If you are a fan of David Attenborough, you would be familiar with the zombie-ant fungus which infects ants and takes over their brain. When infected, the ant leaves its nest to find a humid and gloomy corner in the jungle – an ideal environment for the growth of fungus. There, the ant climbs any herb to a certain height above the ground and anchors itself in the vein of a leaf in a certain geographical orientation to optimize the conditions for the growth of fungus.
As the ant awaits its death atop the plant, the fungal spore eats away the internal tissue of the ant and finally a fruiting body jets out of the ant’s head. Thus by hacking the ant’s system the fungus propagates it spores and insures the survival of its species.
As ecological systems worldwide are crossing tipping points one by one and human civilization suffers in climate carnage, the unrelenting commitment of policy makers and politicians to propagate the case of cars, forces one to think, are our primal minds wired by the agents of the nemesis of our civilization – cars – like the ants. If not, then how can policy makers be so indifferent to the takeover of our planet by machines, which are stipulated to destroy it.
In the climate change debate and policy, shifting to green energy and electric vehicles has become a bandwagon. Pledges are flowing in from every car manufacturer, to phase out fossil fuel powered cars. While the idea of green energy and e-vehicles is alluring at the surface, its promises of climate mitigation are largely apocryphal and misleading. Rather than whittling and bending the existing systems of society to fit into a mold of a perceived green economy, we need a radical shift away from the consumerist behaviors and car centric infrastructure.
Cars could be the leading cause of climate change but they are far more evil than that. Recently a photo was circulating on social media of people leaving the Burning Man festival in USA, stuck in traffic jam on a 14 lane highway which runs through the Nevada desert.Social media users argued that “the picture of traffic jam circulating on social media made a larger cultural statement about car dependency of American society than whatever artistic or cultural statement the burning man festival was trying to make.” The picture not only reflects the dependency of Americans on car but the suffering and inconvenience we have decided to carry with us in public spaces. Imagine being stuck in an 8-hour long traffic jam crammed in a metal box in the sweltering heat of Nevada desert. Such inconvenience brought by the sheer number of cars on roads has now over shadowed their utility and should effectively be their nemesis too.
In the mid twentieth century due to increasing urban population, cars proliferated and subsequently changed the urban landscape to accommodate themselves. As more and more people migrated to cities and sub urban settlement grew, lanes after lanes of highways were built to transport people to cities centers where they worked from suburbs where they lived.As people in suburbs commuted on their cars to city centers for work, it created traffic congestions, air pollution and noise, which made city centers less desirable to live, creating a feedback loop which forced more people to suburbs. This feedback loop coupled with cheap technology which made cars affordable resulted in the proliferation of cars in the second half of the last century.
The quality of life in cities has depleted so much due to cars and the car centric infrastructure that now it is not the matter of carbon emissions but of social and environmental justice as public spaces are being taken over by the cars of the rich and the poor forfeit public spaces bit by bit. Imagine you have to struggle your way through congested traffic, while inhaling toxic fumes in sweltering heat which is exacerbated by the hot exhaust gases. As if it is not enough the rich lot relaxing in their AC cars are entitled enough to expose your eardrums to high decibel honks.
Like many other prejudices, the poor and vulnerable are being deprived of public spaces and safe transport too. Our cities have no provisions to accommodate poor and vulnerable members of our community including children and women. Women in developing countries for instance are most effected and disenfranchised from social capital due to the car culture.Without access to safe and reliable transport, women are effectively filtered out from workforce and remain pinned to couches in absence of any accommodation for them in public spaces.
As the climate discourse is catching fire, the status quo is trying to sell electric cars as a lollypop. The metamorphosis of cars throughout their history as a great invention, a reliable transportation source, status symbol, life style icon, a source of entertainment and now agents of green economy has made them invincible.But the electric cars are nothing more than a green wash and hoax.For instance, production of a single electric car emits 12 tons of CO2, twice as much as a gasoline powered car, notwithstanding the environmental degradation associated with extensive mining for extraction of rare earths for battery manufacturing.
Yet again, the energy efficiency of electric vehicle depends on the source of electricity, which is used to power it. If the electricity used to charge an EV is generated from fossil fuels, then it’s carbon footprint becomes greater than a conventional car due energy loss during conversion and transmission. Furthermore, the concerns of urban heat island effect, environmental degradation, habitat fragmentation, social segregation and environmental justice associated with cars remain as they are.
Now imagine another reality where parking spaces and multi-lane roads are replaced by green lanes, where benches are placed under trees and a quite electric tram commuting people from work to a centralized mass transit system. The city centers are devoid of the chaos, noise and pollution created by cars but instead are quiet and peaceful place where u would like to relax and spend time with your family. Where you can take a stroll under the tree without the fear of being run over by a car. The city centers nurture culture and traditions without any prejudice to class, gender and age.
It is finally time to rewire our psyche and usher a policy away from electric and flying cars towards a sustainable and inclusive urban mass transit system and a healthy environment.