More disappointing than watching the Habs lose to Tampa in the Stanley Cup finals were the ads during the games on TV. As Lytton, BC, broke Canada’s all-time temperature record three days in a row and was then wiped off the map by a forest fire, Canada’s public broadcaster promoted resource intensive, space consuming and carbon spewing trucks.
Decades ago when it became clear humanity was hurtling towards a climate crisis, car ads should have been banned. Stopping auto companies’ unrelenting ideological assault on the population is an important, probably necessary, step in moving away from a transport/living system structured around the environmentally destructive private automobile.
CBC’s promotion of gas guzzlers during its most widely viewed programing is a reminder that we aren’t serious about mitigating the climate crisis. That no major group is challenging Canada’s public broadcaster on the issue reflects the ecocidal nature of our political culture.
It’s not just the CBC. Public transit agencies and environmental magazines run car ads. Even lefty university student papers with well-defined ethical advertising guidelines put themselves at the service of the auto industry, which is the largest advertiser.
Few within green groups challenge auto companies’ ideological assault on the population. Even fewer discuss eliminating the private automobile, which devastates health and livability while greatly exacerbating climate and other ecological crises. Civilization could well collapse if we don’t reshape our transport/living system away from the private automobile.
Even if leftists agreed on the need to move beyond the private automobile, accomplishing the task would be a monumental achievement. But, the left is far from clear eyed on the matter, as highlighted indirectly in a recent Z Comm article titled “Degrowth Policies Cannot Avert Climate Crisis. We Need a Green New Deal”. In it Robert Pollin argues that degrowth theoreticians haven’t properly fleshed out their ideas, are not offering a program that would decarbonize quickly enough and that it’s possible to decouple economic growth from GHG emissions.
This may all be true. But the idea of degrowth doesn’t deter other decarbonization efforts and radicals shouldn’t fear the label amidst the ecological calamity. In fact, we’d be better placed today if progressives had begun promoting degrowth a half century ago when it became clear humanity was surpassing earth’s carrying capacity and that civilization was likely to collapse this century. While Pollin hints at it, the most significant issue is decoupling our understanding of growth/GDP from wellness/social utility.
In transport/living systems, degrowth usually makes cities more sustainable, healthy and pleasant. The more transport is structured to utilize shoes, bikes and rail, the fewer the resources expended getting around. At a national level the hyper auto centric US spends about twice the share of its GDP on transport as Japan. Inter-city comparisons are also helpful. People in car-oriented Houston, Dallas and Tampa spend far more than those in New York, Boston or Portland on transport. In more walking and bike-oriented cities such as Copenhagen, Fez or Amsterdam transport expenditures are a fraction of even the least car dependent North American cities.
Looking at the issue on an individual level is also illuminating. I spend a few hundred dollars a year on transport and have easy access to shops, schools, day care, parks, community centres, libraries, etc. while many suburban Montréalers expend 100 times more getting around. They generally spend far more time commuting as well.
Auto centric transport/living systems can be massively degrowthed and decarbonized while improving livability and public health.
(Degrowing the US health system would generate massive social gains as well. Just by adopting Canada’s publicly funded, universal healthcare model the US could shave five points from its GDP and increase life expectancy. Similarly, cutting the US military down to Canada’s per capita size could cut a couple more points off GDP with major social and ecological benefits.)
Progressives need to state clearly that we seek to slash the resources devoted to transport. The private automobile is a mode of transport/living that must be overcome if we are concerned about species survival. Ending our addiction to the private automobile requires radical changes to urban planning, the entire built landscape, laws, transport options, etc. But another obstacle is ideological, the incessant promotion of the idea that a truck or car will make someone ‘manly’, ‘high status’, ‘hip’, etc. A good place to begin resistance to the planet destroying auto companies’ insidious assault on our psyches is by pressuring Canada’s public broadcaster to stop promoting fuel, resource and space intensive trucks.
At least while the Montréal Canadiens are playing.
Yves Engler is a former junior hockey left-winger and co-author of Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the Road to Economic, Social and Environmental Decay