21 November 2005

Subsidising our oil addiction

Reading Jane Jacobs' new book Dark Age Ahead, published in May, I’m reminded that the western world’s dependence on cars, highways and fossil fuels is not a market-driven outcome. Rather it’s a product of government-subsidised road building programmes, government-backed corporate welfare for oil companies, a government-funded military to secure oil supplies and guard their routes; and (in the US) sales of tramways to General Motors that breached anti-trust laws. I have had spirited arguments with people who claim that public transport is heavily subsidised; true, but let’s not forget that not only was our private transport infrastructure subsidised, but the external costs that it continues to impose are effectively underwritten by the taxpayer. These include the grievous accident and environmental costs, the unquantifiable but large losses of community, and the direct and indirect costs that arise from our dependence on oil imports.

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