The launch of the Tata microcar has raised concerns about a huge magnification of traffic congestion and pollution. But without changes in the developed world, such criticisms are hypocritical, write Brendan Smith, Tim Costello and Jeremy Brecher.
"On the same day Tata unveiled its new Nano, Ford Motors announced plans to more than double its investment in India–raising its total stake to $875 million–to make the country a regional hub for small-car manufacturing, compete for the fast-growing local low-cost market, and to build a new engine manufacturing plant.
Such plans have are keeping some in the environmental community awake at night. Transportation has the fastest growing carbon emissions of any economic sector and automobiles are largely to blame with more than 600 million passenger vehicles now cruising the world's roads. The prospect of millions of new cars spells an exponential rise in carbon emissions as well as other kinds of pollutants.
Of course there is deep hypocrisy in developed countries criticizing the driving habits of the developing world. Developed countries' environmental critiques and campaigns need to start at home. Politicians, labor unions and environmental activists have a responsibility not to brandish global warming as a stick to bash workers and consumers in India or China. Instead the argument for progressive global warming policy must begin with the acknowledgment of the destructive policies of our home governments and corporations; this includes taking responsibility for developed countries majority contribution to the climate crisis.
Today, the real task is not to create a "people's car" but a "people's transport system". Addressing the climate crisis requires entirely new approaches to moving people and goods–one not based on cars and trucks. The US created an automobile culture during the 20th century at enormous long term costs. The automobile brings with it not just greenhouse gas emissions but an entire infrastructure that is devastating to the social and natural environment–roads, the oil industry, urban congestion, and suburban sprawl. It's a system the US and other rich countries now must transform and one which the developing world can still avoid."