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It's a strange shift in affairs that China appears to have the greatest incentives (urban pollution, petroleum imports) today to advance clean transportation and energy while the US has stalled or moved backward, at least the Federal level.

Western European countries, for whom fossil fuels don't seem to be an identity politics issue like in the US, are also making more progress in electrifying their transportation and developing renewable generation - like those massive offshore turbines in the North Sea, or the more comprehensive EV charging networks.

Again, they seem to have stronger incentives: high gas/petrol prices, higher population density, tense relations with Russia - their big petroleum and natural gas supplier, and the desire to gain an advantage in clean energy technology while the US is seemingly regressing.

Perhaps states that have taken the problem seriously - wind in Texas, Iowa, EVs in CA, WA, NY, will carry the torch for the US without the Federal government's support.




> the US has stalled or moved backward, at least the Federal level.

It has at the individual level too for most individuals. Try to get someone to consider flying less. Look at the size of vehicles on the road. How much meat we eat. Air conditioning to point of needing sweaters in the summer and heating to wearing shorts in the winter.

All personal choices anyone can make, no legislation necessary. We can blame fossil fuel companies, and they are abusing their power, but we have a long way to go as individuals before legislators see that regulation will result in more votes, not less.


I work in a bank. They keep it so cold inside in the summer that employees are forced to have space heaters in their offices to keep from shivering all day. All in hopes that a customer who comes in from the outside heat will feel comfortable for the less than 5 minutes that they are inside.

The amount of waste is unreal and disgusting. I was laughed at the other day by a coworker because I commented on how much energy we waste by doing this. He said, "But you don't have to pay for it. Who cares?"

That about sums up the attitude here in Texas.


At least in commercial buildings in humid climates, building air is cooled by industrial chillers to lower humidty to acceptable levels (chiefly to inhibit mold growth I think), then the air is heated for comfort. So it would actually use more energy to make these spaces warmer. This is what I have been told by some building engineers/architects.


A chiller generates a lot of heat which is discharged outside (for example on the building roof). I would ask the engineer why they don't use this heat to reheat the dehumidified air.


I work for a financial group, and no customer will ever have a reason to come into this specific building whatsoever. Current outside temp this morning is about 65F with a high of 68F. The temperature set for inside is 60F. What sadistic person thinks that 60F is comfortable? That temperature never moves.

I wear thin sweaters to work during the summer. Last summer, I went inside a gas station after work to grab a snack. The outside temp was anywhere from 90F to 110F. The woman behind the counter asked if I had a medical condition, because, "Who wears a sweater during the summer?" I laughed and explained how my office building is an ice box.


This is a problem even in tropical countries such as India and Singapore. The contrast between outside and inside temperatures is insane. We get headaches and God knows what the long term detrimental health effects are. It's worse in Singapore as the subway is also super cold.


This affects hotels/conference rooms in Singapore a lot. It's a bit absurd - I needed shorts+tshirt to survive the trip to the hotel and then a sweater to survive the conference inside. I'm not sure how can people deal with it every day.


I’m living in SG 5 years now, moved in from Europe. You get used to the temperature outside (Took me two months to get adjusted), so wearing long trousers and a shirt is ok now. That also works for inside. When I’m back home now everything < 25°C is cold!


As long as the energy wasted is clean energy, I guess it should be fine? The sun is shining on Earth at all times and most of the energy is wasted.


(a) it isn't clean energy, generally;

(b) setting up the infrastructure to produce clean energy is not purely clean itself.

Until you can account for every last gram of toxic solvent, mine tailings, electricity consumed during manufacture, and CO2 produced during transport from e.g. solar panels, it's not entirely clean. It's just better than the alternative. Not using the energy is always cleaner.


I read an article a few months back (no reference handy, unfortunately) that was talking about attitudes towards energy utilization in Quebec, Canada, where the vast majority of the electricity is generated from hydro. The basic conclusion was that when everyone knows that the energy they're using is "clean", they don't actually worry too much about it.

That idea really excites me! If our energy sources are both clean and abundant, that opens up a lot of doors to technology that previously had uncomfortable tradeoffs. For example, high-energy-consumption recycling instead of mining new raw materials; right now it can be a bit of a wash (sure, we're mining less, but we're burning coal to power the process), but post-scarce-clean-energy it becomes way less of concern. Likewise with a lot of automation tasks. Very exciting!


Constructing clean energy is not without greenhouse gas emissions, and the wastage of clean energy means that soemone else is required to use dirty energy. Now once we get to a world of 100% clean energy this won't be true, but AFAIK only a few countries have achieved this so far, and it only occurs when weather conditions are just right.


It would be fine if all energy used everywhere on the planet was green. Until then, wasting clean energy still creates more demand for that clean energy, which affects its price and thus its competitiveness vs other energy sources. Even in Quebec, for example, energy not used is sold outside the province.


Wasting a resource decreases its supply. With legitimate demand constant, the decrease in supply increases the price of the good. If the price is then in the fossil fuel range, you’ve increased the demand for fossil fuel.


As someone who generates a lot of waste - environmental responsibility just doesn't factor into my consumption decisions.

I work from home so I have the A/C set to be fairly cold. I enjoy a specific brand of bottled water. A major online retailer sells this water cheaper than my local store. I drive a car that gets about 15mpg because I enjoy driving it. I generate approx 13 gallons of trash per day. This is mostly shipping materials and grocery packaging.

All of these examples are the direct consequence of prioritizing myself. There simply has to be a stronger (perhaps economic) incentive that will change the behavior of people like me.


I wanted to change my habits because I thought it was the right thing to do. So we put solar on the roof and bought a cheap used electric car (a Leaf). My goal was to do the right thing, but the result has been unforeseen benefits.

The solar power more or less makes us net neutral, even when factoring in the electricity for the car.

In short:

- The solar power will pay for itself in less than five years.

- We don't have an electric bill to speak of. (There is an eight dollar a month charge for just being hooked up to the grid.)

- We pay very little to run the Leaf. (We pay nothing when we charge at home, but sometimes we charge on the road.)

I'm surprised by this outcome. I started out trying to do the right thing but ended up doing something that benefited me financially.


If I read you right, beyond the environmental reasons and beyond the financial results, you sound happier than expected at acting on your values.

I think people don't realize the happiness and emotional reward that comes with acting on your values in the face of resistance.

That's why my podcast http://joshuaspodek.com/podcast focuses on leadership first. The joy, fun, meaning, value, purpose, and community parts of acting on your values are what make it fun. I'm in it because my food is more delicious, though it's cheaper too.

Crossing the finish line of a marathon is similar. It costs me money and causes me pain, but it's one of the best things I've ever done. People can live life for comfort and convenience, but for me the best things come from activity.


Five year payoff for solar is good - below (above?) average.


While I don't dispute that economic incentives are important in changing people's behavior on large scales... on a purely individual level, whatever happened to doing something because it's the right thing to do? You're not some self-serving automaton. You're aware that these practices produce unnecessary waste. Is your tap water unsafe to consume?


> whatever happened to doing something because it's the right thing to do?

