Revolutionary Times

Burning rubber


What to do? Indulge in a bit of harmless fun – vapourize the world’s Barbie dolls, for instance – or take it seriously, and go for American arrogance and Russian paranoia? You’d think it would be easy, consigning to the flames whatever really gets you down. Trouble is – there’s too much
to choose from.

In the end though, for me, there’s one thing I utterly loathe. The internal combustion engine, or ICE for short. I have to declare an interest at the start. I have a car. What’s remarkable is how impossible life has become without a car, unless you live in a city with good mass-transport systems. But I don’t fetishize my car. It’s just a ton or so of slowly rusting metal, hugely inefficient in so many ways – and even more so when you count the minutes spent in traffic jams.

“What’s remarkable is how impossible life has become without a car, unless you live in a city with good mass-transport systems.”

Car-lovers and promoters will go on and on about the beauty of cars, their power, their ‘brand’. I haven’t done an objective survey but my suspicion is that adoration of the car is a very male thing, and that most women frankly don’t give a toss what they drive or are seen in. Car worshippers may even claim that the astonishing economic growth of the past 130 years, since the invention
of the ICE, has in large part been due to the ability of individuals to zip around. Excuse me while I go off and weep.

There are annually about 1.25 million deaths worldwide as a result of vehicle accidents; between two and three thousand of those happen in the UK. Leaving human tragedy aside – not often you get to write that – we should consider what the costs are of the ‘astonishing economic growth’. Just a handful that spring to mind are addiction to a finite resource (crude oil); pollution (not just of the atmosphere but also our villages and towns); collapse of community, as people speed by oblivious to their surroundings; massive, mind-boggling unsustainable consumption of metals; and vast industries established to do little more than sell us a ton of rusting steel. If we stand back for just a moment, isn’t the question obvious – how on earth did we reach this sorry state of affairs?

Imagine a world in which the individual ownership of an ICE vehicle is banned. What might be the consequences? An immediate black market in motorcars of course, but put aside for a moment the resulting illegalities. A return to mass transport systems that actually function, whether by road, rail or waterways. A slowed-down lifestyle – no more hopping in the car and going. Much greater demand for horses (this from someone who fears the beasts) which would foster localised communities and greater human interchange. Fewer deaths. Less rapid depletion of scarce resources. A countryside in which slowness dominates; towns where it becomes impossible to ignore others; cities that are a joy to travel in rather than a grim slog.

Above all – no more measuring others by the size of their penis substitute. See – I told you car fetishes was a man thing.

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