This morning from 11 AM at Pinecrest Gardens, Sierra Club is hosting Miami's Drive Electric Celebration including 28 electric cars. About a hundred years ago, another celebration was taking place; the first production line assembly of automobiles in the United States.
This painting hangs at the Detroit Institute of Arts. A friend sent its image to me the other day. I doubt anyone would argue that the work captures an epochal moment in world history. There are so many points of view to consider: the organization of labor around mass production, the advent of a form of transportation that would liberate mankind from dependency on animal power, the development of supply chains to feed the massive consumer appetite for automobiles, lending and financing to support purchases of autos, the recruitment of politics to support mass transportation based on cars and trucks, and eventually global warming -- the consequence of combusting fossil fuels.
The crowd in the background is fascinating. Who are they? What did the artist intend? They stand stock still, riveted by the commotion in front of them. Are they anonymous consumers, who walked or bicycled or took electrified trolleys to the Ford plant to watch the greatest innovation in the history of mankind take shape? Or were they farmers and small tradespeople driven to an industry promising employment, one hundred years ago, that was as revolutionary as the advent of computing and the microprocessor?
At any rate, we know a single fact about them: none in this painting are alive today. The artist, by the way, is Diego Rivera: a Mexican who understood the brutal geopolitical forces at work in the early 20th century, who reflected on both the dynamism of and ambivalence to the industrial world. If he only knew.
It is very clear that people are not ready to give up their cars. How could people survive in Miami without a car? Or more accurately, a car for every driving-age member of the household.
I do wonder, though, how one hundred years from now, those who follow us will look back on our century. If we are still using fossil fuels like gasoline and diesel to power cars, I expect the world will look like a "Mad Max" movie; filled with dystopian competition for survival, mixing high tech with medieval realities. Even if we are all driving electric cars, I suspect a hundred years from now those generations will be praying for a lowering of the seas, a stable climate to reliably grow food, and freedom to experience the diversity of life that our generations have been privileged to know.