Taken to its logical conclusion, one could follow anyone around and claim they aren't doing the most right thing. The "right thing to do" is a scale, not binary, and it often conflicts. E.g. right thing to do for self health, vs environment, vs for my customers, vs for my employees, vs for my family (and time with them), vs happiness (for self and others), etc. GP is right, you have to align "right thing to do" with "prudent thing to do" and it becomes viable. Otherwise, to many it comes off as preaching as though they are bad people when they only optimize for other right things.


Agree, that is why one should advocate taxation and subsidies which promote green lifestyles rather than moralizing and pestering people. Just make it economic to be environmentally friendly.

Now I don't drive but I use public transport. However I'd be okay with biking if we had a much better bike lane system in Oslo, Norway where I live. When I lived in the Netherlands I biked everywhere. It was often faster to do than public transport. It felt safe and it gave me about 1 hours of exercise each day.

You feel better from getting exercise, you save money and time. So once cities and authorities actually plan for green living it isn't very hard to do so.

Yet in my native Norway, the green shift has been much more about making life miserable for those who drive, while making few benefits for those who use public transport or drive.

A particular bad development, is ever more centralization by the government in the same of efficiency and saving money. It means pharmacies, doctors offices, police stations, hospitals are made fewer and placed further and further apart. This means public services you used to be able to walk to or bike to, now requires a car.

All this happens while government keeps harping on people needing to use their car less.

There is a lot of things I think our government is really good at in Norway, but transport is an area we utterly suck at. I am very envious of the Dutch.


> There simply has to be a stronger (perhaps economic) incentive that will change the behavior of people like me.

People like you might want economic incentives, but what they actually need is a better education.


Seems he's quite aware and knowledgeable about his impact, he's just the kind of person who is apathetic to the tragedy of the commons, aka why humanity can't have nice things.


I won't rip you for being honest, and I suspect there are a ton of people out there that behave either consciously or unconsciously like this. It's not sustainable, so society will either have to tax these behaviors at the consumer or ban them at the producer side, or some combination of both.

But I do hope that consumers start to choose better habits, because if we don't, we're going to hit a wall sooner or later.


Artificial scarcity of garbage disposal maybe? Where I live in Australia, you wouldn't be able to put 13 gallons of trash a day in a bin. The trash bin has maybe 20-30 gallons total and gets taken every other week. The recycling and compost are larger and get taken more often. You could produce more garbage of course, but then it's up to you to drive to the tip and you'll have to pay to drop stuff off.


If you value how you affect other people, you may find that acting on that value improves your life.

Simply prioritizing yourself and only caring about economic incentives would motivate stealing when you know you won't get caught.

You sound as if you know your waste is hurting other people. You have your values, but if I lived as you describe, knowing my externalities needlessly hurt people would eat me up inside -- no right, wrong, good, or bad, just my personal values. I would change simply to feel better about myself and my role in my community, local and global. Just because people can't see how I'm affecting them, I still am.

If you don't value how you affect other people, my view is to live and let live and hope that people who care enough to act outnumber people like you enough that your waste doesn't hurt that many people.

I suspect that if you started changing a few things, you'd find the emotional reward to change more. I created my podcast http://joshuaspodek.com/podcast for people to hear leaders doing just that.


You are essentially explaining why people and companies need to be held accountable for externalities. If you were taxed on the order of your waste, you’d rapidly change your behavior because you’d actually be paying for it.


This is so true, one can be thought of as crazy for suggesting some of those ideas you mentioned. I've come to realise that it's the market that drives a lot of demand. Sure, in some cases markets are rigged in the fossil fuel industries favour (by the Government); However, I see more people not caring about environmental issues than anything else so it makes it easier for politicians to do nothing.


While these are personal choices, there must be some incentive. If increased electricity bill from abusing "Air conditioning to point of needing sweaters in the summer and heating to wearing shorts in the winter" compared to conservative temperatures boils down to single digit percentage values (as non-USian I don't know what those values are) of all annual home upkeep expenses, it is difficult to rationalize saving.


> there must be some incentive

My experience and observation say otherwise. I have no incentive not to litter when I know no one will fine me. Still I get up and walk trash to garbage cans. Even with all the litter around, most people still walk trash to garbage cans instead of littering.

Most people don't shoplift even when they know they wouldn't get caught. Most people stop at red lights in the middle of the night when no one is around. Etc. Etc.

I've found living by my values the greatest incentive. The alternative is to try to accept that my comfort and convenience come at the cost of others' health and resources, which ate me up inside.

I think most people value clean air and water enough that when the culture shifts, they won't need material incentive.

Laws will follow behavior, not the other way around.


Partly agree. It is fine when it puts low demands on you. It is much harder to get people to do the right thing when it is a significant burden.

It is also a question of habit and social norms. A lot of what we claim is internal moral values, is really just social conformism. We don't throw garbage around and shop lift in large part because we don't want to be worse people than everybody else we know.

We see this in countries with a lot of cheating on taxes. It is hard to break out of, because nobody wants to pay taxes while knowing that none of their friends pay. Nobody wants to be the lone sucker doing the good deed. On the flip side you don't want to cheat on taxes if you know everybody else is really particular about paying it.

So I think the establishment of social norms is very important. And to do that one might need to create incentives and rules to kickstart people. As the norms develop you could cut back on the incentives and rules.

I've seen this in my native Norway. Fathers and mothers could split the maternity leave. Although almost no father took advantage of this. It simply wasn't an established social pattern. Your boss would look funny at you if you did it. Then the government mandated that some weeks should be taken by the father otherwise those weeks were lost and could not be used by the mother.

Within few years the social norms around father staying home looking after kids, changed radically in Norway. Hence government policies DO matter for how personal values and behavior develops.


> It is much harder to get people to do the right thing when it is a significant burden.

Beliefs like this are why I focus on leadership first. There are many examples where we choose difficult things because of the reward

- Sports and exercise

- Learning and personal growth

- Hobbies

- Writing free software

- Having children

- Going to the moon

Many other examples. They generally turn out to have other benefits, but they are challenges. Yet we love them.


Over many years, laws shape culture though.

With all problematic behaviours, citizens fall into three groups: 1) those who refrain out of a healthy sense of personal responsibility; 3) those who persist out of a pathological understanding of personal freedom, and then 2) those who refrain only because they fear personal consequences (ostracism, fines, jail time).

My suspicion is that a well-written, well-hated law can push a healthy chunk of people from pompous group 3 into reluctant group 2. As the next generation sees less of the problematic behaviour growing up, group 3 shrinks smaller and smaller over time.

That's how progressives ended slavery, got women to vote, made gay marriage mainstream, banned public smoking, and how we are now reining in the war on drugs; it's not clear why it shouldn't work to address energy decadence and meat overconsumption.


That's also how "progressives" sent thousands to the guillotine in 18th century France and starved millions in 20th century China. They wrote laws. People who couldn't get behind those laws (or who were just associated with the wrong people) got screwed.

"Get on board or we'll screw you over", which is exactly the dynamic a "well-hated" law creates, is not how a healthy society is run.

