Sean O'Grady: Don't shoot the messenger

'I blame the Government. It could and should do more to make us use our cars less'
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Given climate of the times (no pun intended), I suppose it's not surprising that we've had so many letters from readers recently. They've been pointing out the apparent inconsistency of an environmentally conscious newspaper such as The Independent running a motoring section. Hypocrisy, explicitly or not, is the charge.

Unsurprisingly, given that I edit this section, I've given the matter some thought. Unsurprisingly, too, I don't think we ought to bin the section. I don't think the charge of hypocrisy sticks. Let me say why.

You oughtn't shoot the messenger. The Independent doesn't make cars. We write about them, that's all. Sadly, lots of the newer models happen to be 4x4s, and we have to reflect that. Not that they're all huge gas guzzlers actually.

But we also go out of our way to cover alternative technologies (including the bicycle) and frequently offer advice about going green. Even if all the possible restraints on car ownership and use under discussion now came into effect, people would still need advice on buying and running cars. Smaller, lighter, more efficient cars, yes, but not even our greenest reader is going to give up their personal transport altogether (OK, not many of you: I'd be interested to hear from those who have). Who, by the way, has given up long-haul flights?

So if you don't like the damage cars do, then who should you blame? Well, you could start with the motor manufacturers and traders. Many do, which is why, for example, some environmental protesters broke into the Land Rover works and chained themselves to various bits of machinery last year. It is also why a lawyer in California has issued suits against all the world's leading manufacturers for damage (and damages) to the planet. Shouldn't they pay up for all the havoc they're causing?

I'm not so sure about that. Because the car makers would not make the kind of cars they do if we didn't demand them. We pay good money for cars that, in all conscience, we may not even need. If we all boycotted the internal combustion engine we'd soon find Ford selling us the latest in pony and trap style; Honda offering a pedal-car; Volkswagen offering "GTI" bicycles. Even now they are developing the technologies of the future - bio-fuels, hybrids, the hydrogen fuel cell, even when we don't seem that interested in these advanced cars. You can't ban cars, but you can change them.

I know that the manufacturers spend vast amounts persuading us to buy cars, but are we really so simple minded? And if we are, why obey the SUV ad rather than the little hatch ad? Especially given that the environmental lobby (I use the term non-pejoratively) gets much more publicity for free. Just think how many articles and news items you've seen on global warming this year. Not to mention Al Gore's movie.

I blame the Government. It could and should do more to make us use our cars less, and do so transparently and fairly. I'd vote for that. How many of our fellow citizens would back such a manifesto? They haven't yet. Go out and campaign. On your bike, that is.

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