The tragedy of transport

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Temps de lecture : 2 minutes  

One of our follies is an obsession with speed and mobility. In industrialized countries we live as if we have no legs. Yet, we always want to go somewhere and fast. Often we don’t live near where we work and we don’t work where we live. We call ourselves a rational society, but when it comes to transportation we take leave of our senses. We impose an incredible burden on the environment; much of our mobility is unnecessary, useless and irrational.

In Britain, we pay to burn our orchards, and transport apples from Africa. We pay our farmers not to farm and we import butter from New Zealand. We pay our workers to remain unemployed and we get our chairs from China. Where has our rationality gone?

Once, E. F. Schumacher saw a lorry full of biscuits travelling from Manchester to London. Minutes later, he saw another lorry-load of biscuits going from London to Manchester. As an economist, he wanted to understand the rationale behind this transportation of biscuits. We use so much finite fossil fuel, waste human labour and pollute the air — all this, for what purpose? Schumacher racked his brain. Having failed to find any good reason, in frustration he joked, “Oh well, I am not a nutritionist, maybe the nutritional quality of biscuits is enhanced by transporting them from Manchester to London and from London to Manchester!

TRANSPORT CONSUMES large quantities of oil; it is a major source of air and noise pollution; it creates unbearable congestion — particularly in urban areas; it puts people’s health at risk; it causes global warming and it causes the death of both humans and animals. Yet, we are totally addicted to and dependent on the transportation of goods and people. It is hard to see a practical way out of this quagmire.


WE USED TO say that “the sky is the limit”. But when it comes to air traffic even the sky is no longer a limit. Cut flowers from Kenya are flown to Britain while in the Isles of Scilly flower growers lose their livelihoods. Tim Johnson’s advice to us all is to practise frugality in flying.

John Whitelegg is sorry but he cannot see a future for lorries. They are clearly monstrous. If we return to locally produced and manufactured goods, we will not need to have oil-guzzling, air-polluting, noisy lorries on our roads.

If we want to tame the lorries and aeroplanes, we must also tame world trade. Nick Robins clearly makes the case that as far as environmental protection and social justice are concerned, world trade is a Trojan horse of exploitative capitalism from the North with disastrous consequences for the South.

The issue of trade goes very deep. It is related to our dualistic economics and Maurice Ash begins the great questioning.

Trade and transport can be transformed. In Bristol, as James Bruges reports, people are planning for sustainability, while in the usa, as Donella Meadows tells us, community supported agriculture (CSA) is reducing food miles and restoring the care and love of the land.

The tragedy of transport

Satish KUMAR

Resurgence n° 197

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