NY-SAFE is an example of a "well hated law". How is it working outside the areas that wanted it in the first place? Culture isn't shifting very much as far as I can tell.


By shaping the culture? That was quite a reach.


And somewhat useless. Changing the temperature from 72 to 75 in my well-insulated house does take off a few kWh. But it seems a bit meaningless when the shop down the road is trying to get more people to come in by setting their thermostat at a chilly 65 and leaving the door open all day.

Likewise in spending thousands to upgrade from an average 25 mpg car to a 35+ mpg car, only to drive down the road alongside coal-rolling semis that believe DEF is a conspiracy.


Don't let perfect be the enemy of good. Incremental changes in the right direction help, whatever everyone else is doing.


Just because others aren't doing anything, doesn't mean you shouldn't. Every bit helps, and unless there is a major shift in public opinion, or the government steps in, businesses will not change their behavior, i.e. doing what improves their bottom line.


> Likewise in spending thousands to upgrade from an average 25 mpg car to a 35+ mpg car

I'm really curious about this as well. I drive an old Honda Accord that gets ~22-26mpg. In Texas I can choose to only purchase renewable energy, but how much environmental impact will be had from my purchase from an electric car compared to keeping this nearly two-decade-old car running? What is the point where this car is better left as recycled metal vs. keeping it running?


This depends on a lot of factors, including:

- How much you have to drive. The more you drive, the more you can offset the embodied carbon footprint of the EV, and the more fossil fuels you offset.

- How fast your decades old ICE car deteriorates, and therefore decreases in efficiency and increases its operational pollution emissions.

- The embodied carbon footprint of the vehicle parts you replace through maintenance of an old vehicle.

High range EVs with large batteries cancel their embodied footprint in 18 months with a typical drive cycle, even lower if you are mostly using renewably sourced electricity. Lower range EVs take even less time [1]

It sounds to me like from your situation (old car, renewable power available) the numbers already suggest you should do it now. From the report linked below, driving an EV in Texas today is like getting 52 mpg with an ICE car. If you're using only renewables it is multiple times more efficient (see equivalents for CA and NY)

1. https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-vehicles/electric-vehicles/life...


That's why we have these things called laws and democracy and international agreements. Relying on individual action rarely brought massive change.


I don't know if it really proves anything and it might be OT from your point, but, the confounding variable is that in the US - especially outside of the major urban areas - everything is just very far away in terms of miles. Lacking a car, you can expect life to be very difficult. there are still plenty of places in the US where the range of a tesla might be a borderline problem week-to-week. (though probably not as often as people think and if you plan well)

My casual observation is that smaller countries just have a lot more good options when it comes to transit because the total distances are much smaller.


I think it is well known the car and petrol companies were heavy lobbyists in developing the transit architecture in the US (including zoning and so on) after the second world war. To exaggerate a bit, the entire country was designed to facilitate automobile sales.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effects_of_the_car_on_societ...

In the continental europe most of the urban centers predate the automobile hundreds if not thousands of years, thus the existing infrastructure does not use the private automobile as one of the key design constraints.

Not so in the US, where huge areas were populated and zoned specifically with the support of the automobile as one of the key constraints.

Once the infrastructure has been built using one design constraint, it's really expensive and difficult to unravel it.


This was the one thing that really surprised me when I first visited the US in the 90s. We'd stop at a store or restaurant somewhere and the nearest neighbouring stores on either side would be 200m away, with their own huge parking lot and no pedestrian route between them. We were driving from Chicago to LA and so when we'd stop I'd want to stretch my legs, but the barriers in the way made a walk like that rally difficult. I couldn't understand why anyone would design a place like that. It was engineered around cars, not people.


Yes, and it all looks the same. We call it "Generica" :)


As an aside: this is one of the running themes in "Little Golden America", a book that chronicles a coast-to-coast American road trip underdtaken by two Soviet humorists in the 30's. The title in Russian is "Single-Story America", in reference to the flatness and uniformity of the country between the few major cities. Really fascinating account, and much of it still rings true to this day.

(My review, if anyone is interested: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2114423486)


the webs we weave :o


The OP was talking about China. China is bigger than the continental US. I think the persistent myth about the US's size being some unique problem doesn't explain much.

What's more, if you think of the EU as a comparison for the US, with the individual counties as analogues for US states, it seems to explain even less. Belgium and Massachusetts are the same size but over has much better transit options than the other.


In 2015, Belgium had a Population density of 363people/Km^2. Massachusetts in 2015 had 336 people/KM^2. So, pretty close. The difference is that Belgium has a much more uniform population distribution vs Massachusetts.

Secondarily, Belgium can define it's own national policy, while MA must compromise with the rest of the country, including CA, WY, MT, and NY, all of which have very different economic and practical concerns.

The US's size is not a unique problem, but, it is a problem, and the governmental structure we have chosen does pose some unique problems.


Obviously the US has some structural issues, otherwise it wouldn't have these persistent failures. All I'm doing is pushing back against the simplistic "but the US is so big compared to all those tiny countries".

If you want to talk about density or uniform distribution... Why is Australian public transit so much better than American public transit?

America's governmental structure isn't unique either. There are other countries with the same kind of federalism.

And similar rebuttals can be made for virtually all other explanations.

I guess what I'm really getting at is that in the real world there are no easy solutions or explanations to problems despite the penchant in places like HN and Reddit to try to reduce explanations to a single paragraph. America's problems are likely due to a complex interaction between federalism, its geographic size, its traditional wariness of cities, its first mover advantage turning into obsolete infrastructure, and many other factors besides. But it is hard to know that the relative importance of any of those things actually is.

If you say Belgium can make its own policy, you are almost certainly making an off the cuff comment. There are dozens, possibly hundreds, of Europe-wide rules and regulations on transit that limit what Belgium can do. Belgium has to work across borders just like Massachusetts does. From Directive 95/19 on safety certification to Directive 2005/47 on the working conditions of workers on services that happen to cross a border. Since 2007 every European railway undertaking is able to off er rail freight services on every line in every EU country.

It is a mistake to paint a picture where Belgium has unlimited unilateral decision making powers.


> Why is Australian public transit so much better than American public transit?

I would guess it's because Australia is, like, 99% uninhabited and uninhabitable or borderline uninhabitable[1], which probably means they can focus resources almost exclusively on the few densely populated areas. Additionally Australia's urban population seems to be significantly higher than America's (~89% vs ~80% according to 5 seconds of Googling I just did) so there's probably greater political will for investing in urban areas, and that political will probably also isn't resisted/sabotaged by an electoral system that grants hugely disproportionate representation to non-urban areas that have little to gain from realistic/economically sensible investments in public transportation.

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/MapPorn/comments/8ehplw/australian_...


so USA has poorer public transport than Europe because the latter has much more uniform population distribution; USA also has poorer public transport than Australia because the latter has much more skewed population distribution.

american exceptionalism at its finest. :)


Public transit matters where people live. Australia, quite clearly, can more easily focus on good transportation in the small percentage of its land mass where people live.

