Friday, April 29, 2011

A World Without Cars (Oil)

"Oil is the problem. Cars are the solution", say Iain Carson and Vijay Vaitheeswaran of The Economist in their new book, "Zoom". They predict another industrial revolution-- and they want the American government to spark it ...

Imagine a world without cars. Suddenly, it might seem that three great evils widely associated with automobiles--environmental harm, economic pain, and geopolitical insecurity--would vanish. But realistically, a world without cars would be a dim, joyless place with much-diminished freedom, mobility and prosperity.

This is especially true for America, the birthplace of the modern automobile industry and of most of the political, technological and cultural developments behind mass motorisation. From drive-through banks to drive-in churches, car culture permeates American life. Three-car garages are becoming the norm. Inspired by the American example, developing giants such as China and India are taking to the roads too. Soon we will be a world of a billion cars.

Oil is the problem, not cars. That is why we must reinvent the automobile. As engines of change, clean cars of the future can help speed the world towards a more sensible approach to transportation. The snag is getting from here to there. Big oil clearly has no interest in seeing its main product fall by the wayside, and the Detroit car industry has shown few signs of real innovation or long-term vision.

Contrary to what some critics claim, there is nothing inherently evil about oil companies' pumping oil, or carmarkers' selling cars. That is their job, and for decades it was socially acceptable for them to do it. The difference today is that society's expectations are changing. A richer, greener, better-informed world is demanding more from its energy and transportation industries. The social contract is evolving--but public policies have not yet changed to reflect that progress.

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