Growing evidence of the increasing Greenhouse Effect showed how the rich industrialised countries and the big corporations were responsible for terrible destruction of the global environment. At the heart of the problem is the burning of fossil fuels, as well as slashing and burning of rainforests; other causes are the increasing dependence on the car in “first world” countries and the involvement of the World Bank in clearing Amazonian rainforests for the benefit of foreign investment. In other words, everything that is key to producing profits for the owners of the huge multinational companies.
Many predicted that these environmental campaigns were to be just another passing phase. A few years and everyone will forget car pollution, nuclear waste and the depleting ozone layer, they claimed. How wrong they were. Continuing campaigns around “green” and related issues has meant that even mainstream politicians have to pay lip service to environmental protection.
It’s no wonder. People can’t ignore environmental degradation. We live amidst it every day. Traffic jams in all major cities. Road accidents killing tens of thousands. Asthma steadily increasing. One third of all Australians will get some form of skin cancer in their lifetime because of ozone layer depletion.
Here in the UK there has been a steady increase in anti-roads campaigns. Not surprising really. No-one can ignore the damage caused by cars; smog, noise, lead poisoning, lung disease and the list goes on.
So what is the answer? Some see the car, in and of itself, as the problem, or even the main cause of all these problems. But this is quite simply, a limited view. The heart of the problem lies with city planning and the fact that capitalist profit is easier to draw from the selling and use of privately owned cars, than from the development and use of public transport. And the government is so keen on protecting the interests of the car and petroleum industries, that it continues to spend more taxpayers’ money on building roads and subsidising car related services, than it does on public transport.
A good invention?
But we must remember that cars are still a great invention. Who can honestly say they don’t enjoy the freedom of owning or driving a car. Anyone who’s had to endure isolation and drudgery in small towns or the sprawling suburbs of big cities, will understand the huge desire to escape, to travel; even if it’s just for a night of clubbing or a trip to the coast or countryside.
Cars have been a great advance for human society, allowing us to travel faster and cover further distances. Along with communication technology, transportation has enabled us to become an increasingly global society (for those that get access to this technology).
And cars could continue to be a benefit to society, even in crowded cities. Hydrogen cars, for example, have already been developed by several companies and can be equipped with sensors to monitor the road and surrounding vehicles. A single lane of an automated highway could carry at least 6,000 vehicles per hour (three times more than a conventional highway), while ‘drivers’ simply sit back and read a book. Accidents would be reduced by at least a half. (New Internationalist, No 269, July 1995). Also, car pooling systems and fast track lanes for cars with four or more passengers would be easier to extend. This is in stark contrast to the image we now have of clogged highways, fumes, noise, smog and future climatic disaster.
But such advances in transportation are unlikely to ever be introduced under the profit driven system we are forced to live our lives under. Especially when the car and petroleum companies actually “own” this sort of technology.
Ultimately, there is only one way to protect the environment from destruction and the results of multinational competition for profit Human society – the cities, towns and communities, the distribution and production of goods – must be run collectively and democratically by the workers of the world.
Only under a fully democratic and planned economy, can we finally benefit from our technological advances, instead of living as slaves to them. The real enemy is not technology itself – not the car, not the factory, not the computer, not the nuclear power plant – the real enemies are those that own and control the technology and technological research: the capitalists.
The force that can defend our environment and make the world a place fit for human beings is those that have the collective power to hit the capitalists where it really hurts – by withdrawing their labour that produces profit in the first place.
That is why Revolution welcomes the involvement of “Reclaim the Streets” and other environmental campaigners in supporting the struggle of the Liverpool Dockers and Underground workers. While we do not share their blanket opposition to all cars and roads, their turn to the working class movement is a massive step forward for anyone who wants to stop the profiteers wrecking our planet and our future.