We take our cars for granted, but really, they haven’t been a part of our human culture for that long, and they needn’t be an essential part forever. – David Suzuki
What is car culture? It is the practice and regular usage of cars in cities around the world. It is the feeling you get when you wake up early in the morning eager to get out of the house to drive. It is a lifestyle built around using cars.
The culture or social behavior of using cars has spread throughout the world. It has become an international social phenomenon attributable to both developed and developing nations.
As Wilfred Owen points out in in Wheels, in 1900 the world had hardly ten thousand automobiles, but eight decades later, there were more than 360 million motor vehicles and their effect on mankind has been enormous.
John Urrey observes that car-culture is a culture which is presently being followed by the general public although it was primarily consumed by the rich and elite classes in the 20th century.
According to the OICA (automotive issues in world forums), a total of over 50 million cars were produced internationally in the year 2011. Presently, more than 500 million cars are being consumed world-wide and this “figure is expected to double by 2015“.
Such rapid rise in the number of cars has had extreme effects not only on the physical environment, but also in cultural aspects of the way people live their day to day lifestyles. One reason for this, according to George Monbiot, is that car culture promotes a higher sense of individualism and less interaction between different socioeconomic classes. He suggests that because of the social power involved in owning a car it would be difficult to eliminate car culture anytime soon.
Daniel Sperling states, “The reason motorization is spreading so rapidly is that people value mobility.” He continues “But it’s also happening because a lot of regions are growing economically. We use the rule of thumb that motorization takes off when per capita incomes reach about $5,000. And many parts of the world have reached that level.” The economic impact of cars have become so enormous that its numbers often indicate national prosperity.
This is also true for developing nations such as India, China and Brazil which have increased their automobile production capacities, consequently generating more per capita income in the past few decades. These are the countries where manufacturing of cars is expected to increase rapidly in the future. Cars have also created jobs for many around the world leading to large economic impacts.
As the developing nations become more affluent, China and India are starting to manufacture their own cars suitable to their country’s infrastructure needs. It is no more just an American concept, as the Embarq website writes:
Across the world, consumers are racing to buy more and bigger cars. Between 2000 and 2009, car sales went up ninefold in China. Now, the country sees 1,000 new cars on its streets every day. The same is true in India.
Michael P. Walsh, however, believes that the increase in automobiles in the developing world is an attempt to emulate the developed world.
He makes a generalized point as he states “Everybody, it seems to me, wants to follow the American model. We’re held up as the country to emulate. It’s an image that people have. If you’re a modern country, you need to have lots of privately owned motor vehicles.”
Along with the positive effects there are negative impacts of cars such as poor pollution control, congestion problems and deteriorating environmental quality which increase infrastructural demands and require further regulation in our cities.
Infrastructure has widely supported the use of cars with highways, flyovers and wider lanes being built for automobiles. However, pollution, rise in petrol prices due to scarcity, and monetary needs challenge car-culture, putting those of us who love automobiles in a tricky situation.
Although hybrid and electric cars have slowly begun to emerge, there are not many takers. Statistics show that hybrid sales have decreased in the past ten years. People still prefer the old-fashioned fossil-fuel-driven cars to that of hybrid or electric cars.
It seems that car culture is here to stay: so the important question to consider is how we can make the use of cars more, rather than less, sustainable in future.