Automobile and décroissance

Denis CHEYNET, may 2003

If we take as a given that our happiness and our relations with others are more important than the accumulation of goods to stimulate economic growth, then the re-evaluation of the automobile should be one of the first steps in reversing growth. The automobile is in effect a major tool in the current economic model in the world.

Although they have been revealed many times over, the misdeeds of the automobile are never truly heard and absorbed, and their exposure is stifled by an ideology that absolutely does not want to hear about them. In a world that professes to be rational and logical, the car is the most emotional and the most aberrant tool there is. Automobile growth cannot be sustained in the long-term and is also not even feasible in the present, due to the fact that only a privileged minority of humankind benefits from its economic development. If we would like that life be possible on Earth in the decades to come, our only solution is to thus abandon this scourge. At the same time, we must put into question, in a deep and radical manner, the causes which have made the car ideology dominant in industrialized countries. The elimination of the automobile should be effected by reducing our consumption of materials and natural resources, reducing the transportation flow, and a re-evaluation of our goals.

The automobile is an aberration and a scourge[Back to contents]

The slogan "Cars—they stink, they kill, and they pollute" ("La bagnole, ça pue, ça tue et ça pollue") is still a long way from mobilizing the public. However, one needn’t be a scientific expert to be aware of the heavy damage caused by cars. Whether it’s visual, noise, atmospheric or social pollution, the car makes our cities a veritable hell, dirty and malodorous. If air pollution is often alluded to and car manufacturers promise us technological advances to remedy it (in a context where, paradoxically, the number of 4x4’s and other many-cylindered vehicles keeps increasing), the other sources of pollution are set aside, as they are too vast and awkward and necessitate a more deep-rooted remedy than mere technical responses.

The damage caused to our landscapes by cars is rarely brought to our attention. It nevertheless makes up a large source of the degradation of our environment that we forget about out of habit. The magazine Casseurs de pub illustrates this forgotten damage in its photo of a toll station[1]. It’s necessary sometimes to take a step back or to spend a few days in a nature preserve to realize to which point the entanglements of freeways and asphalt roads can be inhuman. Commercial zones, which only the World War II can equal in ugliness, encroaches into the smallest towns in the countryside and obstructs the view of anything resembling architecture or greenery. In the film “The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain”, which depicts Paris as idyllic and pleasant, the car is  – except for one publicity shot – absent from the scene. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet could never have conveyed an atmosphere of happiness in a city with streets full of automobiles, in a space furrowed by freeways or in a neighborhood surrounded by a labyrinth of on-ramps, overpasses, and six-lane highways.

The automobile disfigures public space, and monopolizes it to the detriment of other users. In Paris, for example, 60% of the streets are occupied by parked cars. Per passenger, a car takes up 12 times as much space than a bus, and the average number of passengers per car is 1.25 people in the wider Parisian area[2]. City streets, village squares and country roads have been forced to adapt and conform to the automobile. In the Maurienne valley, space is so tight that in some places there is not enough space for the Arc river, the Nationale 6, the railroad tracks which run from Lyon to Turin, and the highway, to co-exist. To solve the problem, it has been necessary to either dig tunnels or to literally bypass the highway above residential areas. In the city, children don’t have space to play and have abandoned the streets in favor of their electronic playstations, where they can pretend to be Shumacher or a member of a military commando. In city and neighborhood council meetings, during meetings and discussions with the Lyon mayor, the parking problem is brought up over and over again. But whatever we do, it will never be possible to reconciliate public space and parking lots, the need for parking and the ever-increasing number of vehicles, especially when it comes to big urban centers or the most densely populated districts in Europe, such as those exist in Lyon.

If we want to live in a society where the number of automobiles increases each year, where everyone can park in front of his or her front door, get to work and do his or her errands by car, then we should make a clean sweep of it and tear down our urban centers, and build immense cities which extend outwards over dozens of kilometers and resemble those in the United States.

