According to an analyst at CIBC World Markets -- and for non-Canadian readers, CIBC is one of the country's largest banks, so this is a mainstream source -- the price of gas will reach $7-$10 per gallon by 2012, or about $2 per liter in Canada.
More recently, this same fellow has begun making predictions about the impact that will have on how many cars are on the roads of the United States. He suggests that by 2012, in part because low-income families (the definition of which is not provided) will go from paying 7% of their income on gas to 20%, the U.S. will have 10 million fewer cars on the road.
A good thing for the environment, certainly. But looking at these two brief articles, published as they are on a site with which I am unfamiliar but which appears to embody pretty mainstream "green" politics, I am struck by what they don't talk about.
What they don't talk about is the human process through which the transition will happen. It's not like those 10 million cars will evaporate, or like their owners will dispose of them as simply as a check mark being erased in one column and drawn in another.
The closest it comes to dealing with this is when it suggests that about half of that decline in cars will occur from low-income households with access to public transit, and indicates that the much larger percentage of income in low-income households going to gas is "an increase that will see many start taking the bus."
First of all, it makes it all sounds so simple, so bloodless. But even if everything else is ideal, the transition is not going to be painless for a lot of people. It is one thing to be a young, abled-bodied, often just temporarily poor university student, or to be a middle-class professional in downtown Toronto who is finally taking the plunge and 'kicking the car habit.' It is quite another to know you really have no choice except to completely reorganize the way you live your life. Getting your kid to daycare, getting to work, going along to your kid's hockey tournament, picking up the Christmas tree -- all of those things and a million others have to be done differently, and probably end up being a lot more difficult. Some will end up not getting done. And some of us will get to choose to do these things differently, while some of us won't get a choice.
And that's just if circumstances are ideal. The stat they gave was that half the cars would leave the road because people living on low-income with transit services available would get rid of their cars. But anyone who has ever depended on transit, particular outside of places like Toronto or Paris, knows that transit services being formally available and transit services being even remotely adequate are not the same thing. Most parts of most cities are designed with transit as an afterthought, and the built form and social organization are completely car-centric. Most smaller cities in Canada have inadequate transit systems, with routes that don't go late enough, don't go far enough, don't go often enough, don't time connections well. Lots of people who have formal access to transit services have access to that sort of inadequacy. And from what I've heard, lots of smaller cities in the U.S. are in even worse shape in terms of transit. Sure, as this crisis hits, transit services might improve, but not even close to fast enough without a struggle. And the issue of our cities being organized in ways that are car-friendly and transit-hostile is way, way bigger than organizing to push politicians to put more buses on the roads.
And what about the other half of the cars? Presumably some of that will be accounted for by families who have multiple vehicles getting rid of one or more. But probably some will come from people living on low incomes who don't have access to any form of public transit giving up their autos. So they will be forced to live in some very dependent, isolated form of poverty, or be forced to uproot their lives, abandon their friends and communities, and move to some place that does have transit. If they can even afford to do that.
Don't get me wrong -- I'm not trying to argue that "fewer cars" equals anything other than "good thing" in many, many ways. It's a transition that needs to happen. The question is how it is going to happen. What I want to argue is that we should start making it automatic to ask that question, to ask what the human impact is going to be, whenever we see stats like this. And to think them through in ways that get past the surface of the statistics to the actual human experiences violently hidden beneath. And we need to tie that into a vision for change that refuses to let involuntary changes due to climate change and increasing energy costs be used as an instrument of class warfare from above and for steepening hierarchies of oppression. Greening (preferably radical greening) cannot happen without redistributing (preferably radical redistributing).