Saturday, 19 January 2013

Macro Level Trends – (Wo)Man & the Machine – “Hippy Capitalism”.

Having taken a previous overview of the seemingly very positive present and near term global economic outlook, other 21st century issues have made it evidently clear that a resurgence in manufacturing and related service industries are required to both regenerate economic activity and solve some of the greatest man-made, socially negative issues which have emerged.

Today, the “Smog Days” of Beijing and Shanghai are all too reminiscent of the London and Manchester’s “Pea Soupers” of the 1950s, and Los Angeles’ “Smog Layer” since the 1970s. These climatic conditions reflecting the clash of GDP expansionary policies, a reliance on proven and cheap industrial strategies but with the concomitant short-straw of pollution and associated populace health problems.

All of this is well recognised, with what were once called ‘newly industrialised’ countries, led by the likes of Brazil and China seeking to balance both economic growth and population prosperity with slowly evolving environmental responsibility. Of course, the latter suffers during times of economic slowdown, but even so EM nations looks to the Triad regions so as to eventually undertake directly similar and copy+ exercise of their own, and as their own problems prevail so an urgency to do so.

In actuality the advancement of automotive manufacturers means that the passenger car actually represents a far smaller portion of the problem that is typically realised. The proliferation and visibility of vehicle exhaust tail-pipes seen out of proportion to car emissions levels when compared to the actual emissions levels of heavy and mid industry, office, retail and domestic  housing, global shipping, global air-freighting etc etc.
However whilst Triad vehicle manufacturers continue their own strides forward – now at last recognising that the fully electric vehicle dream is little more than a mid-term fairy tale, with Hybrids as the chosen advanced path – other bodies likewise have sought to create greater environmental awareness, with Western governments and municipalities increasingly becoming proactive via change programmes which directly influence and benefit the public good.

Here in the UK, traffic calming measures seeking to both reduce emissions and decline road injuries/fatalities have in the past been seen in a negative light by vehicle drivers. Seen as everything from an infringement to the liberty of travel, their over-zealous applications the outcome of over-generous budgets, and in the case of speed-camera, a tool for little more than the collection of monetary fines. ‘Road improvement’  exercises seen as anything but.
But times , here in the suburbs of North London at least, are changing, and as people appear to become more accepting, so local councils are becoming far more intelligent and sensitive about the type of measures now applied. Of course, when the differing elements are merged, both geographically and philosophically, there is an undeniable perception that as either a prime intent or by-product finances will be raised from by-law infringement. But if the measures themselves are understood to be for the public good, and any gained funds are in turn put to good effect, then there should be little form of credible resistance from the broader community.

The car has undeniably had a massive positive affect on the western world, an affect now being seen elsewhere, providing freedom and liberty for millions. But when any high density society becomes overtly physically and emotionally dependent it becomes invariably gluttonous in its automotive consumption.

Here in London, a proliferation of vehicles per household over the last decade not only filled an already over-strained road infrastructure, they have had an extremely negative effect upon the pleasant living conditions that suburbs originally offered its inhabitants, and continued to do so between the 1920s and 1990s.    
Across the UK, but especially so in large cities, the 1970s words of Joni Mitchell in ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ have come to pass with avengence…“they paved paradise and put up a parking lot”. This not only an aesthetic eyesore, but the expanses of paving and concrete proven to reflect the sun's radiation back into the lower atmosphere and so adding to the global warming problem.

The car obviously fulfils the roles of both physical transporter and status symbol.

Yet in these economically constrained times, it is extremely perverse when very ‘middling’ people would rather be seen to drive a flashy large car yet physically ingest ‘plastic food’ from a discount supermarket to off-set the cost of said car. Often a car, or cars, which increasingly demand the abolition of greenery in a front garden. Something untoward then has overtaken the sensibilities of many, with common sense a lost commodity.   

Juxtapose the words ‘Vehicle’ and ‘Environment’ and the historical response elicited very opposing mentalities which split people into two camps. The ‘tree-hugging’ Green and the ‘car-shackled’ Petrol Head.
But thankfully the UK, Europe, North America have slowly taken on a message presaged by the Japanese at the Kyoto Summit twenty years ago. Today everything from increased respiratory problems in children to a sense of a lost idyllic suburban world mean that people, car-makers and municipalities all alike have become Joni-esque in their outlook.

[NB. I was fortunate and priveliged to drive a prototype first generation Toyota Prius in 1997 and was astounded at the 'magic-carpet' hybrid drive as the car wafted through the Georgian streets of Leamington Spa. It was obvious then that this vehicle would provide a very real general health benefit far beyond that Regency town's medicinal waters]

Whilst “Hippy Capitalism” once seemed like an oxymoronic concept, it will unquestionably underpin the future; especially so for vehicles as the ‘wheels of the industrial system’. All to the good of general auto industry, Britain acting as a vanguard adopter and promoter of credible eco-tech vehicle solutions, intelligent traffic-management layouts and systems, and the garden suburb ideal.