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[flagged] Cars are killing us. Within 10 years, we must phase them out (theguardian.com)
71 points by ingve 48 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 49 comments

I've been driving around Africa for almost three years now, and every time I go into a city I can't help but think along the same lines as this article.

I see tens of thousands of vehicles belching huge clouds of black smoke, idling for hours at a time with nobody inside, or stuck in soul crushing traffic. Just the other day it took a hour to drive five miles with tens of thousands of vehicles packed in.

It's also really easy to see the direct environmental impact - any place that does oil changes or repairs tires is surrounded by a huge patch of jet black earth where the waste products are simply tossed on the ground. Used tires are piled high, and crashed or burnt out vehicles commonly litter the roadside. In the first world we hide all of that from sight, sometimes I think it's better to have it out in the open so we can be more aware of what is really going on.

> In the first world we hide all of that from sight

There's no hiding. The cars are much cleaner with lower emissions. We have industrial pollution laws so auto shops have to safely dispose of waste. We don't leave burnt out cars on the roadside. You can add chaos to anything to make that thing look bad.

Also I hope you see the irony in your comment starting with

> I've been driving around Africa for almost three years now

I don't think that's really "ironic," and I don't just mean as a pedantic "what is the definition of irony" thing. The easiest way to see the problems with, say, airline travel is to travel by airlines. I don't know about "Africa" (and, what part of Africa -- last I heard, Africa is a pretty big place...), but in most places in the U.S., like it or not, you would very likely not be able to make a living without a personal vehicle.

Currently sitting at a border stop in Botswana with about 25 trucks standing around idling for hours. I am very inclined to agree with everything you've said.

Out of interest - why the idling - to keep air-conditioning running?

Yet, life expectancy and population figures are growing rapidly in Africa. Cars don't seem to be the dangerous mass-murderers the article suggest. Perhaps the author forgot to mention their benefits and positive impact.

Just thinking about that for 0.00000001 seconds, I’d say that has something to do with babies and young children not dying so early.

Reducing all those malaria deaths, etc did wonders.

But hey, it might be that pollution.

> Just thinking about that for 0.00000001 seconds, I’d say that has something to do with babies and young children not dying so early.

Keep thinking for a few more seconds until you realize how much impact cars had in connecting people, rural areas, people to health facilities.

Do you believe child deaths are prevented by people walking with sick children to hospitals, or medicine being distributed on camel backs?

Life expectancy increased greatly from 1990 to 2015.


Why do you think the automobile is responsible?

> Why do you think the automobile is responsible?

What makes you think I do?

I wrote that the positive contribution of automobiles should be considered and not denied. Why do you think distribution of malaria medication and child care was not improved by automobiles widely used in medical care and logistics?

“This means a wholesale switch towards electric mass transit,”

His argument is to move towards electric mass transit, Which clearly won’t work everywhere. In fact, it won’t work in most places.

I think they must be having one of those nerd arguments.

Using coal for electricity, for example, helped change the world, and had positive effects, but we want to move beyond that.

Reducing the need for automobiles is definitely worth the effort. That doesn’t mean we will illuminate them of course, by a long shot.

I keep coming back to this same bug bear every time the topic of cars and pollution comes up, but... diesels.

There's a practice here (UK) of buying diesels for the increased fuel economy, then having the particulate filters removed (discreetly, leaving the casing in place to hide the work) to reduce maintenance costs. Most garages offer this as a service openly, and it's common practice.

The cars are very easy to spot as the exhaust belches huge clouds of thick black smoke every time they accelerate.

The irony of this is that a great many of the cars currently on the road here are dirtier than cars that were banned twenty years ago for that same reason. The point being that we're not just not fixing the problem - we're actively going backwards.

I don't take my son to school through the car park (the most direct route) anymore for this reason. Most parents drive 4x4s which they idle there while parked. The smell alone is eye-watering, not to mention the smoke.

The point is that people just don't care. They don't care about their own kids' health, so of course they don't care about anyone elses.

Anyone I've discussed this with offline think it's silly to be bothered by this or I'm over-reacting, because (and I don't have the science to back this up) the world's getting progressively more stupid and (ob)noxious over time.