My state, about the same land area as France has a population density of 39/sq-km, right at the median value for the states. France has density of 122/sq-km. Population density is lower here, where people actually live, than in many locations in Europe or Australia. This may, in part, explain public transportation issues in the USA.


If you want to hold America to the same standard as Australia, try finding public transportation between Sydney and Adelaide, Alice Springs, or Darwin. (There isn't any.) In the US you at least can take Amtrak to cross those kinds of distances (even if it's cheaper and faster by orders of magnitude to just take a plane instead). It's fine to point out that America's public transportation is severely lacking (which it very obviously is), but being dismissive and reductive of the pertinent facts and realities isn't a good look, and it isn't helpful to public discourse.


It's the Goldilocks syndrome. Population density has to be juuuust right to result in American transit. It couldn't possibly be due to any other factors.........


Frankly, political lobbying is strangling your country. Are there any other developed democracies that allow the level of political capture through lobbying and political donations as the US? That alongside gerrymandering and the politicisation of the judiciary and whole legal process. Not how I'd set up a democracy. The USA was far ahead of it's time for over a hundred years in many aspects of it's system of politics and governance, but right now it seems like it's really fallen far behind.


Boston and Munich are about the same size; yet the public transportation system in Munich is significantly better (speed, coverage, comfort of stations and trains, accessibility) than that in Boston. That does not have to be. Instead they spent a couple of billions on the big dig.


In fairness, while the Big Dig was a total crapfest while in progress, the end result made a tremendous positive difference to the walk- and bike-ability of that area. It's still not perfect (four+ lanes of angry commuters), but it's not like they could just get rid of I-93.

Totally agreed on the dollars for transit part, though. Still way too much emphasis on making cars' lives easier in Boston at the expense of everyone else.


"cars' lives"

Every car at the moment contains a person. Objectifying people so it is easier to hate on them is not nice. People should realize by now that it is not just privileged rich assholes that drive cars. A well working personalized point-to-point transport system (cars plus roads) can save the person working 70 hours a week at two low paying jobs much precious time.


If you can afford to park in central Boston every day, you are almost certainly not that poor. A monthly parking pass is like $400-500. That's like a quarter of the pre-tax income from a full-time minimum wage job just to park at one of your jobs.


Cars just aren't a good use of space in the context of a city. A person in a car has multiplied their volume by 10 or 20. Sure, sometimes it's needed, for hauling some cargo, but I really think there are better things we could do with all the space required to support everyone owning a car (and, btw, I have one myself, so I'm not innocent) so that they can sit in traffic twice daily and a few times on weekends.


>That does not have to be. Instead they spent a couple of billions on the big dig.

So basically if MA wasn't up to it's neck in corruption it would be able to get more done with its dollars.

I assure you. Everyone in MA who pays attention knows this just like everyone knows water is wet. The problem is that nobody in MA pays attention.


> Belgium can define it's own national policy, while MA must compromise with the rest of the country

Belgium must compromise with the rest of the EU on many topics.


Not to mention that Belgium's governance is composed of several governments that are semi-hostile to each other and must compromise with the rest of the country as well.


Sheer landmass is less critical for transit than population density. The US has a population density of 33 people per square kilometer; China is nearly five times more dense at 144 people per square kilometer. [1] This sparse population distribution is one of the causes of many of the difficult-to-solve infrastructure problems in the US, such as poor broadband rollout, poor transit, etc.

For what it's worth the United States is actually larger in landmass size than China: 9.834 million square km in the US vs. 9.597 million square km in China. But China has over quadruple the population.

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_and_dependen...


> The US has a population density of 33 people per square kilometer;

Yes, and they are evenly spread out across the country, right?

What you conveniently leave out, and which turns all these kinds of arguments based on a "total area / total population" numbers into absurd exercises in futility in showing anything useful, is that you have some few mega regions:

http://osnetdaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/2050_Map_Me...

Even a country like Germany has extremely uneven population, never mind countries like China or Russia. There is nothing special in the situation the US finds itself in at all - especially not since the enormous population shifts of the 20th century from rural areas to cities.

When I lived in the US (for a decade), the area I lived in was the SF Bay Area, several places. This is far more densely populated than area in Germany where I grew up (former East Germany). And yet, I could not do anything or get anywhere without a car. It has next to nothing to do with population density - in the US you are forced to drive for distances where you would walk, use a bike or public transit in areas with less pop. density in other countries.

Even during my brief first visit to the US end of the last millennium, which was a three month tour of the continental US (NY to Alaska, to Arizona, CA to FL) the "must... use... car!!!" bug got to me too. Towards the end I caught myself getting into the car and driving <200 feet to drop some waste into a wastebasket (from the car window of course) on a shopping mall parking lot... it seemed the natural thing to do, I had to deliberately catch myself and consciously think about what the hell I was doing to recognize the absurdity. After only two months in the country.


> Yes, and they are evenly spread out across the country, right?

Not evenly — but the population in the US is in fact much more geographically dispersed than in most of Europe, India, and East Asia. These measurements are not what you claim ("total area / total population"); here is a map of population density per square kilometer over the globe: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_density#/media/File...

It's true that there are a few areas in the US that have high density. But from a federal funding standpoint, the US unfortunately has to contend with the fact that its population is widely dispersed over a large area compared to most other highly developed nations.


The image you link to does not support your assertion: The US looks "speckled" because there is a lot of empty space, which does not have to be connected. So the others that are all-red have it actually worse. Asia has a lot more people too, so yes, that leads to higher density - but that's hardly an advantage to have to deal with over a billion people instead of a few hundred millions. They still are just as distributed - plus there are a lot fewer gaps of nothing in between! It is easier to cross over nothingness than to path a way through non-stop population, as any effort that tries to build new infrastructure through populated areas that ends up mired with legal and ownership issues and protests demonstrates.

It also does not explain the car addiction at all, because it would make much more sense to connect wide-spread centers using trains, for example.

Also, most transport is local - and as far as it is not combining it into larger "packages" (train, ship, large trucks) would be more efficient.

I'm also a bit amazed at your response. Your initial comment, the one I replied to, is only about comparing total area and total population. I find it at least a little bit disingenuous how you dug deep to come up with a new version of the argument.

I find the effort in many comments to point out how the US is "special" and "different" from all the rest of the world very weird. I would not find it as weird if it looked like a detached analysis, but it seems to be mostly emotional. Why? So strange. What's the big deal, what do you lose, if you come to the conclusion that it's of course true that all problems are local and none are completely the same, the variability and the base problems are not actually different? What's the big deal? Isn't it enough to look for "exceptionalism" in the achievements and possibilities, why does it have to also be true for such mundane stuff at any cost (e.g. suffering quality of arguments)?


Not defending the OP (or continuing their line of thought), but here's an exclusivity argument for why it's difficult to build public transport infrastructure in the US.

The US is special because its cities were either built to be pedestrian-hostile, or were made so during the Depression years when the transport companies went bust.

Now, in addition to the mindset shift, I think you'd need to rebuild entire cities/metroplexes to make the public transport work.

Case in point: the South Bay Area, where I live now. Sure, you can add trains (at a huge cost). But once you get off the train station, where do you go? The sidewalks are those narrow strips separating the roadway from the parking lots adjacent to stores, they are no joy to walk on, and it will take you forever.

