The discussion beneath Revenge and Road Danger got me thinking. Are poor deluded petrol-addicts really so difficult to reform?
We all agree, the more cyclists on the road, the better we will be. So how do we motivate non-cyclists to demand that politicians build better cycling infrastructure?
We tried pointing out the fact that cycle-friendly cities are safer, healthier, happier and more socially cohesive than those blighted by gridlock. It doesn’t seem to work.
But what if we were to appeal to a sense of national duty?
Sounds crazy, I know. But it has worked, albeit briefly, in the most unlikely of places — Australia.
You might not suspect it, but Australians hate cyclists — or at least they did when I left in the late 90s. Almost as much as they hate foreigners. Or at least it’s a toss-up.
I never quite understood why. They like to pretend that they’re sporty and outdoorsy.
I often wondered whether it was their innate fear of the wider world bleeding into a fear of sexual identity. “Get off the road you £$%@ing poofta!” was a common refrain I’d hear as I cycled the streets of Sydney (and all along the Princes Highway between Sydney and Melbourne).
And although most would be loathe to admit it, the tone of public debate in Australia was (and as far as I can tell from this distance, still is) essentially indistinguishable from that in the US. That economic progress and increased car use were the same thing was axiomatic. A state politician (I regret I can’t remember his name) responsible for
transport building more roads, was bemused by the suggestion that governments should encourage more cycling, “Why would we want Australia to become a third-world country like China?”
And, surprise, surprise, Australians are among the most obese people on Earth.
But it wasn’t always, thus.
In response to the last global energy crisis in the 70s, many nations set about becoming less reliant on foreign oil by building coal, gas and nuclear power stations. Australia took a different tack — to simply use less energy.
How? With campaigns like this one:
Rather than portraying petrol as evil, they portrayed it as precious. As indeed, it is. And it worked. Along with similar campaigns to save gas and electricity, national energy consumption plummeted.
Lamentably, as soon as the crisis abated, energy and petroleum companies did there level best to redress the country’s dalliance with thrift, which has landed it in the mess it’s in today.
But, for a time, it was on the right track.
- Ed G