European cities, due to their heavier population density, are not compatible with the heavy car traffic that we impose on them and are subjected to an unacceptable level of noise pollution. “One third of households claim to be bothered by the noise of car traffic at least some of the time while they are home. 40% of the respondents live in Parisian suburbs and 46% in Paris itself. It is estimated that 7 million people, or 12.3% of the population, are particularly affected[3]. Even the mayor of Marseille acknowledges the problem:  “The best way of battling against the noise is to limit car traffic itself.” [4] We shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking that cars that run on a quieter motor than the combustible engine (electric, compressed air, or other) will not continue to create noise pollution. The majority of car noise is produced by the air and road contact friction at speeds of 50 km/h and above. Since speed limits and the law against klaxoning are not respected within city limits, a highway full of vehicles with silent motors would be just as noisy as a present-day highway. The problem of automobile noise can only be solved by substituting this mode of transport by more rational ones (bicycling, walking, trams…).

A social pollution[Back to contents]

While car manufacturers can no longer deny the pollution created by the automobile, I have never heard any of them speak of social pollution. The way the automobile forces our societies to be structured has led to a severe decline of our towns and villages. Small businesses have been annihilated by multinational hypermarkets. Small shopkeepers (bakeries, butcher shops, grocers, etc) have left the villages and replaced by distant shopping centers where families go twice a month to stock up their freezers. In this context, living without a car is becoming more and more difficult.  The social exclusion of those who cannot drive (elderly people, people without a driving license, people without the means of possessing a car…) or those who don’t want to drive (viewed by the public as dangerous ecological radicals) will grow. “Drive or die” is the motto of an automobile society that doesn’t tolerate that one might want to live a different way.

“Drive or die” is the motto of an automobile society that doesn’t tolerate that one might want to live a different way.

In this article we will not dwell too long on environmental pollution, which is the most publicized facet of automobile pollution. “As far as energy consumption and environmental pollution is concerned, the impact of driving creates over 90% of the pollution created by the entire transportation sector“[5] While the car is responsible for 15% of sulphur oxide, 60% of nitric oxide, and 55% of carbon monoxide emissions in France, plus 40% of suspended particles, the technical improvements supposed to have solved this problem. Although it is undeniable, measurable and calculable, the pollution created by automobiles is, at worse, passed over in silence and ignored, or at best, accepted with no efficient measure taken to remedy the problem. It is as if our society were afflicted with a perfectly identified ill, but prefers to carry on as if nothing were wrong. The consequences of accepting that this ill exists are too painful and question our way of life too deeply.

A tool of violence[Back to contents]

If the harm caused by automobiles themselves were not enough, this does not include the harm provoked by the violent behavior of the drivers. In 2001, 8,159 people died on French roads (21 person people per day), and 200,000 people were hurt, 45,000 of them seriously.[6] On a global scale, 8 million people lost their lives as of 1994[7]. And in France, car accidents accounted for 38% of all young people’s deaths in the 15-24 age group. Car accidents were the number one cause of mortality for this age group, ahead of suicide (17%)[8]. On a global scale, every year 8 million people lose their lives in a car accident.

These frightening statistics clearly demonstrate that the automobile is an unacceptably physically violent tool, due to the number of deaths caused by its use. If one considers that about 10% of the world’s inhabitants drive cars and the number of vehicles keeps increasing unremittingly, we should expect to see these figures increase tenfold in the years to come. How can a human being transform him or herself so radically when behind the steering wheel, to the point of becoming a furious, dangerous, deadly beast? From the moment the motorist enters into the steel box of his car, he is dispossessed of his flesh body and identifies with the body of his car. Thus, once identifying with the body of the car, its driver will feel the blow as an aggression directly inflicted on his person. Imagine for a moment if pedestrians were to behave the same way as motorists. If you walked too slowly on a sidewalk, the pedestrian behind you would curse and insult you so that you would let him pass. The moment the pedestrian traffic turned green, the least hesitation on your part would be punished by loud honking. Such behavior, which seems incredibly aggressive and disrespectful, is nevertheless typical for many motorists. Not content to monopolize most of the space already, motorists occupy in a completely unlawful manner the little space that is left for pedestrians, cyclists, the handicapped, and other road users. 

