Car culture has suffocated the global warming agenda

The following letter written by RDRF Chair Dr. Robert Davis was published in thecurrent issue of Local Transport Today:

Car culture has suffocated the global warming agenda Your ‘In Passing’ column asks why “fears of man-made climate change” are no longer “dominating [transport] policy discussions…” (LTT600 06 Jul 2012).

During my career as a transport professional there have been many well-argued reasons put forward for reducing dependence on car use and associated modes such as road freight.

The shorter list of motor traffic exacerbated problems includes congestion, pollution (of the noxious emissions and noise varieties), destruction of rural and urban environments through road building, dependence on the vagaries of oil production, danger to other road users, loss of local community, reduction of children’s independent mobility, health disbenefits for those not engaged in ‘active travel’, the massive costs of road building and subsidy to the motor manufacturing industry etc, etc. Causing global warming is just the icing on a very rich cake of arguments against contemporary car culture and the institutions that back it up.

Defenders of the car-dominated status quo will use a variety of justifications. Sometimes it will be the combination of denying the problem and then minimising it, before claiming that “human nature” or “progress” won’t allow anything but business as usual (This is typical for global warming).

Sometimes we have tautology, so that if moving stuff around a lot is “necessary for the economy”, then we have to get more stuff moving around more, rather than considering a different kind of economy.

Sometimes language is mangled, particularly within the ‘road safety’ industry: the ‘road safety’ record can be “good” for pedestrians at locations where people are deterred from walking by excessive danger, so that there are no pedestrian casualties. Or, as the ministers responsible recently claimed, the UK has a superior cyclist safety record to the Netherlands, as there are
far, far more cycling journeys there and therefore more cyclist casualties per head of the population.

The inversion of reality reached its nadir with the idea that there has been a ‘War on the Motorist’: it is hardly to the credit of transport professionals that such a myth could be acceptable. But, with car culture, there is always an answer for more business as usual. Behaving as if global warming did not exist is just par for the transport policy course.