Monday, May 12, 2008

God Car

It's a classic scene. The camera follows the car as it races along the highway, the road twists and turns up the side of a mountain, the driver confidently accelerates around the corners with the knowledge that he's in control of his life, his destiny. The wind rustles his hair as his passenger tosses her head back, revealing her flowing locks as she smiles and laughs to let the world know she has arrived. It's the American dream, it's the car, its God Car. If you've been reading some of my previous posts you may have come across the somewhat odd collocation God Car. With a tip of my hat to my brother for coining the phrase, God Car refers to the position the automobile has been granted within modern society. By this I mean the importance placed on owning, driving, parking, buying, selling, producing, exporting, importing, re-fueling and marketing cars in our world today.

Before you ask, no I don't own a car, but yes, I have owned a few in my lifetime. I too was one of the countless automatons who would hop in his car and drive to and from work, to the grocery, video or convenience store and back again. Then I moved to Europe and realized I didn't need the thing. So, why is it that everyone here either has one or dreams of having one? Wanting a car is as basic as wanting a beautiful house, wife or child. Including commercial vehicles there is now in the range of 650 million motor vehicles in the world today and with over 73 million being produced in 2007, that magical billion number can't be too far off. Somehow, everyone has the idea that they NEED a car. Having a car will make them a better person, give them more freedom, elevate their social status, all in one package, thus God Car is created. So, it's my job to shatter the myth, break down the God Car fallacy if you will by presenting my top 10 reasons for us to remove the car from our lives.

1. Death and Injury - Road traffic accidents are the number one cause of death by injury in the world. About one out of every 50 deaths worldwide is caused by God Car, about 1.2 million deaths per year. There are more than 50 million people injured in traffic accidents each year and road deaths are now the number-one global killer of people aged 10 to 24. With the expectation of vehicle ownership in populous nations such as China and India to double in the next 20 years this number is sure to rise, fast, as much as 80% by 2020.
2. Pollution - Related to the death and injury problem as some of the pathogens found in car exhaust include carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide suspended particles, benzene, formaldehyde and polycyclic hydrocarbons. The number of premature deaths caused by car exhaust is difficult to measure, but the health implications are obvious. Some other downsides can be seen here. Then of course there is the whole global warming issue...
3. Costs - One of the basic arguments for car ownership is that it saves time and time is of course money. So, taking 2003 figures, the average annual cost of car ownership in the US was $7,754 (a figure sure to be higher today with the increase in gas prices). The average American earned about $14/hour after taxes, so his car costs takes 554 hours of work to pay for, or a little over 3 full months of work each year just to pay for the car. Drive to work, work to drive my friends. Tax money goes towards road building and maintenance and of course the police that patrol them.
4. Space - Cars use up a lot of space. Look around your town, how much of it is taken up by roads and parking spaces. In some cities, up to 30% of the land is taken up just by parking. Add to that the streets and highways and yep, you guessed it, concrete jungle.
5. War - Oil, Iraq. Enough said.
6. Random ramblings - Open your window. Here anything? Probably cars speeding past. Ride your bike or walk and you'll have to pay attention to cars to avoid getting killed. Why should cars and their drivers hold your life in their hands?
7. Isolated communities - Is it a good thing that we don't have any neighbourhood stores anymore? Between 1990 and 2001 the number of miles travelled on American shopping trips rose by 40%.
8. Public Transport - A little bit of a conspiracy theory, but it makes sense. General Motors and a few others either bought out whole commuter rail systems across the states in order to dismantle them and force the public onto buses or into cars. A good read here.
9. Road Rage and traffic congestion - There are too many cars for most road systems to handle. Ever notice how aggressive some people get when they drive? Check out grandma's reaction to the honker:

10. Teenage pregnancy - Just kidding! But, when you think about it...

Please feel free to add a comment below if you can add to my list as I know it's a work in progress. I also know that we as people are not only psychologically dependent on God Car, but also economically dependent and so there is no way to get rid of them altogether. What I'd like to see change is the belief that we need cars to be complete people. Instead of driving 10km to the supermarket (your Tesco and Carrefour) or Home Depot or Ikea, rediscover the neighbourhood market by walking down your street, you might be surprised what you find.


leftbanker said...

I don't even need a bike to get around my great neighborhood. I could spit from the window of my apartment and hit just about every place I go (people have kindly asked me to stop spitting from my apartment window, but stil). If I had to drive a car to do all of my daily tasks I would go postal.

Shane said...

Hey leftbanker. Sounds like you've got a pretty sweet setup getting around your life. Cars drive me crazy, and the worst part is that people never ever stop to question the need to drive everywhere they go. Blindly following the crowd...