Like an armed force, automobiles occupy territories that don’t belong to them, to which they have no right, and where the occupants possess less physical strength. The automobile prefers to attack weaker entities (pedestrians, cyclists) whose physical mass is nothing compared to the ton of steel that is the car. The automobile subscribes to a logic of domination and violence against those who want a larger portion of the roadway.

After imposing itself as the dominant force and having killed millions of people in a direct manner, the automobile continues its work of mass destruction in imposing a law of terror by ravaging populations to satisfy its thirst for oil. As Marie-Hélène Aubert puts it, “The fuel that we put into our cars sometimes has the odor of blood, of embezzlement and the support of dictatorial governments.”[9] At the moment that we are protesting the war in Iraq, Total is benefiting from the forced labor of the Burmese people and the support of the dictatorship there; Omar Bongo, the president of Gabon, is enriching himself at the expense of the population; and the Pygmies are being displaced and persecuted as they have the misfortune to be living in the way of an oil pipeline between Chad and Cameroon.

The automobile leads to violence on an individual level as well as a collective one, on a local level as well as an international one. The human being has surely not evolved enough to master a tool that goes beyond his ability to conduct himself as a citizen of the world. Seeing that guns are banned in France and we often reproach North Americans for not doing the same, why not ban automobiles, which represent a danger just as big and the use of which eludes us just the same way.

The automobile is irrational[Back to contents]

If we rationally analyze the advantages and disadvantages to using the automobile, we would immediately stop using this mode of transport. Unfortunately, the usefulness imparted to the automobile is completely unrelated to reality and is not even justified by economic reasons. Paradoxical as it seems, here evidence of financial rentability is in support of the views of ecologists who are fighting against the construction of certain highways.[10]

In Energy and Equity, Ivan Illich calculates the real speed of an automobile by including the time taken to work to support the cost of this automobile. With speed = distance / time, let’s perform this calculation for the whole of France. The distance travelled per year is 14,000 km per vehicle in France. The time taken should include the time spent inside the car plus the time spent to build the automobile, upkeeping the highways, healing the injured people and burying the dead. In short, the real speed of an automobile should be calculated by dividing the distance travelled by the total of the time that is necessary for its operation and use.

Let’s keep the following facts in mind:

  • Average distance travelled by each car in France: 14,000 km
  • Number of private automobiles in France: 26,800,000
  • Budget of the automobile sector: 150 billion euros[11],
  • Cost of the lack of safety on the roads: 27.8 billion euros[12],
  • Average salary: 19,938 euros per active employed person

This means that on average each vehicle costs society 6,636 euros (150 billion + 27.8 billion / 26.8 million vehicles)
On average, an employed person works 1,650 hours per year, which means that he or she makes about 12 euros an hour (19,938 / 1,650)
In order to pay these 6,635 euros, each person must work an average of 553 hours.
If he drives at an average speed of 50 km/h, he spends an average of 280 hours in his car (14,000 / 50).  In order to move from one point to another, he thus spends 280 hours in his car and 553 hours working, or a total of 833 hours.
Therefore, his real speed is 16.8 km/h (14,000 / 833).

If he tries to go faster at 100 km/h (which would make him a real road hog!), he only spends 140 hours in his car but still works 553 hours, thus moving at 20 km/h (14,000 km/140 + 553 hours). 
Even if the driver were to travel at an infinite speed, he would actually never move faster than 25.3 km/h. (14,000 km/553 hours).

Suddenly, the speed of automobiles appears extremely relative. It’s interesting to note that the real speed increases much less quickly than the average speed indicated on the speedometer. Thus, an acceleration of 50 to 100 km/h only results in going 3 km/h faster! The adage “It’s no use driving fast” was never so true. At an average of 50 km/h on the speedometer, the real speed of an automobile is identical to the instantaneous speed of a bicycle. Moreover, this is not an exhaustive list of the total costs (such as the price of supporting dictatorships, the price of the war in Iraq…) and are likely to mount uncontrollably with the increase in the price of oil.
The use of the automobile is completely irrational and doesn’t save more time than it wastes, because a ton of mass is needed to transport one person as opposed to 10 or 15 kg by car. The automobile allows us to take advantage of the fresh air in the country and to escape the unbreathable atmosphere in the cities… caused by all these cars that go to the country in order to escape the atmosphere created by all these cars that go to the country, etc.

