Cars, cars and ever more cars!
Because my gradual understanding of globalised capitalism 21st Century style with its free markets, corporate power and need for growth is a bit ‘abstract’ I’ve been looking for examples of how it impacts on our everyday lives.
Living, as I do, in a congested corner of S E England, the first (pretty obvious!) example that comes to mind is the huge amount of road traffic. Bumper to bumper cars for much of the day, traffic delays part of everyday life and finding a parking spot a constant problem. Tempers often get frayed!
The negative impact
I often wonder how this will end. We can’t go on building new roads forever, but I guess this is a very good example of politicians’ short-term thinking and shows the power of the motor car and road building industries whose need for growth outweigh the negative impact of cars, cars and ever more cars:
Transport represents almost a quarter of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions, contributing massively to climate change
Our physical health is being damaged by the toxic air we breathe and the road accidents which maim and kill daily. The World Health Organisation has just announced that air pollution is a worldwide health emergency. It pains me to think of those children whose schools are so often close to main roads and whose little lungs must be continually absorbing toxic emissions.
Our mental health suffers from our frustration as drivers sitting in traffic queues, our anxiety as parents ever alert for our children’s safety and our stress when a parking spot just can’t be found.
Green spaces are sacrificed to widen and build new roads, front gardens are paved over to accommodate the family cars.
You don’t have to be very old to remember the days when the streets where we lived were a sort of social space – children played out together (what joy!) and folk just stopped and chatted with neighbours. In the story of the breakdown of neighbourhood communities the motor car is no doubt the villain of the piece.
Better public transport
I guess it doesn’t take too much imagination to see that so much of the destruction and unhappiness caused by road traffic could be avoided if we had a cheap, efficient, clean public transport system. Fares could be cheap because of the massive savings to be made through cutting back on constant road building and the ever-escalating cost of patching up the victims of road accidents.
Of course many of us enjoy the independence of having our own transport which makes so much easier the bringing home of the shopping and the visiting of family in remote areas. But, with the increase in road traffic and congestion I’m finding myself increasingly choosing to sit in a bus rather than struggle through the traffic and then have the hassle of finding a parking space. Not only does it mean I can have a read or take in the local scenery, but I often find myself chatting to someone on the bus, an extra bonus!
And then there is the joy of travelling by train. I’m often able to travel outside of the ‘rush’ and I can usually book well in advance. This means I can save money by buying cheap ‘advance’ tickets and also means that I can almost always get a seat. About £20 return to visit family close to Norwich – not bad hey?!
Time for a re-think?
I guess there will always be a need for cars, but don’t we need a re-think? Isn’t the joy of car-owning being diminished by the misery of traffic jams, the struggle to find a parking space, the increasing road rage of frustrated drivers and the knowledge that our cars are a major contributor to climate change carbon emissions?
The ever-increasing number of cars being sold isn’t because car manufacturers are keen to help us get around easily but because the profits of car manufacturers and road builders take priority over all else, even the future of life on planet Earth!
Just another example, I guess, of Adam Smith’s ‘standing army of special interests who will fight to the bitter end to defend their privileges’!!