Along with terrorism and international intrigue, two problems threaten 1st world nations. First there is the problem of finding a home for the garbage consumers generate.
A more urgent, but less acknowledged, difficulty involves our love affair with automobiles.
The garbage issue is turning to be at least somewhat manageable. People are reducing, reusing and recycling. They tolerate 'lift limits', bag tags and fees to discard refrigerators and tires.
The fallout from our love affair with automobiles ... the need for roadways, parking facilities, the mayhem caused by traffic accidents, global warming, the health consequences of pollutants ... is proving less tractable.
Analogues of 'lift limits' and 'bag tags' tend to be regressive. Increased licence fees and gas taxes only interrupt the travel plans of the poor, or businesses unable to pass costs along to customers.
Toll roads – such as the #407 highway across the top of Toronto – are the thin edge of a two-tier road system. In the future, the wealthy will enjoy superb highways, while the hoi polloi suffer gridlock.
In the meantime, transit systems are poorly subsidized, and passenger trains grow fewer and farther between. Bicyclists are kin to tree-huggers. They should be listened to politely lest they run amok, but otherwise ignored.
Part of the difficulty is that automobiles encourage fantasies of autonomy, worth and anonymity. Automobiles come and go as drivers please. Passengers ride on computer-designed suspensions. Point and glide; point and be transported!
The problem is getting worse. Not only are urbanites increasingly in need of psychological fixes (and prone to road rage when interrupted) modern automobiles are wonderfully adept at delivering such anodynes.
Along with superb sound systems, on Star navigation, collision avoidance and back up assists ... today’s vehicles proceed along highways and byways in majestic silence. Wind noise has been vanquished with cunning fuselages. Exhaust gases – rife with carbon monoxide and other pollutants – whisper away outside hermetically sealed interiors.
The fact that these gases are inhaled by passengers in following cars does not seem to be an issue.
In any event, the magnificent silence of the modern automobile suggests a solution to car-infestation issues.
A simple change to The Highway Traffic Act could duplicate the user-pay regimen that has helped manage garbage problems.
Some intrepid government-in-waiting (Canada's Green Party comes to mind) could promise to legislate against mufflers on passenger and recreational vehicles.
Buses and commercial vehicles would continue as they are, but muffling privately owned vehicles should be made illegal.
In such a world, people would only fire up the family chariot for cause. Frivolous trips would diminish. Swains would no longer seek to impress girls with deafening rides across town.
Traffic officers could put aside radar equipment in favour of a simpler technology: If a car goes by that can't be heard ...
Such No Muffler legislation would dramatize an important truth. Automobiles are seductive and dangerous contraptions.
Prohibiting mufflers would create a user-suffer environment analogous to garbage bag tags ... and provide an 'early warning system' that would greatly benefit the enlarged population of bikers, pedestrians and transit users that would result.