The automobile cannot be extended on a global scale[Back to contents]

There are currently about 600 million automobiles on Earth, or one car per 10 inhabitants. Despite this, the situation is already critical, as far as environmental damage, global warming due to the greenhouse effect, and the depletion of oil reserves are concerned. Extending the use of the car to the entire human population would be simply impossible. At 33 tons of oil per inhabitant on Earth, and at the present rate of consumption of the average French person, this would mean a total depletion of oil reserves in less than 13 years[13], without counting the numerous other uses for oil (the petrochemical industry, fertilizers, pharmaceutical manufacturing). Oil is a resource that doesn’t belong to more to us than those who will come after us, and which we don’t have the right to mortgage on the lives of future generations.

Ecological problems are like an enormous wheel of inertia, which we make turn a little faster every day. This wheel is already turning much too fast and much of the damage is already irreversible. While we should be asking ourselves how we can slow down this wheel, we are not even capable of slowing its acceleration and we continue, on the contrary, to turn the wheel faster and faster. While the 10% of privileged human beings who use automobiles have already, on their own, overstepped the critical thresholds and put ecological equilibriums into peril, we are saying that China is an incredible market for the automobile industry and speaking of its extraordinary economic potential. How can we uphold such aberrant reasoning, totally lacking in logic and common sense in our society where the scientific method is king, where reasoning is rational and, if we put aside for a moment our impulses and our utopic dreams, we would see that the automobile is simply not compatible with human life on Earth.

The automobile is an ideology[Back to contents]

If we continue to travel by automobile, despite all the problems that it poses, despite the violence and incoherence that it leads to, it is because our relationship to the automobile is much more emotional than rational. It is because the automobile is a dominant ideology driven by advertising and the majority of the media.

We begin our lives by playing with a plastic car with a big funny man in the driver’s seat.  A little later in childhood we continue with a car shaped a little more precisely. Then comes a miniature model car that reproduces the one in the family garage as faithfully as possible. Bored with these stationary toys, we then turn to an electric car circuit or a car operated by remote control that finally provides us with the sensation of speed and power by proxy. In play, we dream of the pleasure we could have driving such a hotrod, “for real”. Sundays spent watching Formula 1 on television are special times when father and son can share a common passion, talking about changing tires and the new 12-cylinder engine.

During our entire childhood, we grow up with this ideology; we glorify the Formula 1 winner and the victor of the last rally. The automobile is a structuring element of our lives and the obtainment of the driver license marks the passage to adulthood. Aside from the rare children whose education more or less put it into question, refusing the dominant ideology means rejecting an important part of one’s education, to set oneself against one’s friends, being excluded from numerous discussions, even being excluded totally from certain groups of friends.

Television, advertising, friends, colleagues, government aid – everything is laid out to show you that you definitely need an automobile and happiness is impossible without possessing one.

Television, advertising, friends, colleagues, government aid – everything is laid out to show you that without question, you need an automobile and happiness is impossible without one. Advertisers, who purport to embody modernity, use completely backwards and sexist techniques for their ends. A bank recently broadcast a commercial where we see two young male students taken with a beautiful young woman. The first student drives an old heap. The second student goes to the bank to borrow money and gets a new convertible. Which of the two seduces the beautiful girl? The second one, of course.  Over and over again, commercials operate on the tried-and-true “beautiful car = pretty girl” equation.

