Page 4941 - Week 15 - Thursday, 15 December 2005
relatives, Sunday drives and on holidays—often pulling a caravan. Community life is also shaped by Canberra’s reliance upon and encouragement to drive cars. We are a relatively small population, so events are generally centralised for maximum participation. On fireworks nights, for instance, mass migrations cross the city to Commonwealth Park, and chaos ensues when everyone leaves at once. This is when Canberra has its major incidence of gridlock, as cars leave the event and head for the suburbs.
When there are major events, bus services at night and on weekends are for the truly intrepid, and cease earlier than most final curtains come down. Although there are wonderful places to walk for recreation, Canberra is not a good city for walking or using public transport between tourist attractions. Legibility of tourist maps is poor and they are usually addressed to the car driver. Riding across Commonwealth Bridge, I often pass visitors to our town holding maps against the wind while they check again where Parliament House or the art gallery are. In fact, many times on Commonwealth Bridge I have served a very great service for Canberra in advising people how to get to their destinations.
The bus routes are incomprehensible to the uninitiated—ie, the visitors to our town. Despite the good bus system—and it is a good bus system; I am not knocking ACTION if you live in the right place with a growing network of bike paths and lanes—this city runs on oil. When the city was built, oil was a relatively cheap fuel, and it looked as though it would be available for a long time. Fifty years is a very long time to the planner but it is an absolute century to the politician. Since the oil shocks of the 1970s, our vulnerability to oil price rises has been better understood. Nonetheless, the sudden realisation that oil, like all non-renewable resources, becomes scarce when its extraction and treatment becomes too expensive, has hit the average person. This is because oil shortages have hit a car dependent society where it hurts most—the hip pocket.
People are looking around for alternatives to using their cars so they can reduce the amount of petrol they must buy. For some it is a choice between driving the car to work and buying food and paying the bills. Since governments still provide the infrastructure for modes of travel, it is timely to consider what the ACT government can do to assist Canberra people to balance their budgets while continuing to live a rich social life and get to and from work and their other activities as safely and conveniently as they need to.
A couple of years ago the Pentagon produced a study which showed that climate change is more of a threat to the world than terrorism. That is an interesting contrast. For this and other reasons, climate change is a sufficient reason to change our oil dependency, yet so far it has not inspired the commonwealth and territory governments to act meaningfully. This reality is now clearly evident, with even sceptical scientists acknowledging that the unprecedented thaw of the vast expanse of permafrost in Western Siberia is only one of a number of events bringing global warming closer. Indeed, hurricanes like Katrina, which exacerbated the oil shortages, will be more frequent as sea surfaces warm.
If we cannot act with urgency to save the planet, the more direct impact of rising oil prices may provide the spur for change. At the same time, we can achieve other policy objectives. We can reduce our greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels, which we have