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04 Dec 2021

How long can we continue to live with the car?

How long can we continue to live with the car?

Columnist Margaret Rossiter

How long can we continue to live with the car? Ask a stupid question! The immediate answer must surely be in the form of another question: Can we live without the car? The internal combustion engine has now become such a vital part of our lives, that it is indispensable. Yet it is, according to experts, a major contributor to the pollution of our atmosphere, and to the changing of our climate, the consequences of which we have been warned by the recent meeting of world leaders in Glasgow...most of whom arrived at their final destination, the conference centre, via the car.
Yet when it comes to the allocation of blame for this pollution, the experts, and especially our Irish experts, choose the cattle in the fields. In that competition, the burping cattle win every time. They, after all, can be easily disposed of. They can be killed or under-bred; preferably we can ensure that the species can disappear from the animal world.
But the car, now that is an essential part of our existence, especially for us, who live in cities and towns! We do not have to endure the discomfort of muddy fields on rainy, wintry mornings. So kill the cow, but allow the car the freedom to pollute! We have the solution to the power source of that pollution. It is electricity. Within the next few years, we are told, all our cars will be fuelled by electricity.
And that’s the rub! We are not, at the present time, generating sufficient electric power to meet our industrial and domestic requirements. We are importing power. While it is anticipated that some of our future requirements will be generated from wind and waves and the sun, and a combination of other sources, the actualities are that we will still have to import power, mostly from a French, nuclear generated, source. Has any estimate yet been done on the demands which our hundreds of thousands of cars will place on the practical available sources of supply?
Though the experts now tell us that, sometime in the future, we may be successful in finally solving the pollutant capabilities of the internal combustion engine, yet another problem is now becoming a daily experience: that is the capacity of our cities and towns to accommodate the proliferation of our cars. Listen to the morning radio reports on the flow of traffic.
This morning the report described the flow as “crawling” in some city areas. That means that the pace was less than normal walking speed. Surely this defeats the ordinary logic of using the car for the purpose of arriving at the location of one’s work in time.
While this may be the experience of driving in a busy city, it seems that driving through the streets of an Irish town can be very frustrating. Friends, who drive, describe “half the street is taken up by parked cars” and “we had to drive all over the place to find a parking space”. They never see themselves as contributing to the problem. It would seem that such is the growth of car ownership now, control has gone out of the capacity of planners.
Indeed, in Ireland planners are accused of adding to the problem by granting permission for one-off houses in rural areas. The recommended solution is, of course, the development of a good, frequent, local public service by small buses, with sheltered bus-stops, but that requires huge investment in both money and design. The alternative is walking or cycling over reasonable distances especially in urban areas but we have “elevated” the normal use of our limbs into recreational exercises, requiring “the gear”. Witness the dozens of cyclists on Sunday morning roads, all on posh expensive bikes, all on their long-distance ride. How many cycle to work? Or the sweating men, puffing on their run up-hill, on rainy nights. How many walk to work? Has our love affair with that very expensive lump of lead, chrome, plastic, pollutants, now reached such a level of dependence, that not only can we continue to live with the car but we cannot live without it?

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