When they want to use a little more sophistication, advertisers associate the car with a mixture of power, domination (sexual and social) and freedom. The automobile becomes the object through which one can assert oneself and free oneself of material constraints by escaping the natural slowness of our human condition. Unfortunately, the pseudo-liberty that the automobile permits is often experienced at the expense of the communal freedom to breath clean air, to live in peace, to stay alive or to live in a democratic State. I recently noticed a poster in a bar that was striking. In it we see Jean Gabin [famous French film star of the 50s and 60s] at the wheel of a convertible, with the following quote: “Hurray for freedom – especially mine.” This version of automobile freedom, a selfish freedom, is the reflection of what is hidden behind advertising’s promises of happiness.

The need to drive a car is imposed earlier and earlier in life. Whereas twenty years ago being a university student was synonymous with bicycles, scooters and public transport, today it’s more and more common for students to own a car. Parents bleed themselves dry so that their darlings can travel in style. The idea that all students drive cars is so commonly accepted that when it opened its doors in 1996, the Technology University of Troyes had foreseen hundreds of parking spaces for cars, but simply forgot that certain students still travelled by bike. Thus, around thirty student cyclists found that there were no spaces for them to park their bicycles in the amply-sized parking lot.

The automobile is imposed on people not only in social life, but also in professional life. For certain professions such as consulting, the possession of a driver license is a sine qua non condition of being hired. Anyone not able or not willing to drive will find him or herself excluded from these positions. Professional hyper-mobility can be explained by heavy specialization in the professions. The fewer specialists there are in a given field, the more space they have to cover. We are evolving towards an organization of work life/a system of employment where the use of the car is becoming obligatory in more and more cases.

The automobile ideology imposes itself in all aspects of our lives, whether it is our leisure time or the economic organization of our societies. This mode of functioning seems irrefutable and natural to us. However, the automobile ideology is a minority ideology since 90% of the inhabitants of our little planet don’t possess one and we are only a privileged few to not be able to get along without one and to think that life is not possible otherwise.

Escape from the automobile via décroissance[Back to contents]

Faced by the problems created by the automobile, the brave knights of the technical world promise an entire arsenal of solutions that would permit us to scientifically remedy all of the ills without putting into question the way of life on which the automobile is based. Automobile violence will be reduced thanks to the development of automatic driving systems, more emergency airbags, stronger and more efficient brakes, tension-sensitive seatbelts, all safety systems for which research is taking place and contributing to the general improvement of our well-being. Pollution will be reduced thanks to the elimination of old, worn-out vehicles [French law] and through the instigation of draconian limits on emissions. The problem of diminishing oil and gas reserves will be solved by the replacement of the combustible engine with a “clean” electric or hydrogen engine. Let’s note in passing that noise pollution is rarely evoked, visual pollution even less and social pollution not at all.

Even if the negative effects were cut in half, the car would continue to kill, pollute, exhaust natural resources and make life difficult for millions of humans.

All of these technical solutions are completely ineffective for several reasons. The number of vehicles increases more quickly than the technical progress made. These improvements are not enough to make the automobile globally sustainable and are much too insufficient to allow each woman and man on Earth to possess one. Even if the negative effects were cut in half, the car would continue to kill, pollute, exhaust natural resources and make life difficult for millions of humans. A “clean” car does not exist and will never exist. As of today, there is no energy source that does not pollute. Electricity is produced either from fossil fuels, or from nuclear energy. Electricity is dependent on oil, gas, coal or uranium reserves. Electricity produces greenhouse gases or radioactive waste. Hydrogen is produced either from hydrocarbons or …electrical energy

Certain scientists retort that “of course we’ll find something”, that “the human being has an extraordinary evolutionary capacity”, and that “technical progress will allow us to find a completely non-polluting and infinite source of energy”. This is very beautiful, but stems more from faith than a real scientific acuity and analyzing the facts in a rational manner.

The problems created by individual vehicles should be resolved in a philosophical and political way. We should accept our responsibilities as humans and face our destiny, and stop constantly referring to the wizard of technology. Let’s take for example the use of the bicycle in the city. We can promote its use in two different ways.

The only way of solving the problems created by the automobile is to reduce the number of kilometers travelled by these motorized boxes of steel.

