A modest proposal: Ban cars.

Crushing cars
CC BY 2.0 Dave S on Flickr

In 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote A Modest Proposal, which, according to Wikipedia, " Swift suggests that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies. This satirical hyperbole mocks heartless attitudes towards the poor, as well as Irish policy in general."

In 2015, Alissa Walker makes another modest proposal in Gizmodo: Ban cars. She notes that the COP21 summit has ignored their role, even though 25 percent of energy related emissions come from transportation. But electrification isn't the answer, because "Right now, virtually every single electric car—which represent only 0.1 percent of all cars—is still burning fossil fuels. In the US, you are literally shoveling coal into your EV." The only real answer is to simply ban cars from cities.

But it’s not just about banning cars. Cities also have to help their citizens live without a car. This means they must approve taller buildings, get rid of parking minimums, and expand public transit options. Build rail instead of roads. Turn gas stations into bike kiosks. Convert parking lots to sidewalks. Provide a fleet of low-speed zero-emission vehicles (like golf carts!) to make deliveries and help residents get around. And introduce better technology solutions to help everyone navigate the city more efficiently.

Walker notes correctly that the car is not the only source of emissions, but that the way our cities are built around cars makes them expensive and polluting.

Cities that are built for cars require goods and services to be moved across farther and farther distances. Each building’s carbon footprint includes not only the materials and methods which are required to build it, but all the infrastructural systems required to sustain it. If those systems are served primarily by the cars—deliveries, workers, residents, visitors—the building’s carbon footprint balloons. A city built for cars requires far more energy to power it.

Really, it is time to face up to the fact that she is right and stop dancing around half measures like simply taxing the hell out them as I proposed when I wrote how electric cars "won’t solve the fundamental problem of sprawl, the deaths of pedestrians, the collapsing infrastructure, the cost of servicing suburbia." We have to go further.

A generation from now we’ll look back on this one-hundred year blip in human history and shake our heads. We’ll remember this failed experiment, our temporary lapse in judgement. But we have to reverse this trend now, before we hand over any more of our cities to an antiquated, dying technology that’s killing us right along with it.

Is Alissa Walker doing Swiftian hyperbole? No, I think it is a serious proposal. Actually, she barely touches on the damage cars actually cause. As I wrote in It's time for a bigger recall of a seriously defective product: The Car. in which I looked at the toll in lives lost and ruined:

leading causes of death© World Bank/ Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation

1.5 million killed every year, more than die from HIV, tuberculosis or malaria. And no, switching to electric cars will not solve the problem; Air quality is a major factor and the source 200,000 of those deaths, but 1.3 million of those deaths are due directly due to road crashes. 455,000 of those deaths are pedestrians getting hit by cars. There are 78 million injuries needing medical care.

Furthermore, Alissa notes that cities are actually doing this. It's not impossible. It will be hard, it will take time and investment, but it is doable.


1400 commenters are not impressed or amused. But like Swift's Modest Proposal, the purpose of the article is to make you think about the issue. To get people angry (It certainly is doing that!) To think about alternatives. To discuss: "Cars are an old idea from the past. But believing that cars are the future could destroy our entire civilization." It's not a modest proposal at all.

Read it all, twice, at Gizmodo.

Tags: Car-Free | Global Climate Change | Global Warming Causes | Transportation

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