By David M. Greenwald
Robert Hansen published an opinion piece titled Driving is Right not a Privilege a week ago. It deals with the overall issue of fines. One problem advocates and increasingly state- and local government officials have realized is that imposing excessive fees and fines on citizens in order to fund certain parts of government is really counterproductive.
A growing number of states are recognizing the importance of a drivers license for working class people’s economic survival. Many states have removed the penalty of losing a driver’s license for failure to pay fines and fees.
I was interviewed Joanna Weiss, Fines and Fees Justice CenterShe explained why it is so difficult for working-class people to get a driver’s licence.
First, in most places, there is not enough public transportation to get you basic needs, so a drivers license is required. This is not the way this country was built. It is a driving country, and most places other than big cities you simply can’t.
She said that even if you could ride a bus to work, your job will be lost.
Public transportation is not only limited in coverage but it can also add a lot of time to a workday and be very expensive.
One problem with inner-city poverty and its concentration is that they have become jobless. To work, many people need to travel far to find work.
For instance, this AP article noted, When Alison Norris couldn’t find work in Detroit, she searched past the city limits, ending up with a part-time restaurant job that’s 20 miles away but takes at least two hours to get to via separate city and suburban bus systems.
One interview I heard with someone in a similar situation was that they quit their job after commuting for hours and having to pay transportation costs.
Even if you’re lucky enough to be able to work in California, where low-wage jobs pay upwards to $15 an hour, imagine that you’d have to pay $20 to commute to work. That’s more than 20% of your 8-hour job pay. You are paying 20 percent more for transportation to work than you do for rent or other bills.
This is the same problem we face regarding climate change. We must reduce fossil fuel consumption and shift our vehicles away single-occupancy, fossil-fuel based vehicles. How do you do that in America with its income inequality?
In an ideal world, high gas prices and high gas taxes would lead to more economic alternatives. Yes, we must shift away from gas consumption.
One of our readers was right: The problem when trying to reduce global warming on the supply side, is that the economic pain may be too much for voters to handle.
I would phrase it differently for the working class. The economic pain caused by high gas prices is just like the pain of losing your drivers license.
According to me, climate change is the greatest threat to our existence on this planet. I am convinced that this country has not taken the issue seriously enough.
It is also a difficult issue to address because of the disparate impact that possible solutions can have on people.
It seems reasonable to argue that politicians are speaking from both sides of their mouths when they attempt to address climate changes on the one hand, and then at the same moment, provide ways to subvention the cost of gasoline.
The problem is that we ignore the fact that tradeoffs have moral and political consequences.
The political consequences of this are simple: If gas prices go too high voters will vote for the party that is responsible.
Or, to put it another way, Democrats Joe Biden, Gavin Newsom and others have a problem because they acknowledge that climate change is a serious problem, but they also realize that if gas prices rise, voters will revolt and elect Donald Trump or someone similar to Trump to office. Trump’s four years in office likely set climate policy back by a decade.
While it is easy to see the political calculation in a cynical way, I believe it is important to consider the moral aspect. The relative wealth of those who can afford more gas, alternative fuel vehicles, and live close enough that they can bike or take the bus easily makes this a class issue as well as an environmental one.
People who are not dependent on cars for their livelihoods will be the ones pushing for alternative solutions. The Democratic party is seen by white working class people as the party that the elite, and not the white working class, has been losing more of its support.
We must address income inequality not only in our country but around the globe if we are to solve the climate change crisis. This is a huge challenge that we aren’t prepared to even consider, let alone address.