It's time to free ourselves from our "thrall to the metal god"

London congestion
© DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images

George Monbiot on how electric vehicles are not the answer.

Not many people agreed with my recent post Banning fossil fuelled cars isn't enough; we have to rethink our transportation system. Agenda 21 even came up in comments. My major point was that banning diesel and gas powered cars by 2040 was too little and too late, and that we had to make it easy for people to get around without a car, to not even want a car. Now, writing in the Guardian, George Monbiot looks at the issue and writes The car has a chokehold on Britain. It’s time to free ourselves. The subhead is important: "Our insanely inefficient transport system is in thrall to the metal god. Electric vehicles are not the answer"

In it, he complains about how powerful the car lobby is, and what a powerful voice the drivers have in media and government. But rethinking isn’t in the cards:

Suggest a neater system, and you will be shouted down by people insisting that they don’t want to live in a planned economy. But in this respect (and others) we do live in a planned economy. These days transport planners make a few concessions to cyclists, pedestrians and buses, but their overriding aim is still to maximise the flow of private vehicles. Rather than encouraging the more efficient use of existing infrastructure, they keep increasing the space into which inefficiency can expand.

He’s not too impressed with the proposed 2040 bans, either: “A child born today will be 23 by the time this policy matures – by then the damage to the development of her lungs and brain will have been done.”

Even if this policy were enacted more swiftly, it seeks to ensure that nothing else in our extravagant system changes. Electric cars solve only part of the problem. They occupy less air, but just as much road and parking space.

Monbiot makes the case for alternatives that get people out of cars. “Why not – through shifting road space from cars to bicycles in the form of safe cycle lanes – aim to make cycling the main form of urban transport? Why not launch a scrappage scheme that trades cars for public transport tokens?”

Neither George Monbiot nor I am suggesting banning cars (to be honest, I have suggested banning SUVs and did a tongue in cheek post about banning cars) -- just promoting the alternatives more and the cars less.

But this is still too much for many people. It's a war on the car that has to be fought every inch of the way. This hilarious video really hits every button: cars are freedom, big cars are safer, electric cars are toxic, bike lanes are plots to make driving harder.

George Monbiot notes that it it is a difficult challenge, dealing with this world view. “To contest this peculiar form of insanity is, as I know to my cost, to be widely declared insane… Look at the lobbying power of the motor industry and its support in the media, and you see why successive plans to address pollution seemed designed to fail.”

I know the feeling. But it’s not just the car manufacturers; it is the oil industry that makes the fuel, the construction industry that builds the sprawl, the infrastructure industry that builds the bridges and highways. It seems sometimes that the vast majority of the economy is built around the car.


It’s hard to know where and when this will end. Probably in a big traffic jam where everyone is yelling at each other. It won’t be pretty.

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