Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Studies show humans rate driving and commuting as the most stressful time every day. They are not aware of the harmful fumes filling the car. Or the carbon pouring up into the atmosphere.

As times get hotter, they crank up the air-conditioning, burning more fuel.

Most people will work until mid-April just to pay their car costs. That's just their personal share. More is paid by all levels of government, to keep the road network going.

The auto, insurance,construction and oil gang dominate our lives and our world. It is a violent world, or hurtling steel and graveyards. Everyone in my immediate family has been either hit by a car or in a serious car accident. My cat was run over. My dog was hit. My son was run over, but lived. I've been injured in a car accident. All my family members ditto.

How about you? We take car injuries for granted, and know others who have died, just getting around one day or night.

The toll in lives lost, injuries and lives ruined is beyond any military action anywhere in the world. The car means war in our neighborhoods. Built those 8 foot fences for the back yard, the little jails where it is safe to let your kids and pets out.

One day it snowed hard, unusual for our city. The street was blocked off. Suddenly, like moles entering the light, all the neighbours and all the kids hit the street. They tobaganned and frolicked where the cars could not come. People met for the first time.

We didn't even need that street. Everyone had laneways in back, with garages. The street should be ripped up, and made into food growing and a play park. Give us room to live. Give us back life on a human scale. Kill the car.

This program lets you hear a fine speech on the true cost of car culture. Yves Engler launched his book June 27th in Vancouver. The title: "Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the Road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay". The African co-author is Bianca Mugyenyi. Find out more at

The two tried a road trip by public transit through the wild suburbs of America. It was savage territory - but Yves will tell you all about that, and about your own life, in this recording for Radio Ecoshock.

Yves is introduced by Vancouver City Councilman David Cadman.

At the end of the speech, I toss in my question to the panel of Engler, Vancouver City Councillor David Cadman, and's Carmen Mills. Why do people get angry when we tell them the truth about cars?

Yves Engler says car culture isn't working. Maybe we should kill it, before it kills us. With pollution, climate change, mass death and injuries from accidents. Not to mention the massive corporations behind cars, construction, oil, and the military that protects it all.


During the Q and A, one really interesting theme emerged from Vancouver Councilman David Cadman. He's talking about "the revenge of the suburbs." That drama could be coming to your area, to all cities.

First of all, any city government would be lucky to have David Cadman elected. He knows about Peak Oil and talks about it out loud, in any crowd. Cadman gave the audience a short update on where we stand with climate change. In my opinion, he's the kind of well-informed politican we all dream is in office. Most are a long way behind David Cadman.

So what is "revenge of the suburbs"? It came up when the former long-time Canadian Mayor of Toronto lost the recent elections to a man from the suburbs. The new Mayor is the representative of more free-ways, bigger mall parking lots, and less of your tax money wasted on transit. He seems like a representative of the dying oil past, and the car-dependent communities still stuck there.

Every major city is surrounded by suburbs, which may now be cities themselves. Often there is a regional government - where there is always stress between the central city and the car-based suburbs.

Metro Vancouver, population over 2 million, just had a war, where the Provincial or State government swept aside local elected officials, to take over the transportation system.

Councilman Cadman says the breaking point came as Metro Vancouver tried in vain to expand its rapid transit system. The Transit authority board was made up of elected respresentatives, often the mayors of the surrounding cities and towns. This Board was temporarily stalled on the issue of who got served next.

After all, from the persective of both Peak Oil and climate change - outlying municipalities served by rapid transit will likely survive, even as cars become too expensive, or too polluting, to run. There is a lag time of 5 to 10 years in planning and completion of new rapid transit. The most-clued in politicians realize this may be the last chance for a transit lifeline to the main city and jobs.

Especially when you consider the massive debt at all levels of government, and a rash of economic instability. Many States and cities will be stuck with whatever crappy system they have now.

What happened to the elected transit board? A right-of-center Premier, think of the State Governor, who was elected mainly by voters in rural and suburban ridings, dismissed the elected transit board. He appointed his own people, brought in far-flung towns from the very distant hinterlands, and gave them power of decisions.

