Friday, February 11, 2011

Are you voting for death?

"[D]riving is like voting. Presidents do not fall on the basis of one single vote. Your vote becomes politically potent when aggregated across the whole of the electorate. Voting is a private contribution to a public mass action that carries the power to topple presidents. Driving to the shops does not make you a killer. The chance that you will kill anyone is miniscule. But the risk does exist and someone somewhere will kill a pedestrian while to the shops today. These small personal actions carry with them a tiny probably of causing harm, which when aggregated across the whole population have major public health implications. We will see later on how the motor industry and the car lobby attempt to personalize road danger. It is better for them that road death is seen as an errant act of a deviant driver or a 'jaywalking' child than the expected outcome of an unsafe system that kills 3,000 people every day, most of them pedestrians and cyclists."

- Ian Roberts with Phil Edwards, The Energy Glut:
Climate Change and the Politics of Fatness
(London: Zed Books, 2010), 42.

We are generally quite poor at thinking in terms of large scale societal trends. More cars on the road means more pedestrian deaths and consequently, fewer pedestrians and so more cars on the road as more people join the transportation arms race. (This in turn drives up BMI across society, but that is a point for another day, though it is one of the beefs of this book.)

The deadliness of mechanised transport is a systemic risk we have accepted (and largely become blind to) as a society because we love our cars so much. This too is another illustration of red vs green behaviour.

It doesn't have to be this way.
When looking for an appropriate image to accompany this post, I realised that I don't have many photos of cars. I don't find cars visually attractive and generally frame my photography to exclude them (that said, anyone reading this blog for any length of time will also realise that I generally crop people from my images as well. That is not from misanthropy as much as a recognition that I'm not very good at portraits). In the end, this image of the decomposing remains of a vehicle in a Scottish field seemed the most fitting.


byron smith said...

Thanks to Richard Davis for the loan of this fascinating little book.

Anonymous said...

yes yes yes, a place to live that is possible without a car is a super high priority... life would be so different for us if we didn't have a car, but i am very tempted just to start living that way right now even though we are not in the perfect location for it

Anonymous said...

Even little things like choosing not to use plastic bags at shops or the super-market could perhaps make a difference.

Especially if one is at all informed about the environmental consequences of countless millions of plastic bags either in land-fill or let-loose-ferals.

That having been said most people here in Oz-land still choose to use plastic bags at the super-market.

byron smith said...

Anonymous - Virtue is always temptingly difficult.

Though I do think that a better analogy is gluttony (and the book draws many connections between automobile use and obesity that are not merely analogies). That is, I don't think that every instance of using internal combustion engines for transport is wrong in itself. The problem is that we as a society are gorging on a luxury. That is, as the book's title suggests, we have an energy glut.

John - Yes, they do indeed make a difference. Smaller things make a smaller difference. Larger things make a larger difference.

Giving up unnecessary plastic bags is relatively easy and obvious low-hanging fruit on the tree of ecological responsibility. Carrying a canvas bag (or equivalent) in your backpack (or equivalent) takes up little room or weight and means you are always ready to pick up a few items when needed.

Relinquishing car ownership might be a few branches higher on that tree, but is still within reach for most people - and the fruit of doing so is very tasty. As a more recent post on this topic argues, the benefits are not just personal, but extend to your neighbours as well.