energy health sustainability technology transport

Should we bail out the car industry?

unsold-carsThis afternoon the government is due to announce a bailout for the car industry. That’s a bit of a shame. We won’t know the details of the proposal until later, but I can’t help wondering if billions of taxpayers money would be better spent on public transport than on cars.

There are plenty of reasons not to like cars.

  • For one, they’re one of the primary contributors to climate change, accounting for around 14% of our CO2 emissions.
  • They are the main contributor to air pollution, emitting over 1,ooo different pollutants including lead, benzene, and carbon monoxide. Car pollution problems then cause acid rain, cancers, and asthma. One in seven children now suffers from asthma, six times as many as 25 years ago.
  • Cars keep us dependent on oil, which is running out. As supplies run lower we are pushed to seek out reserves in increasingly unstable or environmentally fragile areas.
  • Oil wealth props up corrupt regimes around the world, from Myanmar (Burma), to Angola, Indonesia, or Sudan.
  • Car accidents cause 1.2 million deaths and 50 million injuries every year, according to the World Health Organisation. They are the leading cause of death among teenagers in the UK.

Cars are a matter of justice too, since the privileges of car ownership are not equally shared, but the consequences are. Andrew Simms reckons that even with the growth in car ownership reaching into China and India, in 2050 60% of all cars will still belong to the 16% of us who live in the West.  “Our use of, and dependence on, the private motor car remains the badge of membership of the ecological debtors club.”

As a non-driver this is easy for me to say, but car culture remains one of the biggest obstacles in moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle. You can get people to recycle, you might persuade them not to fly, but start talking about cars and you hit a raw nerve.

I will write some more about how we can live without cars. For now, let’s just think twice about whether or not we bail out the car industry.

  • Photo at the top shows unsold cars stockpiled (stock-parked?) at Avonmouth, UK.


  1. A car worker who was being laid off noted recently on the BBC that billions are poured into saving bankers, who have been responsible for getting us into this mess and are continuing to do well out of it, while nothing is given to support workers in the car industry . What ever one may think of the car industry, this worker was quite accurate when he observed that a white collar worker will always be rescued while a blue collar worker is expendable and will find himself on the streets.

  2. That’s unfortunately true, and it’s a sad indicator of who and what we value most. What’s worse is that the car industry is sound, whereas the banks behaved irresponsibly.

    Where bailouts are used however, I think they should be used to help people rather than companies. If the car companies are too big to be economically viable, then let’s let them contract to a more realistic size, and help any laid off staff with more generous unemployment benefits or mortgage support.

  3. More than half the world’s population now live in cities. In Europe the figure is around 80%. If this includes you, you probably don’t need a car. In most places, public transport is actually a lot better than you might think (have you actually tried it?) Not to mention bikes. Walking. And taxis. And why do you want a car? If you look at the evidence you’ll find that giving up your car means having more money, being more fit, being thinner, being less stressed and less isolated. It might even save your life. Choosing to be car-free is liberating: have a look at for more on this. When you find you really need a car, just hire one, or join a car club…..and then give it back when you’ve finished with it. After all, do you own a cow because you sometimes need a pint of milk?

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