The first solution – the technical one – consists of building numerous cycling paths without altering the space reserved for automobiles. An unfortunate consequence of this solution will be that drivers will get used to being the sole users of the roadway, making cyclists an endangered species for which a nature preserve (the bicycle paths) will be set aside to save a few surviving specimens.

The second solution, the political one, consists in considerably reducing the space reserved for automobiles and eliminating parking spaces, so that driving a car becomes unbearable and that the automobile begins to be considered an intrusion into urban space. The roadway will be restored to cyclists and public transport.

Of the two above solutions, the first will always be preferred because, even if it doesn’t solve much, it is easily put into place and gives the illusion of contributing to a good cause. The second solution is rarely put into practice because it necessitates a re-examination of our ways of life, a fundamental reform of our way of thinking and is a blow to the sacrosanct modern comfort which we, privileged Westerners, will never give up. Finding solutions to problems caused by the automobile can only be achieved by reducing our energy consumption and reducing the number of kilometers travelled in these motorized steel boxes. We prefer to continue to think, or to pretend to think, that technology will come to our rescue on its proud steed and will allow us to never, never question our way of life[14].

Décroissance of the transport flow[Back to contents]

The number of trucks on European roads increases every year. More highway construction has been planned in order to deal with this increasing traffic flow.  Once again, a technical solution will ameliorate the symptom (too many trucks on the roads) instead of addressing the cause of the problem (our way of life is such that more and more trucks travel on the roads). Likewise, as far as the automobile goes, we should address the cause of the problem, which is the fact that more and more trips by car are necessary in life. Why can’t students live without a car anymore? Why do certain people travel more than 60 km in order to get to work?

We should not only replace these car trips as soon as we can with other modes of transport more respectful of the environment, but also reduce the number of trips. Our freedom is important, but it has limits. It stops where the possibility of every human to have a decent life begins, whether it is here or on the other side of the world, today or in 15,000 years. Walking and the bicycle are two means of transport that we can use and abuse without limit other than the limits imposed by our own bodies. However, if every inhabitant on Earth went about and made the trip from Paris to Lyon by TGV [high-speed train] every single day, the result wouldn’t be much better than it is with the automobile. “In order to transport/In transporting one person from Paris to Lyon, a TGV consumes 12.5 dep (the equivalent of one kilo of oil), while a car consumes 30 dep[15]”. Thus a TGV uses 41% of the energy used by a car per person transported. If we put trucks on trains, if we replaced our trips by car with trips by TGV and, at the same time multiplied the distance of our trip by 2.5, then we have not gained anything.

In order to leave the automobile ideology, we should follow the logic of a widespread reduction of all traffic flow. This means a re-localizing of the economy and trade, a limitation on the size of businesses, with the dismantling of large supermarkets for the benefit of local commerce. Let’s take the structure of our cities, for example. The districts are differentiated: residential district, business district, shopping area. The distance needed to travel to do one’s errands is increasing. Businesses are being set up on the peripheries of the city, where the land is cheaper. Fashion boutiques are concentrated in the very center of the city, with neighborhoods dying. The ultimate result of this evolution are American cities such as Los Angeles, which stretches out over 200 km or Detroit which has only 4.5 million inhabitants, but occupies more than 10,000 km2.

Multinational corporations employ hundreds of specialists on the same site. Relocalizing the economy consists in reducing the maximum size of businesses in favor of structures on a human scale according to a division of competencies.  Currently, business profits are made either to the detriment of other peoples whom we reduce to slavery[16], or to the detriment of the natural resources that the Earth provides (the oil that permits mechanization).

While decreasing the amount of traffic flow is important, reducing the speed of this traffic is also. The most often-used argument to justify the use of a car is the speed at which it allows us to get from one point to another. We can quit the automobile by refusing to adopt this logic of ever-increasing speed in favor of modes of transportation that are slower but ecologically sustainable, such as the bicycle or the train. And once we are in our seat reading a good Barjavel book, we’ll have all the leisure time to realized that all the “lost” time spent reading in this train is in fact compensated by the time we saved by not having to work to pay for a car.