Where in Europe you have:

[store][sidewalk][roadway, 2 lanes][sidewalk][store]

Here, you have:

[business][parking lot][impenetrable hedge][sidewalk][roadway, 3 lanes][uncrossable median][roadway, 3 lanes][sidewalk][impenetrable hedge][parking lot][business]

Then, due to the zoning regulations you don't have stores and cafes right next to place where people live - you have huge blocks with nothing in them but houses, houses, houses.

Ditto for business districts.

It's not enough to have public transport, one needs to rethink entire cities from ground up to make them walkable, bikeable - and accessible by public transport - even if it exists.

Another case in point: Seattle. Lacking a good train system, they made the buses work with dedicated bus lanes, which make the buses fast - faster than traffic.

This works because the city has not been developed in the sad way I described above.

As for the suburban wasteland, which makes up huge chunks of the US population-wise, you can throw all your trains and buses at it, and it will be but a drop in the bucket.

Disclaimer: lived half my life in the US, half my life in urban Ukraine. Big fan of public transport, but drive most of the time - and when I don't, I bike, outrunning public transportation in most cases on distances up to 6 miles or so.

EDIT: see the urban sprawl point below[1]:

[1]https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16918434


I would argue there is a huge difference in OPs argument and that brought up by most people to claim the US is "special" and what you just wrote.

> The US is special because its cities were either built to be pedestrian-hostile, or were made so during the Depression years when the transport companies went bust.

The original argument is based on "nature", things outside of human control. Your argument is 100% under human control, a self-made problem. What perplexes me is that the "nature" (inevitability) argument always comes first, but when prodded (like I did here) there is the attempt to shift it it elsewhere. I don't like that style, as I said, this seems to be mostly emotions-driven and I don't quite get why there is this attempt at any cost to paint the US situation as "special". Everyone and everything is "special" if you dig deep enough. The point is, are the difficulties any worse than elsewhere in magnitude and complexity? I don't think so. You only argued about the US, but the point of "being special" here has the meaning of "it's more difficult", and I don't think that is justified at all.


I agree, the "nature" argumnets are bollocks (the US is big! That's why we don't have local transit in urban centers - yeah right), and I never understood why people make them (ditto for healthcare - "we can't have it because we are big!").

As for your question:

>are the difficulties any worse than elsewhere in magnitude and complexity?

I firmly think that this is the case - a century of bad urban planning is hard to undo. You don't have that in Europe (cities are old, the layout makes public transport viable and necessary), you don't have in 2nd world countries (a lot of growth happened under central planning that bet big on public transport because it couldn't provide enough cars for its citizens).

Huge cities in the US are different from cities in Europe. Even when a European city has suburbs, taking a train to the city center makes sense because you can get around the city center without a car. That is not the case in Houston or Dallas, for example. You wouldn't want to walk there.

Yes, these problems are man-made - but they are entrenched and systemic to a scale that I'm unaware of.

I guess what I am saying here: we need to understand the scope of the problem. It's not that it's more difficult to make trains running in Dallas than it is in Paris.

It's that we need to rebuild Dallas from ground up for that train to make sense there due to the way it grew in the past 70 years.

TL;DR: screw-ups are hard to undo.


Where in Seattle do the buses have their own lane? I can only think of the tunnel downtown and a bit of road south of it through the southern industrial area (but I think that has given way to link). It isn’t much when you consider where metro and soundtransit go.


> The US looks "speckled" because there is a lot of empty space, which does not have to be connected. So the others that are all-red have it actually worse. Asia has a lot more people too, so yes, that leads to higher density - but that's hardly an advantage to have to deal with over a billion people instead of a few hundred millions.

There is plenty of research around public transit indicating the opposite: higher density increases transit viability, because public transit requires high demand per kilometer in order to be financially viable. For example, to quote this [1] highly cited paper:

"There are well documented empirical thresholds of density below which transit is unpractical for users and financially unsustainable for operators."

Or even just the opening line of the introduction:

"The counterpoint to the correlation between low-density sprawl and automobile dependence is that between high density and more transit use."

Connecting through "nothingness" is not an advantage: it costs actual money to build transit even through "nothingness" — labor and materials are not free, and even what you term "nothingness" is typically owned by someone and land rights still need to be acquired — and no one wants to go there. It would be cheaper to build transit between Popular Point A and Popular Point B if the vast "nothingness" between them was removed altogether — aka, high density.

> They still are just as distributed

You're taking the "sparse population distribution" argument pretty far out of context. The point is that they're sparse, not the total landmass size.

> I find the effort in many comments to point out how the US is "special" and "different" from all the rest of the world very weird. I would not find it as weird if it looked like a detached analysis, but it seems to be mostly emotional. Why? So strange. What's the big deal, what do you lose, if you come to the conclusion that it's of course true that all problems are local and none are completely the same, the variability and the base problems are not actually different? What's the big deal? Isn't it enough to look for "exceptionalism" in the achievements and possibilities, why does it have to also be true for such mundane stuff at any cost (e.g. suffering quality of arguments)?

Thanks, but I think my posts in here have been pretty data-focused and detached.

1: http://courses.washington.edu/gmforum/Readings/Bertaud_Trans...


Already in your first paragraph you chose to twist everything around. It is NOT more dense overall, there just are more dense areas. I refer to my previous comments, since nothing new was brought up.

> You're taking the "sparse population distribution" argument pretty far out of context.

May I suggest a mirror?

> Thanks, but I think my posts in here have been pretty data-focused and detached.

Not at all, unless you think that going out of your way to find any "data" at all and then pretending that it shows what you say it does (which it doesn't do - at all!) is "data-focused and detached".

There is nothing in the US situation that makes it any more difficult than for the rest of the world. No, the US does not have "special" problems that make transportation more difficult than elsewhere, apart from self-inflicted wounds (another commenter mentioned car-oriented city designs). Of course everybody and everything is "special" if you look deep enough, but this was about "special" (as in more) difficulty compared to other places.

Also you keep moving your target. I still take your ridiculous very first comment as setting the tone - after all, it is what you yourself first brought up: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16918557

In response to being called out on that argument you came up with ever more elaborate attempts to disguise what you said and pretend you had a different argument. Own up to having made a very bad "argument" and stop this nonsense. We have a "paper trail" of what you said, stop pretending it ever made sense.


I think abakker's point is that the US is much less densely populated compared to China and the EU. The US has much of its population distributed far distances from urban areas, which makes electric vehicles a less desirable option.


Sweden's population density is less than the US but they have better transit.

The US's urbanization rate is 82% which is higher than Canada, Norway, Spain, France, Greece, Taiwan, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Portugal, Ireland, and 150 other countries.

The US doesn't have much of its population distributed outside of urban areas compared to most countries. The US actually has few people outside of urban areas compared to most countries.


Except that rural votes are magnified by the Senate distortion.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Popular_Vote_Intersta... is one step towards sanity.


