Hans Baer looks at how car dependence is driving us to extinction

June 26, 2020

Motor Vehicles, the Environment & the Human Condition: Driving to Extinction
By Hans A Baer
Lexington Books, 2019
258 pages

As the global climate emergency intensifies, this political ecological critique of the motor vehicle is timely and powerful. Melbourne University anthropologist Hans Baer argues from a modern ecosocialist perspective that humanity needs to move beyond motor vehicles as much as possible. Baer's impressive synthesis includes 28 pages of references.

With the global number of motor vehicles in use now topping 1 billion, their collective impact is devastating and more apparent than ever. More than 1 million people die in car crashes every year, with associated air pollution and physical inactivity multiplying this toll several times over. The very fabric and pattern of development of cities has been deeply altered by motor vehicles. Denser, walkable cores have been abandoned for unsustainable suburban sprawl.

Extricating ourselves from this problem will be difficult. Automobility is ingrained in modern thinking. Cars are a symbol of freedom, convenience and adventure. Perhaps more than any other machine, motor vehicles embody the social, cultural and environmental contradictions of the capitalist world system. They serve the profit interests of the automobile, fossil fuel, tire, road building and related industries.

A growing public opposition is pushing back however. Progressive urbanists, anti-motorway, walking, cycling, public transport action groups and climate activists are on the march. Baer concludes that any effort to create a more socially just and environmentally sustainable transport system will be part and parcel of the struggle to transcend capitalism and replace it with democratic ecosocialism.

[Andrew Chuter is a public transport activist in Sydney.]

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