"Let’s abandon this disastrous experiment."
The wonderful thing about Guardian environmental columnist George Monbiot is that he never pulls his punches. Twenty years ago he wrote:
What will it take to persuade us to stop using the world as our punchbag? If we don’t have the political will even to remove bullbars from cars, though we can show that they kill scores of children while serving no useful purpose, how on earth can we begin to remove cars from the streets, waste from the food chain, fossil fuels from the grid? The world is dying, and people are killing themselves with laughter.
Twenty years later, we are still using the world as a punching bag and still have bullbars killing children. And he is still telling us that we have to get cars off the streets, writing in the Guardian: Cars are killing us. Within 10 years, we must phase them out.
Let’s abandon this disastrous experiment, recognise that this 19th-century technology is now doing more harm than good, and plan our way out of it. Let’s set a target to cut the use of cars by 90% over the next decade. Yes, the car is still useful – for a few people it’s essential. It would make a good servant. But it has become our master, and it spoils everything it touches. It now presents us with a series of emergencies that demand an emergency response.
The problems with the car have all been discussed on TreeHugger before: greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels is certainly a big one, but there is also the huge number of deaths and injuries directly attributable to cars, and indirectly through pollution. Monbiot reminds us that it is all hugely subsidized by the state, "Roads are built to accommodate projected traffic, which then grows to fill the new capacity. Streets are modelled to maximise the flow of cars. Pedestrians and cyclists are squeezed by planners into narrow and often dangerous spaces – the afterthoughts of urban design."
He is no fan of electrification, noting that electric cars still need a vast expenditure of energy and space. He calls for bigger changes, a switch to electric mass transit, safe and separate bike lanes, and broad sidewalks.
In this age of multiple emergencies – climate chaos, pollution, social alienation – we should remember that technologies exist to serve us, not to dominate us. It is time to drive the car out of our lives.