What kills you matters
On Behalf Of Simon Norton
Some comments on the John Adams article, particularly in view of its
juxtaposition to the Cecile Philippe article cited by Gabriel Roth.
Surely the safety of the average motorist is as much in the hands of other
drivers on the road as the safety of the bus or rail users is in the hands of
the bus/train driver ? Could there be a communality among motorists which means
that they ignore this, as seems to be shown by the common attitude to speeding
convictions as "something that can happen to anyone" ? (I may say that a few
years ago I made an official complaint -- unfortunately not upheld -- when a
lawyer took this attitude in a letter to the press. It's not even as if delays
to their journeys could put lives at risk.)
As far as I am concerned, I regard the risk of climate change as something that
those who use cars as their transport of first resort, and those who take
frequent flights especially to destinations reachable by train, are imposing on
me. I'm not sure of the distinction between Adams' "personal greed" and
"malignly imposed" categories, but one of them seems to apply. I therefore
demand action if there is any appreciable risk. However, all Cecile Philippe,
Gabriel Roth and those they cite seem to be suggesting is that the risk has not
been shown to be beyond reasonable doubt. I take the attitude that by the time
this has happened it may well be too late to save us from disaster (which no
doubt they will use as another excuse to do nothing).
Unfortunately, leading politicians seem to take this view too. Is this because
they are themselves part of the communality of default motorists and frequent
flyers, or because they feel that their electors are ?
With mobile phones (and genetically modified food is much the same) my position
is that I would probably be prepared to assume the risk voluntarily if I felt
there was a significant benefit from so doing, but I'm irritated that they have
been allowed to proliferate without a well publicised programme to demonstrate
their safety beyond reasonable doubt. Certainly the editors of the Ecologist
magazine (whose latest issue I read today in my local library) aren't convinced.
What I do resent is being pitchforked into these risks because alternative
facilities are allowed to decay. Until recently I had a phonecard with a stored
balance which I could use to make calls from my office phone (barred to long
distance calls) or from payphones (without having to accumulate vast amounts of
change, and at lower rates for the short calls I tend to make). But the phone
company has ceased to support the facility and so far has refused to refund the
balance still on my card (which I recharged shortly before it stopped working).
Now if, as per my strategy for revitalising public transport in rural areas,
there was a network of control centres which one could ring up saying things
like "my bus/train is late, can you please hold this vital connection" or "my
bus/train hasn't turned up, what's going on, how do I get to X and can I rely on
getting compensation for any extra costs involved", I might be prepared to
assume the risk in return for the benefits, but this sort of thing doesn't seem
to be on the priority list for planners.