Stop Signs entertaining, informative

Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the Road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay by Yves Engler and Bianca Mugyenyi, 2011, co-published by RED Publishing and Fernwood Publishing, 259 pages, ISBN 9781552663844 (paper), $20, Scheduled for release May, 2011

Reviewed by Richa

The authors, who are based in Canada and do not have driver licenses, use a bus trip to various USA cities as a jumping-off place to look critically at the effects of cars on ourselves and our environment. Calling our car-dominated transportation system “irritating, irrational, irresponsible and increasingly inhuman”, they show how cars take precedence over people and our environment physically, conceptually, even spiritually.

A great deal of up-to-date and well-referenced information is often interesting, disturbing, enlightening. Moreover, it is presented in an engaging way, wrapped into an often funny or ironic personal narrative of the authors’ experiences as they travel.

The first of two parts addresses pollution and global warming, inefficiency and expense, using sex and other means for ubiquitous car advertising, deaths and diseases and serious injuries not only from crashes but from many aspects of car manufacture, use, and disposal, cars’ contribution to sprawl and a divided society, the car as a spiritual icon, and more.

The second part looks at the larger capitalist system and how it is intimately intertwined with cars; how gross inefficiency becomes “efficient” from a capitalist standpoint. That includes advertising and media, corporate and political power, and a brief look at the huge car subsidies. It ends with a call to action with some specific suggestions.

As one who has done some transport research, organizing, education, and advocacy, I am impressed by how well Mugyenyi and Engler have put their information together. Their ideas are clear but without dogmatism; they are open to and understanding of where people are at.

For instance — especially at this time of a sophisticated corporate attack on most working people — they state that employment must be taken into account, though they then note that mass transit employs more people than does road-building.

They also affirm that those who still drive can and should have a major voice in how we move to a more sustainable transport system. They recognize that the problems are systemic, making it difficult to do without a car the way things are now.

That said, I particularly appreciate seeing such a work from the perspective of others who choose not to drive; that is unusual in the USA and Canada, especially among researchers.

Stop Signs will both educate and entertain you; it is well worth the price and the time.

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