Wow, talk about hacking democracy (in the good sense). Interesting idea. Some surprising places on the "considering" map: Kansas, Arizona, and especially Alaska would seem to be discarding some political power if they adopt this scheme. I wonder what the impetus is?


I agree that the political structure is likely a problem but that's not the argument I was responding to.


One issue here, though, is that US urbanisation is _weird_. A lot of that 'urbanisation' is vast suburbs of detached houses; it's not very dense at all.


It is exactly the same in other countries.

Unless you have some data to prove otherwise?


New detached houses have become quite rare here in Ireland, except as rural one-offs; most new suburban houses would be semi-detached (duplex in US terminology, I think; duplex means something else here, just to confuse the issue) or terraced (townhouse in US terminology, I think?), interspersed with mid-rise (~6 story) apartment blocks. They'd also be much smaller; average size of a new home here is ~100sqm, vs 250sqm in the US. Same goes for the UK, only moreso (average size of a home is a bit smaller there).

All of this obviously leads to much higher density. Planning rules effectively ban detached houses in many suburbs, as a minimum density is enforced. The higher density you have, the more effective public transport systems are.

Suburban apartment blocks also seem to be somewhat rarer in the US.


"China is bigger than the continental US. I think the persistent myth about the US's size being some unique problem doesn't explain much."

Sure, China is huge. But the vast majority of it's population is concentrated on or near the east coast. Most of China's western interior is sparsely populated, even compared to the US.

Even including the interior, the overall population density of China (137/km2) is much higher than that of the USA (35/km2).


Granted I've never lived in Belgium but MA has a corrupt gravy train of a government. We're literally too efficient with our money to afford nice things. I find it hard to believe that dollar for dollar Belgian taxes do not come back around to benefit the Belgian taxpayers more than MA taxes come back around to benefit the MA taxpayers.


Belgium needs good public transport because the population are really bad drivers.


Yes, it's difficult if not impossible to live in most places in the US without a car, the only real exception I can think of is NYC.

However, it has nothing to do with the size of the country, it's in the way towns and cities are laid out.

For one thing, discrete residential and commercial zones separated by vast distances and linked by highway are the norm. This makes it impractical to walk or bike to work or shopping. In suburbia, there is no such thing as a corner deli...


So national policy is essentially catering to the minority that live in rural areas? That seems backwards.


That minority controls a non-trivial portion of the nation's political power -- just look at the 2016 presidential election for evidence. I'm 100% for clean energy and reducing/eliminating fossil fuel use, but I also recognize the reality that electric vehicles just don't yet have the capability -- and more importantly, infrastructure -- to replace gas- and diesel-powered cars/buses/trucks. Telling rural Americans to piss off is just as bad as asking urban Americans to deal with the smog IMO.


It would be a good start if we replaced ICEs wherever possible, i.e. in cities. The majority of the people lives in cities, almost all car trips are well below fifty miles. If EVs work 100% of the time for 20% of the population that would already be a huge win for the environment and their sales could fund the R&D necessary to make them viable for the rest.


It's not about real rural areas, it's sprawl largely. It's been the dominant and TOP-DOWN planned development pattern for a whole generation, and it's totally tragic. Not only from energy perspective but nearly all other variables. There's almost nothing arguably redeemable about sprawl.

https://www.strongtowns.org/ is about the best org discussing these issues and isn't coming from a left- or right-wing perspective but a sane, critical-thinking, research-based perspective.


> and TOP-DOWN planned development pattern for a whole generation,

I'd almost think it is bottom-up not top-down. Top down would imply some central planning, allowance for more space, livable communities, more trees, more parks and trails, mixed zoning etc. I grew up in a Soviet Union and towns and cities were designed top-down. Nice wide streets, electric trolley buses in the city that ran regularly. For all the ills and terrible things it was actually not as a bad as far as the general layout was concerned.

In US it is bottom-up because every developer buys land then tries to maximize their profit by shoving as many houses and cul-de-sacs as they can. Or as many office buildings etc. Every town wants to maximize its property taxes so they have their own interests at work. People who bought the property also now have different incentives so you have zoning and NIMBY. Ideally all these self-interests would somehow magically align to produce something great. But it often doesn't.


Not all central planning mean same end result. US gov did embrace suburban sprawl.

Bottom-up planning example would be post-USSR where people converted community gardens into suburbs on their own. Without any central planning or viable infrastructure.


> US gov did embrace suburban sprawl.

Yeah but they didn't directly design cities the way a top-down developer would do. They are some planned communities in US. I live next to one, and it is a different feel to it definitely. But it is not a common thing at all.

At the federal level there are tax incentives and credits and subsidies and those affect everything but it is still very much a local "maximize my profit" kind of deal. Uncle Sam doesn't care if there are enough play grounds or parks for given area and population density.

I think that you are trying to say that the incentives (say cheap mortgages) and subsidies for oil and car manufacturers resulted in suburban sprawl? But that's more of a nasty side-effect than a direct policy or law. In other words we got the bad part of top-down influence without the good part of it.

> Bottom-up planning example would be post-USSR where people converted community gardens into suburbs on their own.

I jokingly say that overnight they become more capitalist and laissez faire than most countries in the West.


> Yeah but they didn't directly design cities the way a top-down developer would do. They are some planned communities in US. I live next to one, and it is a different feel to it definitely. But it is not a common thing at all.

Top-down developer can design it any way he wants. Top-down just means it's planned and not anarchistic like in ex-USSR.

Even policy of not enforcing parks, playground or allowing lesser population density is top-down development. Policy of building highways to accommodate sprawl is top-down as well.

Meanwhile bottom-up in ex-USSR style means ex-community gardens converted into suburbs without central water/sewage, no proper road network etc. While some developers put in over-the-top density highrises in questionable locations. Again, without proper infrastructure to support them. In both cases, it's incentives from people or developers without any support and sometimes even acknowledgement from the government.

> I jokingly say that overnight they become more capitalist and laissez faire than most countries in the West.

I'd say that with 100% straight face. We're definitely much more capitalist than western europe and definitely competing with US on many fronts.


You say the planned community has a certain feel, you are swimming in an ocean of zoning.


They got special exceptions from the county to do their own thing and not have obey the existing ones. So it is more like an island.


Sorry, I meant that zoning is very much a form of top down planning. It's just pervasive.

There can be even more structure, but when a town or city simply blocks medium density residential structures, that's pretty top down.


Post WWII, our (USA) policy has been to loot urban areas to subsidize sprawl.


There's BOTH factors, but the master-plans and zoning that require sprawl by forcing major separation between residential, commercial, industry etc. — all that was top down. And by top-down, I mean at the local city planning level, not the federal level per se… except the federal policy helped finance the sprawl…

Also, these big developers are sorta top-down too. They are big powerful entities setting things up for the people who actually use the developments instead of iterative development.

There's a ton of ridiculous patterns built into development that relate to the way it is financed etc. and that along with zoning etc. creates insane sprawl.

https://www.strongtowns.org/ does a remarkable job at addressing all these issues, not taking a dogmatic top-down or bottom-up or whatever view.


