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Monday, January 25, 2010

The Gubbins Experiment - One year without a car

The outsider

I'm an outsider. "The Gubbins Experiment", my vow to take no car journeys in 2009, either as driver or passenger, has made me so, and in two particular ways.
1. Citizen of a local world

Although I'm already a cyclist and public transit user, I can't fall back on the car to 'fill in the gaps' when I would like it to. It's forced me to adopt a more self-sufficient, local frame of mind. The workable parameters of my world have begun to shrink in accordance.

The combustion engine represents the something-for-nothing way of living that dominates our modern world. It's an existence dependent on borrowing from the past (fossil fuel energy) and from the future (the health of the planet). In exchange for ease of movement now, we commit the Earth to ever expanding ecological debt and we invest ourselves in systems with no future. With peak oil looming, the mass oil-based mass private transport system isn't going to work for much longer.

The reality of energy simply doesn't work the way we have been living. Reality with a future will be intensely local. Food, materials, services, infrastructure, transport: without oil to propel us around the globe, all of these will shortly begin a re-sizing from state, national, and global back to local.

We might as well start by experimenting with life without our cars now. The Gubbins Experiment has made me intensely aware of this need. As an outsider looking in, I see so clearly now how doomed the current transport system is.

2. The violence of the car

As an outsider, I've come to realize how violent the act of driving is. Our public spaces, the areas outside of our buildings, have become death strips populated by dangerous chunks of metal that threaten to take out anybody who puts a foot wrong. The alienation and dehumanization of society owes much to the combustion engine. It was not what we were promised at the dawn of the mass automobile society.

Picture in your mind a world where car use is an exception not a rule. Imagine quiet, clean streets of friendly faces and moderate pace. You cross the street wherever you like, your children are free to play next to the road, birdsong is once more audible, the streets become safe once more, you start to see the same people again and again and the first shoots of community begin to grow. Think of what effect all this would have on your daily peace of mind. That could one day become a reality if we wanted it to be so.

I'm very critical of what world cars have helped create, but I'm less condemnatory of drivers. All people, including drivers, act according to their level of understanding and with the field of view afforded to them. As an ex-driver, I relate to the view of cars as indispensable in the modern age (even though I now see the error of such a view). I understand how firmly entrenched people are in the car world and that many couldn't simply walk away from their cars. As a result, it's such people who most need to start talking about post-car existence. My inventory lacks a crystal ball but I'm betting that such a time will come. Let's start talking.


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