Azara Blog: The head of CABE does not like cars

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Date published: 2008/05/20

John Sorrell (chairman of CABE) says on the BBC:

Some people think that cutting carbon means denying ourselves the things that make life enjoyable - no shopping, no fun - but I see it differently.

Tackling climate change isn't about self-denial, it's about reinvention; reinventing towns and cities, redesigning the way they work, and changing the way we all manage our lives.

Unfortunately he then goes down the usual path of wanting to deny things to people "that make life enjoyable". The academic middle class people who run Britain hate cars (at least those driven by the peasants) and Sorrell is just your typical academic middle class person. So he says:

It is interesting that the biggest carbon savings at BedZed, the UK's veteran eco-housing development, have been made as a result of establishing a car sharing scheme.

Cutting private car use generally means civic leaders being prepared to risk a few brave decisions.

For example, when a new suburb was built in the German city of Freiburg, they ran a tram service from the moment the first resident moved in.

This meant empty trams at first, but now nearly half of its residents are car free. Not so foolish after all.

So my second test for a sustainable city is whether you have a genuine transport choice.

Is it just as cheap and convenient to go by bus, tram and local train as it is by car?

Until it is, heavy traffic will continue to put most people off walking and cycling, which are the personal transport options that score best for fitness and protecting the planet.

Some people don't like driving so are happy to get about otherwise. But most people prefer to travel by car. You just have to look at China, where many people can now afford to own a car, to see this fact writ large. People are not "put off walking and cycling" by "heavy traffic". People just prefer to be in cars. Most people find it more comfortable and convenient.

Sorrell perhaps thinks that owning a car is "foolish" (and hopefully he does not own one). In a few decades (pretty much) all cars will be powered by electricity, and most likely by electricity generated "renewably". Will Sorrell still claim that owning a car is "foolish"? So does Sorrell hate cars because they are allegedly un-green or because, being an academic middle class control freak, he hates the peasants being independently mobile? And does he think that people who travel by so-called public transport should be subsidised by the rest of society to support their lifestyle?

Sorrell makes two other points, which are valid but trite. So one is that we should make our buildings more energy efficient. The second point is that we should have more greenery in cities, including on roofs. Well, who would have thought? This is Architecture 101. The fact that little of this is happening now is as good an indication as any that CABE is a complete failure.

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