Newcastle Herald - Friday 23 September, 2005

Petrol is disappearing, you can depend on it

writes Harold Scruby
HOW extraordinary is it that the NRMA would choose International Car-Free Day as the day to hold its petrol summit?

Time will prove that this summit was little more than a political motherhood stunt to make the incumbents look good, just prior to the NRMA elections.

It will achieve very little.

In their communique, there was not one word about reducing car dependency and not one word about investment in public transport.

Instead they recommended: "A longer-term commitment by governments that any additional revenue gained through higher fuel prices should be spent on the road network and regional tourism promotion and infrastructure."

In simple terms, they want more roads and more cars.

And presumably more members for the NRMA.

This is macadamised madness.

The NRMA should have called a summit about reducing car dependency. That's the major issue facing the nation today.

This summit is all about getting petrol prices down, so cars are cheaper to run and we can have more of them.

Do they not see the writing on the wall?

The Europeans understand the problem and spend heaps on public transport and developing smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.

The Americans keep building wider and wider freeways and larger and larger gas-guzzling SUVs.

According to Robert Samuelson of the Washington Post Writers Group: "What America needs most is a steadily rising oil tax. Coupled with stricter fuel economy standards, higher pump prices should push reluctant auto companies and American drivers away from today's gas guzzlers. That should be American policy.

"The deafening silence on this crucial subject from the White House, Congress and the media is a sorry indicator of national short-sightedness.

"Two-thirds of the world's proven oil reserves lie around the Persian Gulf. The countries there, led by Saudi Arabia, now provide about a quarter of today's oil supply. The flow could be interrupted at any time for many reasons terrorism, war, domestic upheaval or deliberate cuts.

"A prudent society would respond to this unavoidable insecurity. The traditional US car companies, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, are the least prepared for change."

Petrol is a scarce and finite resource. It's an international product with rapidly increasing international demand.

As demand increases and supplies are reduced, prices will go up. End of argument.

Put too much pressure on the oil companies and they'll take their precious product elsewhere.

Australian cities are built on urban sprawl and have become car-dependent as successive governments have delayed and ignored the implementation of sophisticated public transport systems, while spending the money on cluttered roads and freeways.

As such, we are now caught in the middle of a major transport problem.

In June 2002, the highly respected Warren Centre at Sydney University completed a major study entitled Sustainable transport in sustainable cities project healthy transport, healthy people.

It found that "a sustainable city needs sustainable transport that encourages health-supporting, not health-damaging, travel behaviour".

"Increased car use has displaced active transport walking, cycling and using public transport. Current transport planning and infrastructure foster habitual car use. Consequently, almost half the population is exposed to substantial health risk from physical inactivity . . .. The most effective and enduring way of increasing our physical activity is by using 'active transport' rather than driving."

The report also found: "All the urban air pollutants that have an impact on health arise from combustion of fossil and petrochemical fuels, predominantly used by motor vehicles.

"More than a third of the greenhouse gas emissions from a typical Australian household are from transport the opportunities exist for most people to reduce their motor vehicle-related use."

We must shake off our Western cultural arrogance and imagine the price of petrol and the effects of global warming if the people of China and India were to be as car-dependent as us.

Petrol prices would go through the roof and the bitumen would melt.

We must start setting an example and reduce car dependency immediately, before it's too late.

We therefore encourage all Australians to participate in Walk to Work Day on Friday, October 7.

Unblock some arteries, relieve the congestion, put your feet first and join the walking class heroes, but most of all leave the car at home.

Harold Scruby is chairman of the Pedestrian Council of Australia.


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