Décroissance and quitting the automobile are two related methods of proceeding. Giving up the automobile and reducing the amount and the speed of traffic flow are necessary in order to reduce energy consumption to a level that will allow us to reach an equilibrium between energy consumed and renewable energy [17].

Quitting the automobile by redefining our goals[Back to contents]

Quitting the automobile means putting much more into question than different kinds of transportation. It means putting into question our ways of life, the structure of our society and the goals that this structure has. Economic growth and the constant rise in our standard of living are not real goals. Good human relationships, happiness, figuring out how the entire world can get enough to eat, are goals. At a more local level, the objective of having the biggest and most powerful car could be replaced by the objective of experiencing good moments by travelling by bike on roads clear of automobiles.

If our objective is décroissance, the redistribution of resources and the preservation of the environment, the act of winning the Formula 1 race will no longer be glorified as it is today, mechanics students won’t get a sparkle in their eye when they talk about the latest 8-cylinder motor, and the act of owning a powerful and speedy car will no longer be a means of gaining admiration. The automobile will seem, on the contrary, completely backward, useless and ugly since it runs counter to the preservation of human life. Our behavior is rooted from the direction that our society takes. If we want infinite growth, if we place economics and technology over human life, we will have a world full of cars, polluted and disrespectful of the human being. If, on the contrary, we prefer to put human beings and the nature that surrounds them first, we will abandon these horrible motorized steel boxes that pollute our lives, and we will lower our economic standard of living and increase our interpersonal, social and human standard of living.

Quitting the automobile with non-violence[Back to contents]

Redefining our objectives – individual or collective – also means rejecting power, i.e. rejecting the domination of human beings over other human beings. Refusing to drive a 4x4 and dominate the roadway means refusing to impose the international domination needed for oil. By demonizing the Americans for having declared war against Saddam Hussein, we are trying to clear ourselves of guilt and forget that we Europeans have the same way of life as the Americans.  European power, the common interests of Russia, France and Germany, is thrown against American power. Unfortunately, the results are the same whether it is Exxon-Mobil/Esso or TotalElfFina exploiting Iraqi oil.

The rejection of power translates as the refusal to impose on others what they don’t want. In imposing the automobile, we are indirectly imposing war, but we also impose on children to stay home, as the roads have become too dangerous for them to play in.  We force cyclists to wear a helmet, and (perhaps soon) armor and padding to protect themselves from danger. This stage is perhaps the most difficult to achieve because it forces us to master our animal aggression and our hunger for power and let our humanity triumph over them.

Notes[Back to contents]

1. Casseurs de pub, Volume 1, November 1999, pp. 56 and 57.


3. Planetecologie


5. Dominique Dron and  Michel Cohen de Lara For a Sustainable Transport Policy.

6. In fact, this figure only covers the deaths in the three days following the accident. The OMS provides a much higher figure: about 13,000 deaths. Air pollution adds another 17,000 deaths per year to make a total of 30,000 deaths per year – all in France alone

7. International Road Federation. 10,000 deaths per month in China alone.

8. Jean-Pascal Assailly, Nonviolent Alternativess No.123, La voiture véhicule de la violence, page 35.

9. Marie-Hélène Aubert, Nonviolent Alternatives No.123, La voiture véhicule de la violence, page 59.

10. The A45 between Lyon and Saint-Etienne.

11. Ministère de l'écologie, du développement durable, des transports et du logement, secteur routier.

12. Road security

13. Worldwide reserves in 2001 = 143 billion tons according to British Petroleum. Total primary French consumption = 96.5 million tons in 2000, according to the minister of French industry.

14. "Our standard of living is not negotiable." George Bush Sr.

15. Source: Center of Technical and Industrial Scientific Culture, Grenoble, France.

16. Cf. Naomi Klein, No Logo and Michael Moore, Downsize This!

17. Wind power, solar energy, and other renewable energies directly dependent on the energy supplied by the sun.