Tuesday 22 September 2020

Living without engines and car free day in the Netherlands

A photo from today's "commute", a round-trip
rider which brings me back home to work.

The last time that I travelled in any kind of motorized vehicle was in February 2019 when I took a lift with a friend to help him with an event. The last time I travelled with a motorized vehicle for my own benefit was in August 2018, driving the car that we owned but never much used to be recycled.

It's "car free day" today, but just as everywhere else across the world this is ignored by the masses who continue to drive their polluting vehicles to and fro. Every trip made by car, in every car including those which claim to have zero emissions, contributes substantially to climate change, the effects of which we increasingly feel as a result of the "natural" disasters which result from our changed weather.

There has been much on the news about the fires in California and Siberia, but here in the Netherlands we also see the result of this with new records being set on a regular basis. We began this summer with a near drought and just last week we had the warmest September day ever in this country, but just as with previous warnings, this resulted in no real change. People are back to their usual high emitting lifestyles. Cars are very much a part of this, with their numbers, their usage and their size all growing year on year.

But we can't blame cars alone for the problems that we're facing. The growth in flying is such that even now in the middle of a second wave of the pandemic there are just as many flights as there were four years ago without a pandemic. Almost all the growth comes from the richest people and the richest people continue to deny that they are the richest people.

That the short blip of reduced emissions due to corona was just a short blip shouldn't really surprise anyone. It certainly didn't surprise me as I predicted it back in April as even then people were talking about a "return to normal". The problems which face us are enormous but it seems that people don't know how to or do not wish to react in ways which will address them, and that applies even to the case  of a very immediate threat to our health from a deadly virus.

We are the rich and polluting minority and it is us who need to change our lives in order to leave a liveable planet for our descendants. Don't we want to do that ? Is it not a worthwhile thing to do ? If we can't convince people even to take the tiny step of taking part in a single car free day once a year, what hope do we have in effecting real change in behaviour and thinking ? However I'll try to set an example by living with the smallest footprint that I can manage, avoiding motorized transport so much as I possibly can.

No subsidy for the car-free
An interesting thing about the Netherlands is that drivers of cars receive subsidies from taxation paid by all, which of course means that while I try not to contribute to the pollution and other problems caused by cars, our government makes sure that I do so anyway. Talking of which:

Local newspaper on the 22nd of September
Our local newspaper has not covered car-free day at all. It is just not a thing here in the Netherlands. However car companies have huge budgets for promotion and there is always a budget to try to associate their dangerous and environmentally destructive product with something other than its danger and environmental impact. So instead of car-free day coverage we have, on the 22nd of September, a full page dedicated to a different event spread over three days in October when car drivers will fill the roads, waste a vast amount of energy and produce a lot of emissions by driving a million kilometres in "green" cars.

The quotation marks are mine. The article is promoting a deliberately created traffic jam of polluting vehicles. There is nothing truly sustainable about these vehicles. Unfortunately, governments listen to car company propaganda and therefore I and other people who do not drive are made to contribute to a government subsidy given to people who do drive. What's more, the subsidy is not having a useful effect and emissions from cars continue to grow in the Netherlands because people who drive overwhelmingly choose larger more polluting vehicles.

The text includes some words about cycling, walking or just staying home, but the emphasis is obvious. This is an event about cars and their intention is to do something incredibly wasteful, to drive cars a million kilometres for no reason whatsoever, while somehow managing to promote this event as "green".

Update: Car companies continue marketing their destructive product
The above can only sensibly be seen as a marketing exercise. There is nothing "green" about any kind of car. And is this marketing working ? A few days after this blog post was written there came an answer: it most certainly is working. Car usage in the Netherlands continues to grow year on year. The biggest increase is again in use of petrol / gasoline (benzine in Dutch) powered cars. Car companies spend much time pushing the absurd idea of green motoring which is a myth in itself but this myth is presented in such a way that it gets absurd amounts of attention such as that from our local newspaper above and from politicians, however their main product remains what it always was: Cars remain the same old polluting, planet destroying, dangerous product that they ever were. We can only ever solve the problems due to cars by having far fewer of them driven less. But car companies are still selling the nightmare scenario of more cars.

Real green transport
The million kilometres travelled in three days target of the motor lobby is actually not all that much anyway. A target for cycling in the Netherlands would need to be much higher. Most cycle journeys are more than a kilometre long and for most of any given working day Dutch people make more than a million journeys per hour by bike so a million kilometres would easily be reached by the end of the first hour on the first day of this exercise if encouraging cycling was really their aim. 


Kevin Love said...

Although car use does indeed cause global warming, it has been my experience that when it comes to advocacy this is of little value. People tend to say things along the lines of, "The reduction or elimination of car driving in our community will make little difference." And they are right.

It has been my experience that it is far more useful to talk about people dying of cancer because they were poisoned by the cancer-causing fine particles put out by car drivers.

For example, in the Toronto metropolitan area, motor vehicle operators poison and kill over 712 people every year, and poison and injure another 1,812 people so seriously that they have to be hospitalised. The cost of all this death and injury is over $4.6 billion. Source is page 20 at:


Unlike Covid-19, children are more susceptible to death and injury due to being poisoned by motor vehicle operators.

There is no safe dose of these lethal poisons. Each and every fine particle could be the one that gets breathed in and perverts one of my lung cells to start a lethal cancer.

Each and every car trip in my community could be the one that produces the fine particle that results in me or one of my children dying of cancer in my community.

"Please don't poison and kill me or one of my children today" is a more effective ask than "Please don't contribute to long-term global warming trends."

rohloffscale30 said...

Totally agree no car is green. Embodied energy in an ev is still significant. And then there is the massive embodied energy of ever larger "life support" systems for cars (motorways and carparks). Cars demand life support because they would not be a viable transport mode otherwise. The blessing and curse of active transport is the (relatively) low demand for support, so they get ignored. Actions speak louder than words, likewise budget and investment priorities speak louder than visions and strategies.