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  • Writer's pictureFred Guerin

A Car-Less World

I know this might sound like blasphemy coming from someone who supports alternative energy options. But the reality is that we are never going to be able to power our world at the present levels of consumption with only renewables. That means that what we must ultimately come to terms with is our level of consumption (especially we who live in the western world) and the way we plan our cities, which predominately revolves around the individual ownership of fossil fuel cars and trucks.

I know a lot of people out there love the idea of electric cars. But to assume that producing electric cars or trucks on a 1 to 1 ratio with fossil fuel driven vehicles solves our problem is itself part of the problem. If we are really going to solve this issue we have to start thinking about car-less urban planning--and I don't mean driverless cars! Think of it: our cars are parked 90% of the time and 90% of the things we use a car for could be achieved by walking, biking or an efficient public transport system. If we actually shifted away from mass car ownership our houses would be smaller, our cities would be greener, we would save a great deal of money on fuel, maintenance, insurance etc.

Don't get me wrong. I actually love cars and would love to drive around in a Ferrari or Bentley, but I also recognize that I grew up in an unprecedented age when you were defined by the car you owned! Owning a car became associated not just with status and lifestyle but with an almost reverential sense of 'freedom'. I see now in light of climate warming how that was a world of extravagance and consumerism which no longer has a right to continue. In the years before The Ford Model T only the wealthy owned cars--and before 1900 nobody did. In fact for 5000 years we did fine without cars. Most of the cities of the world were planned and developed without cars. Today it seems as if owning a car is simply a necessity. It is not. Moreover, if you look at this in a clear-headed way you will have to conclude that a much more healthy sense of freedom is discovered in the freedom from attachment to cars, from traffic, car debt, from urban sprawl, from noise and pollution. If we actually designed our cities without cars in mind, we would immediately see that the space lost to cars is vast and, in the end, environmentally unconscionable.

Placing the same number of people on bicycles, moving walkways or public transport would reduce a five-lane situation down to one. Houses would start appearing with welcoming front porches rather than those obnoxious double garages. Cities would be less noisy, less polluted. People would have to rely on each other. There would be no more vehicle accidents and road rage would become a thing of the past. The difference to the health of the environment would be profound.

I won't pretend that the economic and cultural evolution required to realize a car-less economy would not initially be enormous. I myself would whine and complain about the fact that I could not just get into my car and go for a drive--then, again I would probably have to admit that I never did this much anyway!

An interesting experiment was tried a few years back in Paris. Parisians and tourists were able to experience what a car-free life would actually look like for a day. A major thoroughfare along the Seine was peopled with joggers, bikers, and families pushing strollers on sunny day in September. The rue de Rivoli became uncommonly quiet, its engine roars and car horns replaced by the dings of cyclists. Cabs and busses crawled by in dedicated lanes, but they moved at the whim of pedestrians. What was it like? Well, the atmosphere was friendly, idyllic and even festive. Unfortunately, it was fleeting, but it was long enough for people to imagine a different and better world.

Now, I realize that adapting our infrastructure and increasing the provision of public transportation services would initially be expensive. Then again, if we did not have to pay for owning a private vehicle, for car insurance, fuel, maintenance and parking, and instead put this money into green forms of public transportation, moving walkways and the like, I am willing to bet we could make the transition in short order.

There are, indeed, important issues we need to figure out regarding how to transition jobs currently related to the manufacture of automobiles, not to mention the challenges posed by those who live in more remote areas, and the level of convenience now afforded by owning a car. I think all these challenges can be met and I would prefer we met them now while we can still make such choices--not 20 years down the road when the economy collapses as a result of catastrophic global warming.

Bottom line: We can and must very soon opt for a car-less economy.

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