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Photo by User Minesweeper From the Wikimedia Commons

I’m going to put myself on the line here. Today, I’m going to say something that strikes at the heart of many of the issues I’ve been talking about up until now (i.e. energy/offshore oil drilling, global climate change). What is that ‘something’ you may ask? Well, it is…the car is evil. There, I’ve said it. To repeat with even greater emphasis and for more cathartic effect: The Car Is Evil, THE CAR IS EVIL.

Why do I choose to bring the subject up now, after so many months of blogging? Well, let’s just say I had the opportunity to participate in a discussion recently about cars. The conversation, before I joined in (or you could say, before I decided to ‘rant’), focused mainly on the technical aspects of cars. That is, how we could make them better, such as by making them electrically-powered and so on.

Now I know that the individuals participating in this conversation had the best of intentions. They were concerned about the problems of global climate change and air pollution that accompany the use of the internal combustion engine. As you likely can guess, I do not disagree with either of these issues. In fact, I am very worried about the effects that a burgeoning demand for the automobile in places like China will have on the world’s climate and air quality.

However, solving the technical issues with the automobile will not be a sufficient antidote. The automobile is at the root of many additional woes that techno fixes to its build alone will not address. Some of you may be aware of what these are. Nevertheless, for the sake of argument, I will lay them out here.

To begin and of perhaps greatest concern, the automobile eats at the hearts of our communities. How does it do this? Well, by providing, or at least giving the impression of providing, a swift getaway from our neighbourhoods/ workplaces/etc. and by insulating drivers and passengers from those who pass them on the course of their travels. In doing so, the automobile effectively facilitates the creation of ‘islands of nowhere’. I say islands of nowhere, for what else could these places be, if we are so eager to get away from them?

There is a second point, closely related to the first one. Thanks to the automobile that enables long-distance travel, we have seen the proliferation of centralized, mega “Super” centres, schools, community centres, industrial parks, and such. This is concerning because they are, for the most part, not easily accessible except by automobile. I say not easily accessible because in some situations mass transit can be taken, albeit not without a considerable investment of time and effort.

What happens in the process? Well, customers are diverted away from local businesses (which add greatly to the soul of communities), children must travel miles away for their education (rather than take the far more healthy option of walking and cycling), parents (i.e. ‘soccer moms’) are forced to spend hours in the car to transport their children to activities, and workers often must travel great distances to their places of employment (with a resultant loss in productivity, due to fewer hours potentially worked and the toll that traveling places on worker health).

There are other problems as well. Consider the dangers of navigating, often at high speeds, busy streets and roads, with often equally frustrated and impatient drivers. There is also the sense of boredom and isolation that can occur for those that cannot drive the automobile, like children and certain portions of the elderly and the disabled.

Last but not least, many harmful environmental impacts are associated with the logistics of  making automobile travel feasible. This includes 1) the pollution from mining and processing of materials that go into the creation of the car (even if most of the material is reclaimed, there is still some that is typically not); 2) how the roads must be constructed with materials largely gathered from oil and aggregate (i.e. gravel) extraction, both of which being activities fraught with environmental problems; and 3) the detrimental effects to wildlife, as expressways cut through precious natural areas, parking lots cover more greenspace, and hazardous roadways prevent the safe crossing of many creatures.

There. Now, I’ve said my piece. And feel much the better for it. Now I know that I along with many who are like-minded will undoubtedly continue needing to use the automobile on occasion, until the proper infrastructure and support network is built up. However, as we are now in a situation when our addiction to oil and its use by the automobile is coming under increasing fire, the time for a thorough dialogue on these matters has come. Let us hope we make the right choices.

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