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Car Driver’s Take Direct Action

19th August 2023:

Tyre Extinguisher’s are not the only ones taking direct action on the UK’s streets on the issue of car’s. All across the UK it seems that car drivers are rising up in outrage at any idea of restrictions being placed on their right to drive.

Here is a small sample of recent actions:

  • 30th March 2023: car drivers in Rochdale, Manchester, barricade streets and set them on fire in protest at bollards and other restrictions being placed on car travel. One resident said: “[These measures] added at least half a mile for a lot of people’s journeys which must have angered some members of the community”. (see here)
  • 28th March 2023: Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) cameras in London are being targeted by angry motorists and covered up (see here). A Transport for London spokesperson has said that removing any obstruction to the cameras has become a regular part of maintenance.  ULEZ cameras near Heathrow have had their wires cut whilst others are being vandalised. 
  • Also in London, tomorrow (20th Aug 2023) thousands of motorcyclists are expected to gather for a demo against the ULEZ expansion. “[Motorcycles are] hugely popular and part of our culture and way of life” said one organiser (see here). 
  • In Oxford residents have been on a sustained campaign against Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs). This includes setting fire to bollards, driving over them, and removing them. The residents groups are reported to be under the influence right wing groups against ’15 minute cities’ (see e.g. here).
  • 28 Nov 2022: In Cambridge, hundreds of protestors gather against a proposed £5 congestion charge (see e.g. here).
  • In Manchester, plans for a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) are put on hold after a huge public backlash (see here).

Whilst I support grassroots direct action, it is only the case if the actions are in the interests of the greater good or an act of defence. Of all the public outcries against restrictions being placed upon people’s perceived right to drive, I have only seen one that I felt was genuine, and that involved only a handful of disabled people who earlier this year protested plans for a congestion charge in Bristol due to how it would affect their mobility (see here).

Oh okay, maybe I agree with the motorcyclists that putting restrictions on motorbikes isn’t so sensible. At the end of the day if we want to encourage people into more fuel efficient forms of transport then it makes sense not to penalise motorcycles, provided they’re not the racing type. But really, you’d think there were more important things to protest about. Why aren’t these motorcyclists protesting about climate change, for example – do they really place their desire to drive their motorcycles at a cheap price above the welfare of the entire planet? Is that really the only thing that they can get motivated about?

At the end of the day these reactions against restrictions on car travel are deeply selfish, and I find myself reacting with genuine disgust at those who engage in them. I mean, residents in Rochdale burned barricades in the street because bollards put in place meant they… what, had to drive a whole extra half a mile to get around them? You really couldn’t make it up. What truly awful and selfish people.

The car lobby in the UK – and I imagine the rest of the world – has always been powerful. While green groups target governments and corporations and place the blame for climate change on them, the reality is that anytime you try to restrict the right of people to burn GHGs as much as they want, they kick off en mass, and that is especially true when it comes to people’s perceived right to drive. It is times like this that you can really see that it is people who are the obstacle to dealing with climate change, not governments or corporations, but people. It is the everyday attitudes and behaviours that people demand as their right that are the direct cause of environmental destruction and climate change. The rich, the elites, the political class, are simply the tip of the iceberg, a tip that is held up by the mass of the people under it. The reality is the 1% are held in place by the force of all those below, who all want a slice of empire for themselves, and it is in that kind of social milieu, and only that kind of social milieu, that elites emerge along with a business and political class that block effective action on the climate emergency.

I find myself appalled when I see these protests and actions, but at the same time, unsuprised, as car driving has always been an icon for the selfish and egotistical individual. Planet earth, I’m afraid, doesn’t stand a chance as long as people continue to demand their right to drive.

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