Friday, May 30, 2008

That Petrol Emotion

We are shortly going to have to fill the car with petrol. It's going to hurt. And we are much better off than many people: we are lucky enough (or maybe it's not entirely luck) to live quite close to most places we need to drive to, and have access to door-to-door and pretty reliable public transport too. Nevertheless, having a car is just part of the long history of human ingenuity and ability to create labour-saving and quality-of-life-enhancing ways of living. Which, hey, I'm not wishing to stand in the way of. (And they have neat things like drink holders and places for charging your laptop and six-CD changers. All good.)

But having a car is also, slowly, killing the planet. [Oh, here he goes again - ed.] We are paying a lot for petrol, and perhaps that might make a difference to car usage patterns. But for all sorts of reasons pressure is being brought to bear on the price of petrol. Well, I am bringing pressure to bear in the other direction: why aren't we paying, let's see, double - or triple - the present inflated prices? That might help. If one thing can turn around human behaviour, it's the hip pocket. This has been proved time and time again. If (when?) running a car, or at least a petrol-driven car, becomes so expensive that we have to think twice about it, we will think twice about it. And that is when we will genuinely, seriously reduce the use of it. It may, in the short-to-medium term, mean that everything, not just petrol but everything that gets made and transported, will get more expensive. But, thinking globally and of the future, it might be the recession we have to have. (Haven't I heard that before?)

Of course, I wouldn't be saying this to people openly, because the likely response would be a punch in the nose. But (I hope) you know it makes sense.

Anyway, why take my word for it when you can read this column by Thomas L Friedman in the New York Times? He's a reputable writer, read by many people (unlike some of us), is frequently right, or at least reasonable, in his opinions, and if he could only shake off the slightly patronising, aw-shucks folksy tone, would be a pleasure to read.

Of course, higher petrol prices are only one part of the problem. Cities are designed all wrong. Houses are designed all wrong. And the person responsible for the concept of "disposable" has a lot to answer for. But we can only save the human race from extinction a bit at a time. And I would hate to think that we couldn't do it, or that it was "just too hard" (although in my darker moments I think exactly that). I need to keep reminding myself that America put a human being on the surface of the moon just because the Soviet Union was going to beat them to it, so perhaps all we need is real motivation. Perhaps the long dry in this part of the country is part of that motivation. Food shortages in Australia would be a rum thing, wouldn't they?

Have a lovely weekend ... (And don't forget to turn off your computers and printers at work before you go. And the lights.)