Monday, October 15, 2007

Sustainability and a $2500 car

According to the recent automotive trends, soon there will be a $2500 car on the market, introduced by an Indian automaker and perhaps, soon after, about half a dozen of similarly priced models by other automakers, including such well known ones as Toyota and Renault.

Cars for the people, for lots and lots of people, who now have none. Can you imagine what that can do to the environment?

It is easy - and sooooooo politically correct - to see this trend as a horror scenario...

And yet I can't stop thinking of the other side of the coin: of the joy of all those, who, for the first time, will gain the freedom of movement. Because car to most of us is freedom, whether we perceive it as such or not. And to many it can also mean an opportunity to make a better living.

Born and raised in a communist country I - like most others there - was deprived that freedom and remember how I felt when, after I defected to Sweden, I purchased my first car, a used Volkswagen Beetle and was no longer dependent on commuting and moving around using only public transportation.
How could I now begrudge millions of others the same joy, the same freedom, the same opportunity ???

There should be other ways to take care of the environment, without limiting people's freedom of movement.

A basic car for the masses is not an ego driven purchase... (like a MacMansion, an environment "friendly" Hollywood star's mansion or ... Gore's mansion) but we need to make it - and all other modes of transportation, a lot more environment friendly.

A couple of years ago I had been offered an opportunity to work with an anti-car organization in Europe. They praised the imagined beauty of the earth's landscapes without paved roads, when all the cars were banned and removed.... and propagated banning and removing all cars.

But I thought, how are we to move through that pristine landscape??? On horse back??? Or on foot???

I refused to work with that organization, considering their ideas not only unrealistic, but counterproductive for the mankind - even though, theoretically, they might have been good for the environment.

Their approach to cars reminded me of an approach of American feminists towards modern technology that shocked me during an academic conference in Canada in the early eighties.

At that conference I happened to attend several discussions of a scholarly? feminist? movement? which - to my utmost horror - propagated turning our backs on technological development, on modern way of living, propagating instead creating and embracing small, isolated? labor intensive societies as women friendly. I was abhorred.

The communist regimes at that time still held a lot of the world's population hostage and those lunatic (pardon) ideas of perhaps well meaning, but totally divorced from reality American feminist scholars (???), who probably never experienced a day of life in a closed, labor intensive society, "free" from modern tools for work, transport, communication, were aiding communist and other authoritarian regimes. Communism - like other oppressive, authoritarian regimes - liked to isolate in order to control easier.

And how a renewed enslavement of women in the drudgery of a labor intensive work was going to aid their emancipation???

I tried to argue with them how much they were aiding authoritarian regimes and - generally - the oppression of women through propagating such models of society as desirable, but I was quickly labeled as a super reactionary black sheep and dismissed.

A feminist ( in the sense: pro emancipation) myself, I felt somewhat guilty being actually happy that nobody at that time listened to those women and their ideas did not take any hold, did not bring any fruit. Or we would have a world in which not even those anti-technology, anti-development feminists would like to live.

Similarly, an environmentalist myself, I do hope now that nobody will start propagating an anti-car, anti personal freedom of movement global police regime of sorts for the sake of environment.

Yes, environment is important. Very, VERY important. But so are people, their rights, dreams, aspirations and their freedom to pursue them. Sustainability to me means taking care of the environment while taking care of the people.

Let's save the planet through creativity, ingenuity, inventiveness, not through begrudging the people in less developed countries the standard of living that we enjoy... and don't want to give up. Let's think progressively, not regressively...... please.

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