What if we just gave up cars?

I’d suggest reading Cop26 leaders asking “what if we just gave up cars?” for the topic itself, but also as an example of the magnitude of change possible as well as the very strong headwinds blowing against some of those changes.

At Cop26, arguably the place where the greatest possibilities should be discussed, governments and car companies focused on electric vehicles, which are much cleaner than fossil fuel-powered ones, but failed to truly reflect on deeper changes in transport.

Environmental critics of electric cars argue that they still clog up cities and are dangerous to cyclists and pedestrians. While they are vastly less polluting than traditional cars, lithium is mined in often controversial circumstances for the batteries used by electric vehicles, and dust from car brakes and tyres still give off a certain amount of air pollution. […]

“At the conference electric cars are taking centre stage, while our sustainable form of transport – by far the cheapest and easiest way to cut emissions from transport – doesn’t even get a mention.”

Already, while the pandemic is still far from resolved, some of the early dreams and promises of revolution are fading away.

At a series of protests held on Wednesday, activists urged greater funding for public transport and walking and cycling paths, arguing that a promised “green revolution” away from cars during the Covid pandemic has failed to materialize in most cities.

Not only are city governments already forgetting their early promises, but people already turn away from cycling, as trafic danger surges back up with back-to-work measures.

“That’s an issue with electric cars, people will still feel unsafe with them around,” she said. “It doesn’t actually change the issue of congestion and the number of cars on our streets. Going electric doesn’t change the blight of cars in our cities. We are still isolated in our little booth, not communicating, not meeting other people.”

Facing climate change is, increasingly every day, always a question of speed. As activists remind us, a transition to electric cars is good but slow, “persuading more people to swap at least some journeys from cars to public transport will have immediate benefits for the climate.”