have underscored the extent to which global warming (and peak oil) are following some of the worst-case scenarios that forecasters imagined only a short while ago. These matters receive woefully little coverage in the mainstream press and political discourse, so if we’re even going to remember that there’s something there worth thinking about, some other avenues have to be pursued.*
I know that it’s easy, in the day-to-day business of life, to engage in countless activities that have no apparent immediate relation to this problem. These things require no especial awareness of the situation, and probably run smoother if no one brings it up. Welcome to the status quo. One effect of this is that the issue itself fades away, and becomes unreal, so long as the immediacy of the here and now keeps our attention away from the crisis. But just because we get out of the habit of thinking about global warming does not mean that the planet has begun to cool.
It’s a challenge to compete with the ideologies that would have us all pretend or otherwise believe that there is no global climate challenge caused by man-made industry. After all, industrial economic activity is spurred by marketing, itself an a global, hyper-charged and sophisticated industry bent on persuading you to do all those things that the “invisible hand” might fail to.

 The publicity and the spectacle of it all has insinuated itself into the contemporary mindscape about as thoroughly and completely as petroleum has worked its magic on the built environment and the physical economy of goods and services.
The cultural momentum is so enormous. Practically everywhere you turn, leaders and followers in every sector are busy not addressing climate change while they prop up their little corner of the system that engages them. It’s why I say that climate change is “baked-in” since it represents the logical outcome of the economic activity that we are all committed to. It is the rare exception to hear through the din of the status quo a voice from someone outlining the gravity of the situation. They exist, to be sure. Their message is often level-headed and clear, if also passionate and urgent. But where are the resources that would have this kind of message disseminated to the masses on a scale to rival the constant stream of commercial marketing?

At best Kyoto Motors has done well to satirize the kind of marketing that weaves an ideological fabric around our minds, but can only really be one voice striving to cut through this impediment. I hope that it’s a place where you will find meaningful discourse that may be worth sharing. Expanding the dialogue through every means possible is clearly an important process to promote. Who knows what positive changes may come as a result?

*One resource I have repeatedly referred my readers to is the Energy Bulletin, originally hosted by the Post Carbon Institute – a think-tank based in Santa Rosa, California. It appears that the PCI has restructured their web site, and will be channelling the same material at a new website they call . I recommend you check it out.

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