Opinions

Gas guzzlers need lesson in reality

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The current trend on the nightly news involves portraying pissed-off motorists at the gas pumps. "If only prices would go down," they moan. "My life is so hard. How am I supposed to keep filling my SUV when gas is 69 cents a litre?" they wail. "It's preposterous," others exclaim. And it isn't just a Calgary phenomenon. Flip the channel to ABC, NBC or CBS and you'll see drivers at the pumps in Spokane bitching about the cost of a gallon of gas and muttering about how hard-done by they are.

Welcome to the car culture. Welcome to the ultimate joke the industrial revolution played on the human species. In the days of yore, people just didn't go anywhere. They stayed in their villages and towns; they identified or feuded with their neighbours. Occasionally, a megalomaniac or two would ride off with soldiers and attack surrounding territories. If people wanted to leave, they couldn't, so they sucked it up and muddled through. Ah, simpler times.

Now truckers blockade roads in Europe and entire countries grind to a halt because of gas prices. The U.S. actually tapped its strategic reserve to force lower prices and it worked--for awhile. But the real issue is lost behind all the complaints and the call for lower taxes. We've got a global culture addicted to a non-renewable resource. For example, here in Calgary we've created a culture where citizens abandon their suburbs to work, play and hang out. This city is designed for drivers, not the commuter. This fact is apparent based on the current increased volume in gas-price whining.

However, why can't Calgary's--and the world's--highly mobile societies slow down for a minute? Understandably, the economy must struggle on, and oil and gas are a part of that economy, but the reality is that cars are not only bad for the environment, they're bad for social structure. In Calgary, living as far away from city centre as possible is the ultimate goal. The city sprawls because it can, not because it should.

Yet these suburbanites are the same people who pile into their Pathfinders on a Sunday afternoon and troll down to Kensington and Inglewood to get the feeling of a comfy, homey neighbourhood--the one they can't find in their suburbs because they're too addicted to their cars to stick around to make a community. The mantra "if I can't drive to it, it's not worth seeing" rings solidly throughout their minds and hence, the reason for their upset over increasing gas prices becomes obvious. Check out Europe, and closer to home in B.C., Ontario and the Maritimes: gas in Calgary is cheap, so people should stop whining and take a reality pill.

It should be expensive to drive; gas should be taxed like cigarettes and alcohol--two other things considered detrimental to health and social well-being. Then the revenues should be poured back into properly designed cities with an appropriate commuter infrastructure to support the population, reduce pollution and keep neighbourhoods friendly, instead of the often-deserted-cookie-cutter-house-cluttered cul-de-sacs we see today.

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