The changes to the MOT test last year should result in that being a major failure:

  Your vehicle will get a major fault if the MOT tester:

    * can see smoke of any colour coming from the exhaust
    * finds evidence that the DPF has been tampered with

I saw this, but I was disheartened when I was told by a mechanic not long back that this too is seen as a bit of a joke - in that the cars are tested at idle and the DPF check is cosmetic.

Hoping for sanity, though.

I lived most of my life in capitals. I cannot but notice the pattern. Smog, asthma, bad skin, and other air-related maladies. Since to 'drop cars' is not just not feasible, the next best thing, which is already happening, is to switch to electric vehicles and continue phasing out fossil fuel(s) as soon as possible (which is NOT 'tomorrow').

Once electric vehicles technology and cost strike a good balance, then I believe most people would go for an elecric vehicle. Legislation/regulations also help speed things up.

Exhaust is a huge component of the pollution, but simply switching to electric vehicles isn't enough because you still have additional particulate matter generated by them - especially rubber particles from the tires.

We need to both switch to electric vehicles and significantly cut down on the number of vehicles on the road.

Noise is also a contaminant. The tyre roar from Q7 and X5 at speed is painful in my ears as a pedestrian or cyclist. But the drivers neither know not care in their insulated metal boxes.

And how many years of life are lost due to inadequate sleep as a result of 24/7 road noise?

Perhaps we need a regulation that interior vehicle noise needs to match external noise measured at kerbside.

You are absolutely correct, ignore the downvotes.

Also electric vehicles will still kill plenty of pedestrians and other drivers. Also they still need massive swaths of land to be concreted over to be used as actual roads and parking.

First of all: public transport sucks in too many places of the world. Going to work by public transport takes double the time and is anything but enjoyable because the trains are filled to the point where some people are happy to even get in on exceptional days. And lets not forget that if i miss my bus, the next one that makes sense to take is an hour later. No thanks. Second: If we ignore american car culture for a second, cars aren't too polluting. Cruise ships and some companies are way worse. Especially cruise ships are incredibly bad for the environment and should (in my opinion) be abandoned or improved drastically before i get denied a diesel car by the german government. Especially if petrol/gas production is worse for the environment than diesel. And third: electric cars can move the pollution out of the cities and somewhere else. Same with noise. Though battery production is an issue that won't move out of the way in the near future. Energy production, the distance and battery production make electric cars not viable for many people. Especially if you plan to go on vacation sometimes.


1. Ban cars, 2. Promote better public transport that meets needs, 3. Ban cruise ships and promote environmentally aware shipping, 4. Power the grid from sustainable sources, 5. Take holidays by public transport.

Yep, fully behind all that.

I was saying that there are more important issuea to be tackled first. Banning cars altogether is too extremist. And cars can be a hobby which you would be killing which is never a good idea.

As each generation grows up more and more ingrained with the use of a car the likelihood of this happening decreases. Governments would be too frightened to take this away.

My father was the first person in his extended family to own a car, around 60 years ago. Car travel was a luxury. My mother used to go on holiday via train, something that is almost unheard of now in the UK.

At my children's school parents would rather spend the best part of an hour queuing for a car parking space, then queuing to get out of car park rather than go to the effort of walking in much less time.

People seem to be prepared to put up with the madness rather than walk / use public transport.

> As each generation grows up more and more ingrained with the use of a car the likelihood of this happening decreases.

I doubt it.

> Traffic counts suggest that the number of miles cycled in 2017 – 3.27 billion – is around 29% above the figure for 1997.

> Cycle use increases have been higher in some urban areas: in London, for example, around 27,000 people cycled across the central London by cycle in 1977 (both directions), compared to 184,000 in 2016 – almost seven times as many.

There is some evidence that car usage peaked in the 90s and is now dropping.


People will vote for what they believe in even when their own behaviour doesn't live up to those ideals. A member of my family goes on climate change marches yet works for an airline.

I live in a small ish city and the air quality is much better than most cities but when I have to travel in to the city for work i end up coughing for the rest of the day. On weekends I avoid the city and by Saturday my cough is mostly gone and by sunday its totally gone only to come back on monday. Cars are the primary reason for me wanting to change to a remote job. Not only is riding my bike in to the city slightly terrifying but the damage being around so much air pollution is just too much to make it worth it.