Lo and behold, they chose to hire private companies for big construction projects, with guaranteed profits, with the public keeping all the risk. Ayn Rand smiled. The Premier then ordered a new transit line to the airport, to bring in his 2008 Olympic guests. It was exactly the opposite of the rapid transit plans the Mayors wanted, and had waited more than a decade to see. It is well known that Premier's party gets financial and media support from big construction and real estate interests.

The straw that broke that camel's back can also be called "the revenge of the suburbs." According to Councilman Cadman, the Provincial Government stepped in when the Metro transit board suggested a tax on parking spots in suburban malls. To pay for more public transit, they needed to raise revenues from car drivers. Tax cars going to the Mall? Heaven forbid!

Mall-owners rebelled. Apparently that was enough to bring in the big guns, and kick out those local politicians. Business solves problems, not Democracy.

This lost-in-the-past Premier then bribed his suburban car-driving voters by spending billions on new bridges and highways. These will all be complete around the time it is too expensive for the ordinary person to drive to work. The private company guaranteed the profits on this baby, will suck huge amounts out of the state. The new giant bridge will charge a toll, where the existing narrower one was free. But another brand new toll bridge, again built using a Public/Private joint venture, is losing millions. It's empty much of the time, well below the rosy projections. Drivers seek out the free bridges, or just don't need the bridge.

We don't need to search Google to know this is happening all around North Amerca, and even more in China. Politicians are nervous about the bad economy, and long-lasting unemployment, especially among the young. Lacking any imagination, without good information on Peak Oil or climate change, these leaders of yester-year plunge 80 years backwards in time for solutions. They try to recreate the Great Depression jobs schemes. They imagine that economy was restored because of road-building, when really it was by War. They don't believe jobs from a green economy.

It is a mark of our deep insanity that politicians keep promising and building more roads, highways, freeways, and bridges for the last days of the private car, the last decade or two of oil. Tell them to stop! Stop wasting our money, the last of the oil, our atmosphere, and our future!

The world's longest car bridge was openend July 1st. It flys out of sight over the ocean, connecting downtown Qingdao to the Huangdao city centre. The bridge is over 26 miles long, 8 lanes wide, and saves Chinese drivers about 20 minutes. There is no light-rail component. Does it have bicycle lanes? Will anyone use it 20 years from now?

In many cities of North America, Europe, and Australia - central cities are self-organizing. In these green-aware high density cities, 80% of trips are made by walking, bicycle or transit. City ordinances and zoning are being changed to allow gardening and chickens. The low-oil city of Havana Cuba was something of a model of urban self sufficiency in food.

But beware the revenge of the suburbs.

Panel guest Carmen Mills was a founder of car-free days in Vancouver.

She fought the Gateway project, and now sees a larger world-wide issue called She's an activist's activist. Check that site out. When Carmen started calling for car-free days on certain popular streets, the media scorned her. Now Vancouver has them regularly, in various parts of the city. People, big crowds of people, show up for impromptu street fairs, with buskers, costumes, delicacies to eat and the chance to just meet others. It's super!

In the recent 2011 hockey riots in downtown Vancouver, it turns out most of the angry youth were Middle class young men from the suburbs. There is a latent hostility to cars, that turned up in riots everywhere, even in Vancouver in June.

Think about it. What do we always see in riot footage? Humans smash cars, turn them over, and burn them.

It even happens at rallies and county fairs. I can remember public events where folks paid a buck or two to get a chance to smash a car with a sledge hammer. We work for our vehicles a lot of the time, we are trapped in them, we fear them when walking or cycling - there is a lot of anger out there.

People living in cul-de-sacs, with no walkable stores or supplies in reach, abandoned to falling property values, after the real estate bubble broke - they will be confused, unprepared, and angry. Gangs of armed sububanites is a looming possibility. Inner cities, now struggling for more self-reliance and resilience, may also have to consider the old solution: city walls.

Too sci-fi for you? Yeah, I can't believe that either. But who knows what will happen, as the oil runs out?

I don't know how it will work out. Everyone has to figure out the future for themselves. And then something different happens. The future is constructed of surprises that seem predictable in hindsight.

Kill the car, sure. But beware of the revenge of the suburbs!

I'm Alex Smith, just another voice on the radio. Thank you for listening.

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