Digression: the Private Motor Car – a Basic Necessity?

The transport policy referred to in the previous post, where everyone is expected to undertake all journeys in their own big car, has become so entrenched in many countries over the last fifty years that it seems impossible to change or modify. Some older people, faced with modern high petrol prices, can actually suggest that as time goes on, people might have to have only one car, have a smaller one, drive less, use other means of getting around. But the young people coming to maturity today take it for granted that they will grow a powerful set of wheels as soon as they turn seventeen. No alternative scenario has even occurred to them.

As petrol prices soar, everyone in authority is saying we must produce more oil, lower its price, discover more, drill in previously protected places. Or they are saying there must be new technology and technological breakthroughs; or more fuel obtained from crops and trees, regardless of the effect on food prices and forests. No-one is suggesting consuming less oil.

Instead of assuming that the private car transport system as we know it is a basic necessity that must be maintained at whatever cost, it might be better to regard it as a temporary artefact of the availability of cheap abundant oil for most of the twentieth century.

So, instead of thinking, this is what we’ve been able to do with the cheap abundant oil, we have to do the same thing with other fuel sources, we should think, what can we do with other fuel and energy sources, let’s confine ourselves to that.

This is easy to say and might have been more achievable forty years ago when I first suggested it. But the system we have is entrenched and the oil and automotive industries have great power and control over the media and governments. Modern cities such as my own, Perth, Western Australia, have been designed around the idea of limitless individual transport. This problem is not going to be solved smoothly – there will be inconvenience and disruption.

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