Better mass transit in cities is probably a good place to start. Do low-medium speed maglevs carrying 30,000 people per hour sound appealing?



30K per hour doesn't seem like a lot.

I agree it's a problem but I see no discussion of housing costs or the costs of completely redoing public transportation. Clearly the author hasn't thought this through. People drive because they can't afford to live where they ideally want to. In the US, public transportation is virtually non-existent. Without a solution to the housing and transportation problems, there's no way to get rid of cars and no one has even proposed a solution, let alone the author.

Imagine the day where you could just chill at your balcony without any noise pollution thanks to EVs. Your mental health would benefit from that too.

EVs still make a lot of tire and wind noise. They also cause air pollution from rubber and brake dust. There is just simply no way to continue using cars they are not suited to modern cities.

That seems like a very strong statement. The air pollution from rubber and brake dust is minimal relative to the emissions from combustion engines. You seem to be arguing "there's no way to continue cars because we won't get them to 100% clean and silent". It's not that having quieter cities and no pollution are bad things, but having those as your goals eliminates many good options that address other laudable goals (like substantial reductions in pollution and noise from EV's).

Yes, but the improvements are substantial. At city speeds the EVs are much quieter. Air pollution from the rubber and brake dust is much lower (regenerative braking, special tires, tree resin compounds).

You will never get rid of cars in the city. You need a get to a hospital, take kids to kindergarten in winter, come back drunk from the party, deliver good to a shop or restaurant.

I think this article does a disservice to the cause for reducing CO2 emissions. It’s unnecessarily hyperbolic and contains factual inaccuracies.

Not sure where you see inaccuracies. Unlike yourself it links and cites the claims made.

Doesn't seem especially hyperbolic either.

Indeed I checked one of his references where he says that it is cars that are the primary reason that CO2 emissions haven’t reduced in the transport sector. The linked article says that it is airlines (increase of 2%) not cars (decrease of 1%).

Can you please link the piece that claims this - I see nothing to support this in the couple of links around transport emissions.


“Demand for oil was also largely unchanged in 2018 (-0.3%). Within that total, demand for diesel and petrol both saw annual declines of around 1%, whereas aviation fuel was up 2%.“

Even with a tiny change in relative proportions within transport, road vehicles still use vastly more fuel than aviation in the UK. Without absolute tonnage of emissions, and relative proportion of commercial and private, I can't see a way to invalidate his claim or prefer aviation as culprit. It sounds perfectly reasonable and the least controversial assumption from data available: cars are the big majority of the largest fuel user, though commercial traffic may get low enough mpg to emit disproportionally large amounts.

George Monbiot is seen as a climate change denier in many circles. He must be doing something right if he has both sides mad at him now. :)

> George Monbiot is seen as a climate change denier in many circles

Which circles? He has been on the side of science and an outspoken critic of denialists for the last 15 years, both in his columns and other avenues (letters to Nature etc).

Apart from that and in general terms, both sides of a debate thinking you are a lunatic usually doesn't mean you are a visionary - but a lunatic.

Sorry, I can't find the criticism I'm thinking of right now, but I'm sure you'll probably agree that George Monbiot says lots of controversial stuff and has definitely ruffled feathers on both side of the aisle on a number of issues. Almost always I've agreed with George Monbiot.

That being said, you're right that he definitely falls squarely in the anti-climate change denier column.

The side of science? It would help if you defined terms before using them. What is a denialist and who are they? I'm not aware of a single scientist or informed layperson who thinks that human emissions have no effect whatsoever on the climate. The intelligent question is: how much of an effect do they have on the earth's energy balance? Less than x% you're a denialist and greater than x% you're not? Is that how it works? Meanwhile debates about the magnitude of the climate sensitivity roll on with no clear answer.

Its The Guardian, what do you expect? Malthusian thinking abound...

It is a guardian op-ed piece, not an excerpt from a scientific journal with extensive testing.

Unrelated note: my NoScript blocks 11 'untrustued' (by me) websites' scripts.

Cars can't and shouldn't be phased out in rural areas. They're a necessity. And rural living is a necessity for all of society, without it agriculture will die.

So maybe a city-centric approach is the right thing.

Damn, I thought I could afford a decent sports car for me in 10 years :)


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