The end of the « all-car » world

Christèle recently had some intuition with her post on air pollution, right before a peak of higly concentrated, and notably toxic, carbon particles (among other notorious pollutants) which lead the french government to take some measures against massive car use in most polluted french cities. Some started diluting the problem, arguing about « foreign » pollution imported from our european neighbours. Well, it’s true that from Chernobyl episode, another Ukrainian tragedy, even the French learned that there are no boundaries for toxic clouds. This time the mass media saw the smog, followed like sheep, and made this pollution peak the headline of the week!

Frédéric Denhez, an environmental engineer and independent journalist, wrote last year about the end of all-car world (« La fin du tout voiture »). He comes back to the history of thermal engine car development and leadership worldwide, combined with local authorities laxity and public addiction to petroleum. Frédéric Denhez gathers severals signs of change and explains why we’re going to learn how to live differently, like it or not. Municipal choices both in Europe and in North America are showing us the way. Education is needed, multiple efforts as well. Technology can help as well as deep changes in our passionate relationship with automobiles. Change relies more on cultural than on technical evolutions! The USA started comparing and ranking their cities in terms of « walkability » and « transit ». Real estate companies use it as a new marketing tool and selling argument! It’s up to everyone of us to open up and assess cost/benefits of all transit options (car ownership/rental/sharing, public transportation, biking, walking). It’s up to every one to take into account finances and health, stress and environmental considerations. Not just everyday habits.

Cars are often wrongly used, more often useless than useful. Cars are a perfect tool outside city centers, wherever public transports just cannot make it, where housing density is too low. Americans are probably world champions for designing and letting go a staggering model where automobile is the king of the road. Europeans do slightly better, but all countries understand that they reached a limit of what’s socially and economically acceptable! As far as we come closer to high density urban areas, all-car means never ending congestion, pollution, stress and infrastructure costs (more car parks attracting ever more additional cars, causing additional arm). Any serious financial controller or economist knows that including negative external costs (often hidden) totally changes the bottom line! So what if we seriously take into account:
foreign trade deficit (car imports, fuel imports)
health costs related to pollutions (air and noise)
lost hours/days in car congestion, unnecessary stress?

According to Frédéric Denhez, the « bill » in Europe amounts to €374,000,000,000 per year! We always end up paying for this, through taxes and penalties. But also, as doctors know, in terms of quality of life and life expectancy. Promoting walkability and offering biking options, on the other hand, tends to reduce obesity risk, as some US communities found out. No big deal, plain common senseFilm Cars - Mater

Motor shows are still popular events, both for medias and the public. The automotive dream is still alive and the big auto players fiercely believe in their future. In Europe, dealerships and showrooms faced a sensible drop in car sales (-21% between 2007 and 2013), and factories are struggling for survival. Change is on, the new generation is more digital and connected to the Internet than to cars. Home office tends to develop, hierarchical links evolve. Cars are probably a 20th century icon, from San Francisco to Shanghai via London. Frédéric Denhez said it right: the end of « all-car » is not a new utopia. It’s just about when our modern societies visualize the limits of unlimited growth, and a need to be prepared for tensions both on land (agricultural and urban rivalry) and energy sectors. This is not a new sci-fi movie script…

Beyond some technical innovation, transport services marketing and apps show the way to commuters rehabilitation and help turn the wheel of a healthier and, at last, sustainable urban mobility. As often, innovation breakthrough will come (and has already come!) from non-automotive investors. People able to think out of the box. Will service geniuses beat product geniuses? What would Apple be today without i-Tunes or their Apps?

Logisticians need to simplifly « door to door » offers, and ideas spring everywhere: we just need to pay attention to these local initiatives. But technologies and incentives should not refrain us from simply visiting our neighbours in order to cooperate, on a daily basis.

Hit the (countryside) road, Jack!


La Fin du Tout-voiture, Frédéric Denhez (Actes Sud, 2013)


3 réflexions sur “The end of the « all-car » world

  1. ok – let’s hit the ‘commentaire’ button for the first time 😉
    As a (good) German I was raised in a society surrounded by ‘the’ status symbol -> C A R!
    The German industry is known for premium quality cars and every little boy dreams from his own Porsche, but will probably end with a descent VW… haha…
    As I suffered or better still suffer from the idea to take a descent amount of money to buy a reasonable car, but the idea went wrong and I almost lost my so well known mobility…
    But I learned something new about the other already possible way to commute, transport, move or whatever.

    This was not a government driven initiative or a test project – it was simply a car which was damaged and now subject of a court procedure – so just somehow not available anymore.

    From my point of view a black-white decision is maybe a little to challenging, but to replace the car slightly by other options is totally doable.

    For instance I could almost do a marketing for home-order-shopping, but not for some ebay items or some pharmacy stuff. No, I talk about the regular shopping which everybody has to do.
    It’s so much better not to hop into the car, go to the next shopping mall, pick the wrong cash register, wait in a queue and drive home to carry the whole stuff to your house(and loose 1,5-2h). Who likes to do this, when it comes to water, milk, eggs, toilet paper (simple day to day stuff) and so on. This is ‘base’ stuff which is not ‘fancy’ or ‘tempting’ to buy.

    The idea to go (by feet) to a nearby small grocery or butcher to buy stuff impulsively, that’s they way shopping makes fun.

    It’s just the level of comfort which we seem to loose combined with the resistance to change habits.
    There is no need to drive the 2km to the next ‘boulangerie’ by car – use a bike or walk. If you counter, that there is no time for this In our highly optimized lifes – than just cut of the 30mins which you spend on facebook or in front of your telly. It’s good to receive some daylight as well, another win-win. And when it’s raining, snowing – come on, we’re not dying from a drop of water.

    It’s like a diet, which is supposed to change your general habits of eating instead of a fast weight loss period with an end. It’s not easy, but it has not to be black and white.

    And what I also would like to add to my ‘commentaire’ is something which is not only related to cars.
    Maybe the direct translation form German will not have the same punch line character, but ‘borrowing/using is the new owning’
    The society still can improve, but not based on the ‘you-have-to-own-everything’-idea. There are time sharing models available for everything and with the smart phone it’s getting much more convenient and usable.
    Take other expensive stuff which is only used for a short time, for instance the very expensive digital SLR with the nice lense or the Snowboard, the state of the art drilling machine and so on.
    Back to ‘la voiture’… Car sharing isn’t new, but now it can be tailor made for the own needs – why should I block a huge amount of money, take the risk of repairs & maintenance, fuel, insurance and everything else (the car will be not moved most of it’s time).
    The established car manufacturers think intensively about ‘how to commute in 21st century’. It’s a collaboration of multiple partners. Local governments, public transports,car manufacturers and others. New ideas are requested to compete against the car in front of everybodys door which gives the maximum flexibility (but for a high price). Some hubs with transportation units (2wheel or 4wheel based or whatever).
    The sky is the limit and the change is already noticeble

    Another thought -> How would a society decide, when the car would not be invented yet and now someone would come up with the idea of a transportation unit, which has to move 15 times more weight than the driver has, would pollute the environment, causes thousands of deaths. Would we really welcome this idea of a very individual and convenient transport on behalf of the huge side effects?

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