The majority live in Sub-urban/rural areas. Even urban, non-city center areas are not easily servable by buses. See Houston (or anywhere in Texas).


I didn't say it was a good idea...but yeah, most of America by area is totally dependent on cars for access, because more of America is private property, spread far apart. Not a great use of public transit. In many places, the roads themselves are the only real public property.


So we should just abandon our rural areas? That seems backwards.


It's already happening for loads of other, often good reasons. It's called urbanization. You can try to resist the future but you cannot stop it. You might just as well embrace it. How exactly does that seem backwards?


The situation is already problematic for agriculture. Further decreasing population density in rural settings just makes that worse (e.g. instead of going to the grocery store 10 miles away that happily supports a population of 5,000 people, you instead get to drive 2 hours to Costco in the nearest city to get enough groceries to make the trip worthwhile)


Just don't forget that even those urbanites still need resources that come from rural areas, like food. Yes, the service/information economy is clearly the future. But being able to domestically supply essentials to the service/information sectors is overall a good thing from several perspectives, including environmental health.


When China is the dominant economic superpower I doubt they will care much about abandoning the rural United States.


How about inside the major urban areas though? The vast majority of people live in cities, which also means they will mostly drive inside the city itself, which means relatively short distances. There's no reason why that demographic couldn't switch to electric cars, or why the government isn't helping them go for more eco friendly alternatives.


Yes which is why efficient public transport start with city planning. American cities are not built for public transport. They are built for cars.

You need to redesign American cities. The most obvious thing to change is zoning laws. Residential areas, offices and stores need to be more mixed.

Another issue is that many problems exist simply because it is too easy to drive. With easy driving you end up with donut cities where anything of importance is located in a ring around the outskirts of the city. That kills the ability to utilize public transport effectively.

If you discouraged driving more activity would be forced into neighborhoods and into the downtown area, which would make public transport functional. It is much easier to feed people with public transport into a downtown area than into a ring on the outskirts.


The US is this way because we've zoned and developed it this way, not because of the geography. If zoning changed to allow higher building density in cities, especially major cities, you'd see much less sprawl, and better support of walking, biking, and transit.

In the US, we are forced to drive because we force ourselves to drive.


The nordics have canada level pop density and are still doing better.


Perhaps the Oil companies control the US gov't. Or perhaps they're actually the same.


Interesting then to note that Norway, where the oil company is majority owned by the government, also has the largest per capita fleet of electric cars.


But the norwegian government is owned by people, unlike the US govt which is owned by corporations. And the people know that it's in their best interest to switch to EV. Also, the norwegian government will end their investments into oil & gas: https://www.ft.com/content/611c2e9e-cad9-11e7-aa33-c63fdc9b8...


In principle, the US government represents the will of the people. Government officials may be corrupt and in the pockets of corporate interests, but clinging to power is an even bigger motivator. If enough voters demand something, they are usually forced into delivering it, at least partly.

The major problem in my view is the systematic and continuous disinformation campaigns regarding climate change and environmental problems in general (financed of course by oil and chemical companies). By keeping voters misinformed and confused, corporate powers ensure they are able to continue their operations without public oversight.


>In principle, the US government represents the will of the people.

Unfortunately that's not really encoded in how you guys and gals do elections.

From gerrymandering, to the stale two-horse race for party-approved candidates, to the emphasis on a single person (the "President") with roman senate undertones as opposed to collaborating MPs (and where are the coalition governments?), to legal lobbying, to the undue role of appointed justices in legislation, to the BS with vote registration (and voting day not being an official holiday)...

It's like everything has been done to distance the governance from the will of the people...


On the other hand, this probably allowed the US to become the superpower it is. I feel the US is the closest example in the modern world to capitalism unchecked - with both the pros and cons that entails.


>On the other hand, this probably allowed the US to become the superpower it is.

Corellation != causation.

I'd say the exhaustion of Europe in WWI and WWII (which the US only participated with its military, whereas the European citizenry had much more direct costs across the whole population (occupation, bombings, ethnic cleansing, brain drain, etc), the post-war influx of European scientists (half of the scientific developments in post-WWII US are from Jewish, German, and other immigrants), the collapse of European colonialism, and an internal 300+ million strong market to try stuff in, plus a strong military to force its market interests globally, were more of a factor in that.

Case in point, China is becoming "the superpower it is" without following the same model as the US of "unchecked capitalism", if anything the opposite.

>I feel the US is the closest example in the modern world to capitalism unchecked - with both the pros and cons that entails.

What pros? If anything, unchecked capitalism tends to also destroy the free market and democracy -- as unchecked capitalists gain political and social power over their puny fellow citizens and lesser businesses.


If you were a Vietnamese born with defects caused by Agent Orange. Or a child in Yemen. Pretty sure these "pros" are not worth anything to you.


>> I feel the US is the closest example in the modern world to capitalism unchecked - with both the pros and cons that entails.

Please enlighten me which parts of the 'pros of capitalism' I'm missing out on as a non-US citizen, because I definitely don't see many, if any at all.


I guess it would be paying $1000 for a $50 medical procedure, because the unchecked health industry wants to make a profit, and can just ramp prices, enforce its dictums, and pay politicians uncheckedly.


"Pros" are subjective, of course. But if you ask an American to describe why US is great, it would be things like:

* Largest economy on the planet

* Biggest and most well known tech companies (or companies in general)

* Majority of the top research universities

* Quality of medical system (if you can pay!)

* And so on

For us in tech, living in the US is no comparison - it's the best place to be an engineer by a long shot, due to much higher wages and opportunities. Not to say you can't find good stuff elsewhere, it's just harder, and you'll get rewarded much less in general.

Increased regulation, labour protections, consumer protections, and so on stifles the economy, at least in the short term. I'm not saying that's bad - there's more to life than money, which I think is an idea that Europe embraces more so than the US.


I don't feel any of these things provide people with more or better opportunities than those I have here, or elsewhere in many western-European or Asian countries.

The universities here are great, and actually rank equal to or better than all but a handful of US ones. The quality and availability of health care is basically the same, for a much lower price. Even for rare treatment options that are only available abroad (e.g. in the US), which are covered through regular health insurance. There are many high-tech companies in countries like the UK, Germany, Scaninavia, Netherlands, etc. Maybe not as many software companies as in Silicon Valley, but those only employ a tiny percentage of people. If you have a university or college degree you can make a great living here, and your standard of living is most definitely a lot better than in Silicon Valley. I know because I travel there regularly for work and have many direct colleagues who live and work there, some who transfered from here, and I know how much they make and what their cost of living is.

Having 'more of X', 'biggest of', 'best of', 'largest economy' have exactly zero meaning in the context of the lives of individual people. Just looking around what we have here, and what you have in the US, there are no 'pros of capitalism unchecked' that are exclusive to the US for the vast majority of people. There are many cons though.

There reason for my somewhat snarky original comment is that I honestly don't think anyone could come up with any factual, comprehensive facts that prove that the US has any exclusive benefits from 'capitalism unchecked'. In fact, most lists (per capita income, poverty, cost of living, education, vertical mobility, health care, and maybe most importantly: happiness) the US is not even near the top.


