Let’s remove glamour from the car industry — and save our cities too - GulfToday

Let’s remove glamour from the car industry — and save our cities too

Cars

Passenger cars also have a significant climate impact, contributing 15 per cent of UK greenhouse gas emissions. Reuters

Isabella Kaminski, The Independent

A spell has been cast over our streets. Cars hold such an enchanted place in our society that we structure entire cities and housing developments around them, devote vast sums of public money to the roads they need to move around on, and celebrate the companies that make them.

We anthropomorphise cars in fiction and in real-life, giving them cutesy names and mourning their loss to the scrapyard as if they were a beloved member of our family. We go to car shows and print them onto children’s T-shirts. At the root of this is the fact that cars are still regarded as status symbols — a sign of wealth, success and power.

Personal cars are undoubtedly a useful tool; they’re a strong metal cage on wheels that can quickly and easily move people and goods around.

For some individuals they’re essential for mobility and the freedom that comes with it. But our relationship with these objects has become so fetishised that it blinds us to their huge negative impact on individuals and society.

In the year to June 2018, 1,770 people died in road traffic accidents — roughly the same as in previous years. And that’s only direct deaths. One study found air pollution was killing more people than smoking in Europe; in cities, transport is the leading cause. Heavy car use is also associated with high obesity rates, as it means people aren’t using more active forms of travel.

Passenger cars also have a significant climate impact, contributing 15 per cent of UK greenhouse gas emissions. Transport is now the country’s largest emitter after the energy industry made big efforts to clean up its act.

But even as awareness of urban pollution and the climate crisis have risen, there is little sign of a real decline in car dominance. The vast majority of journeys in the UK are still taken by car while the number of people cycling has fallen. And while individual models have become more efficient, rising use over the past few decades means their total emissions have barely dropped since 1990.

The government has promised to end sales of petrol and diesel-fuelled cars by 2040, but hasn’t explained how it plans to do this. Instead, the declining fortunes of domestic car manufacturers are written up as economic misfortunes while sales of SUVs — heavier vehicles are associated with higher particulate emissions from tyre and brake dust – in particular have rocketed.

Once derided as the “Chelsea tractors” of wealthy central London mums, these monstrosities have become normalised at precisely the time when we should be weaning ourselves off cars altogether.

The reason? Partly, it’s clever marketing. Earlier this year Land Rover was subject to a Twitterstorm when it released an ad for its new two-tonne SUV, set in an eerily empty Brixton. That part of London, normally bumper-to-bumper with steaming cars, is one of the most polluted and congested parts of the capital. But even as awareness of urban pollution and the climate crisis have risen, there is little sign of a real decline in car dominance.

The vast majority of journeys in the UK are still taken by car while the number of people cycling has fallen. And while individual models have become more efficient, rising use over the past few decades means their total emissions have barely dropped since 1990.

The government has promised to end sales of petrol and diesel-fuelled cars by 2040, but hasn’t explained how it plans to do this. Instead, the declining fortunes of domestic car manufacturers are written up as economic misfortunes while sales of SUVs – heavier vehicles are associated with higher particulate emissions from tyre and brake dust – in particular have rocketed.

Once derided as the “Chelsea tractors” of wealthy central London mums, these monstrosities have become normalised at precisely the time when we should be weaning ourselves off cars altogether.

The reason? Partly, it’s clever marketing. Earlier this year Land Rover was subject to a Twitterstorm when it released an ad for its new two-tonne SUV, set in an eerily empty Brixton. That part of London, normally bumper-to-bumper with steaming cars, is one of the most polluted and congested parts of the capital. They also need to become more desirable. There are already signs that young people do not see car ownership as something to aspire to, opting instead for sharing schemes, covering fewer miles or not even bothering to take driving lessons.

But until owning a bike is as normal for adults as it is for children, until white collar professionals see no stigma in riding the bus to work and until driving to the school gates is as unacceptable as handing a baby a lit cigarette, we’ll be caught in a dangerous enchantment, with no way to wake up.

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