Podium: Risks of living with hyper-mobility
John Adams From an inaugural lecture on risk management by the professor of geography at London University
Thursday 26 November 1998
Transport comes first. The forecasts of traffic growth are mind-boggling. In 1950, the average Briton travelled about five miles a day. It is now about 27 miles a day, and forecast to rise by 2025 to over 60 miles a day. The recent Transport White Paper proclaimed policy to reduce the rate of growth.
Put another way, given present problems of congestion, pollution and declining public transport, the new policy aspires, it seems to me, to ensure that things will get worse more slowly. Most of the time, money and effort currently being spent on transport are devoted to the development of the pollution-free perpetual motion engine - or as close to it as the laws of physics and chemistry permit. Let us be optimistic and assume that science and technology will succeed in this goal - let us assume that engines become hugely cleaner and more efficient. What is likely to happen if the realisation of these forecasts is assisted by technological developments that make flying and driving cleaner, but also cheaper? Certain problems, it seems to me, will remain:
More polarisation - as some become more mobile, the majority are being left in the dust. In 1950 there were about 2.5 billion people in the world who did not own cars. Now there are more than 5 billion. More sprawl - the Government's car ownership forecasts cannot materialise unless more people move to the suburbs. The on-street car park in most cities is already full. More anonymity - in high mobility societies fewer people know their geographical neighbours, there is a limit to the number of people you can know, and if you know more at a distance you will know fewer closer to home.
Less child-friendliness - as the world fills with more strangers and more traffic, restrictions on children's freedom will increase. In 1971, 80 per cent of seven- and eight-year-old children got to school on their own, unaccompanied by an adult. Now it is closer to zero. The two main reasons that parents give for denying their children the freedom that they enjoyed as children are fear of traffic and fear of strangers.
More danger - for those not in cars.
Fatter and less fit people - with less exercise built into daily routines.
And less democracy - as the majority have less influence over, and diminished trust in the institutions that govern their lives. I conclude with a rather gloomy speculation. I think we are heading into trouble. As I suggested near the beginning of this lecture, increased mobility - hyper mobility - is undermining our trust in the institutions that govern our lives. It is doing this by expanding the scale of the problems that must be confronted.
Environmental problems, economic problems, political problems, and military problems are all being transformed by the process known as globalisation. Science and technology have produced undoubted benefits, but they are also creating risks on an unprecedented scale. If the scale of institutions does not expand in step with the scale of the problems that they are responsible for governing, these institutions will become impotent.
But this growth of scale diminishes the significance of the individual - sociologists refer to this process of social fragmentation as individuation. A friend of mine will be standing in the forthcoming elections for the European Parliament. His constituency extends from Carlisle to Liverpool and contains over 4 million voters. I find it difficult to imagine that his constituents will feel their individual votes to be of great significance.
As hyper-mobility increases the scale of government, it diminishes the significance of the local. It diminishes the interest of the voter. It generates apathy, which is a relative of fatalism.
A few years ago I received an invitation - to speak to a conference of science fiction writers about transport planning. I asserted - to those more familiar with the literature than I, and hoping to be contradicted - that nowhere in the genre of science fiction dedicated to speculating about futures in which distance had been conquered by science and technology could one find a plausible example of a working democracy.
I was not contradicted. The form of government in all such futures - from Brave New World and 1984 to Star Wars and Blade Runner - is tyrannical hierarchy.
tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods
tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The political parties aren't all the same – which means 2015 will be a 'big-choice' election
- 2 President of Argentina adopts Jewish godson to 'stop him turning into a werewolf'
- 3 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 4 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public set to see exhibits from police’s grisly crime museum
- 5 Naomi Wolf reacts to Isis 'conspiracy theories' critism after she questions whether beheading videos are real
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
Downton Abbey Christmas special 2014, review: Love is everywhere, actually
The golden age of TV comedy is here
The Boy in the Dress, TV review: David Walliams' Boxing Day treat is a celebration of being different
From Marvel to Star Wars: The rise of cinema’s shared universes
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Immigrants make UK racist, says Ukip councillor Trevor Shonk
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Katie Hopkins speaks out on childhood obesity: 'Parents of fat children should be prosecuted for child cruelty'