If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
I: THE MOTOR: 1905
From hedgerows where aromas fain would be
New volleyed odours execrably arise;
The flocks, with hell-smoke in their patient eyes,
Into the ditch from bawling ruin flee:
Spindrift of one abominated sea
Along all roads in wrecking fury flies
Till on young strangled leaf, on bloom that dies,
In this far plot it writes a rune for me.
Vast intimate tyranny! Nature dispossessed
Helplessly hates thee, whose symbolic flare
Lights up (with what reiterance unblest!)
Entrails of horror in a world thought fair.
False God of pastime thou, vampire of rest,
Augur of what pollution, what despair?
Guiney’s old English verse is as thick as the carbon black from exhaust of early automobiles on London’s cobble stone streets, yet it is remarkably clairvoyant of what will unfold with the consequences of fossil fuel consumption. The internal combustion engine was invented in a series of breakthroughs beginning around 1870. Ford’s Model T wasn’t rolled out until 1908. But Guiney’s poem of 1905 already is dreading the despotic hold that automobiles will have on the 20th century. No single thing has caused more ecological destruction than the endless applications that internal combustion engines have caused, enabling humanity’s zeal to make money from natural resources. Internal combustion engines made it possible for people to travel to places they could never have otherwise managed to travel and live in places they could never have managed to live. The internal combustion engine has made resource extraction and exploitation possible at levels never imagined 100 years ago.
I particularly love her expression – vampire of rest. It sums up the feeling I get driving to work with endless pressure from middle aged and older men in mostly pickups, aggressively riding my bumper, wanting to drive 20 miles over the speed limit, and acting like they, and only they have a right to the road. I have coined a new phrase for them – Frustrated Older Republican Drivers – (though I am sure there are Democrats doing the same) driving mostly Ford F150s in which they are angrily ensconced. What is driving this anger? I suspect it is a frustration stemming from a nagging realization that a lifestyle they have worked so hard to create is not sustainable in the future. We have built cities and infrastructure designed for our past, not our future. Ford is aggressively marketing an all electric replacement for the Ford F150 that is impractical, range limited, excessively expensive, dangerously heavy and bound to fail. It is a marketing statement, not a transformational vehicle for the future. If America is going to get serious about climate change we are going to have to adapt and give up our obsession with large vehicles. And we all are going to have to get comfortable with that change voluntarily or get carbon taxed into it. Change makes most old men, even me, grumpy.
By Louise Imogen Guiney
You that are dear, O you above the rest!
Forgive him his evasive moods and cold;
The absence that belied him oft of old,
The war upon sad speech, the desperate jest,
And pity’s wildest gush but half-confessed,
Forgive him! Let your gentle memories hold
Some written word once tender and once bold,
Or service done shamefacedly at best,
Whereby to judge him. All his days he spent,
Like one who with an angel wrestled well,
O’ermastering Love with show of light disdain;
And whatso’er your spirits underwent,
He, wounded for you, worked no miracle
To make his heart’s allegiance wholly plain.