I live in London so I'm probably biased. Salaries are lower compared to US counterparts. Funding for startups is harder. I think a lot of this is related to stronger labor protection and higher taxes. So I think in terms of economic opportunities for tech, and other in-demand industries, the US is better for individuals and companies. I still wouldn't want to live there though - I spent many years in Chicago, where you could hear gun shootings every couple weeks or so. Homeless people everywhere. It's like a dystopian world, even in "bad parts" of London you don't get anything like it.


In practice however democracy doesn't work in the US. The system allows a duopoly of two parties which have long ago been bought by corporate interests. You actually need laws in a democracy to prevent government from being taken over by special interests.

In Norway we traditionally secured this by strong limitations on the usage of political ads. Hence you could not fund yourself to political popularity. The other mechanism is that starting a new party is very easy in Norway, so as soon as established parties are not representing the interests of people they will get squeezed out by new parties.

I think what helps Norway, is that we don't view our constitution and political system as an immutable document. We have been far more willing to tinker with the system and improve it than in the US. I think this is down to the fact that getting where we are today is a very gradual historical process.

When our constitution was written it was not a full democracy. It still involved a king with considerably political power. In the US, the country begins with a pretty good constitution very early on. This I think has enforced the myth that there is no need for regular updates and improvements.


"In principle, the US government represents the will of the people."

I think US government has always represented mostly the rights and benefits of native capital.

There is nothing wrong with this, IMO, just as long as it is understood that where in Europe the nationalistic movements which picked up their wind from the US and French examples, thus leading to the modern nation states, where fueled by popular sentiment, the US independence was a semi-private project by an oligarchic clique.

Note: taking care of native capital is one of the best recipes for power and independence, which then facilitates all sorts of nice benefits for all around, but it's not everything that is required for building a good life for all.


just even thinking about 'capital' is wrong. we'd be so much in better shape now if we dropped that idea (in all forms incl state capitalism) already.


Dude, all improvements to modern life since the middle ages have been due to capitalist advances. It predates and I would claim was a key factor in scientific revolution as well, in making resources available to clever gentlemen of leisure and learning.

If you don't like capitalism, may I suggest it is not the process of prosperity creation itself, but the lack of percieved fairness that troubles you?


It's called lobbying and it works in favor of the big money/oil companies. I don't want to name names, but "Bush administration".

The planet needs to move away from fuel and turn to sun/wind/waves. It is a slow change, but we can't wait for the oil companies to drain every last dollar/euro/yen/.. from us, before 'they do us a favor' on switching to sun/wind/waves.


>the norwegian government is owned by people

Nope. Still a monarchy.


Norway also has proportional representation, so politically it is very unlikely to get a political duopoly and the system encourages cooperation.


Norway seems to be progressive and open-minded about this kind of thing. They have a massive sovereign wealth fund which has built up on the back of a successful national oil industry. However, last year they announced their intention to divest from oil and gas stocks. Whether or not this is to try and make the fund more environmentally and socially responsible, or if they genuinely believe that these are poor investment choices is an interesting question.

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/nov/16/oil-and-gas...

[edit: add link]


Don't they have some requirement by law to always look to the next 50 years or something rather than the usual politician outlook of "however long I am in office for, to benefit me the most."

I would imagine over the next 50 years oil and gas is going to be a worst investment than renewable simply because by then it will have largely run out?

Then again when companies such as BP are increasing their investments into renewable energy sources it makes sense to see Norway doing the same.


The sovereign wealth fund has a full time philosopher on it's staff; policy decisions are required to have an active input from said philosopher around a number of issues, in particular ethics.[0]

[0] https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB113340298608010935


You're confusing two unrelated matters.

All of the oil companies pay the same 78% tax rate in .no. The state-owned one also pays its profits, but the profits are a rounding error compared to those 78%.

All the oil that's pumped from below the seafloor is sold. Selling more oil to domestic drivers wouldn't really increase the world's oil price, or state's tax revenue.


> oil company is majority owned by the government You are correct. Thats in Norway in the US its the other way around.


The US federal government in general is a textbook case study in regulatory capture (recent new head of the EPA, the FCC, etc).


US politics is actually very receptive to public opinion. Tobacco and alcohol lobbies are fighting tooth and nail against marijuana legalization, especially since it currently limits company sizes in most states, effectively shutting them out of the market. But they are on the verge and/or have already lost that fight.

So no, the US record on environmental issues isn’t the result of an industry takeover of government. It’s the result of effectively lobbying the public, and making “damaging the environment” part of people’s perceived identity in some quarters.

Just look at the appeal of Trump’s focus on coal: the industry has about 50000 workers left. That’s far less than solar or wind, or Tesla alone. But coal plays to a certain image of masculinity and self-interest that is far more common in the US.


I believe the individual countries set their own gas prices (taxed highly). All countries buy their oil/gas on the market for roughly the same price


That doesn't change the incentives though - the taxes are there for a reason.

EDIT: what I mean is that removing the petrol taxes won't solve the set of environmental and political problems they face, but rather would likely make them worse.


Their shipping and distribution costs are quite different though. Petrol taxes also tend to be flat - advocates for removing them always crop up, but it's a suckers bet - you wipe out say, your road maintenance income, for (in Australia) a onetime 17c on the liter drop in price (while the price just keeps going up anyway).


True, but domestic production means the revenue comes back if you aren’t a net importer.


The US is one of the world's biggest Oil producers. China has to import oil, but can mine its own coal and produce electricity from that. So China has an incentive to get off oil more than the US does.


It helps that China is a major producer of "rare earth" metals - that's the stuff you need for the accumulators. So they don't have a problem to get the accumulators in massive quantities.

https://www.statista.com/statistics/279953/rare-earth-produc...


Rare earths(lanthanum specifically) are only required for NiMH batteries. Li-ions are made up of common elements.

Electric motors on the other hand work much better with added rare earths, although it's still not a strict requirement.


Climate change is a political and verging in religious question in the US; it's something that you believe or don't believe in. This isn't really the case elsewhere (there is SOME climate change denialism in Europe and elsewhere, but it's way more fringe, and in politics mostly confined to libertarians and other weirdos).

The US's current political problem RE climate change could be regarded as temporary and will quite likely be resolved in 2020, but until the unique dynamic where half the country refuses to believe that climate change is a thing goes away, the US is always going to struggle on this stuff.


And, still, bigger part of GDP in Europe and China is about burning oil.


What are you basing this on? Europe just signed up to complete the massive Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to keep on getting natural gas from the worst state actor in the entire world while cutting out any leverage their most vulnerable EU partner states had over Putin.

In addition, Germany, in particular, repeatedly shielded and promoted disastrous diesel fuel to give their large automakers a boost in the market. Not only was diesel over electric a terrible idea for carbon emissions but a huge environmental disaster for micro-particulate emissions that cause so many health problems in large urban areas.

Finally, we also have, once again, mostly Germany, phasing out carbon-free nuclear in favour of building new coal plants to give cheap energy to their heavy industries.

Europe is great at promoting its green image to its credulous fans but the reality is a lot more mixed.




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