The impossible city

Hugo Chávez is the President of Venezuela.

www.venezuela.gov.ve

No more voom-voom!

During my recent visit to London, I discovered that Mayor Livingstone has put a tax, a charge, on motorists which, in my opinion, is a wise measure. Why?

Whenever I visit either a world capital or a major city, I make a survey; a survey of cars. You know, a president is like a prisoner: you get off the plane - welcome, welcome, welcome - shuffled into a car, voom, straight to the hotel, you get to see the streets, jump out, into a room, wait, you have ten more minutes, off you go, voom, you've arrived. From one place directly to the next, and then in the evening back to the hotel, and that's it. You end up like a prisoner being taken from place to place in voom-voom fashion.

So, what do I do? I look out and I count the other cars, across the world, in New York, in Washington, in Vienna. In every big city it seems that 96% of vehicles on the streets are standing in long lines like worms, going at the speed of a morrocoy, of a tortoise, burning who knows how many litres per kilometre because they're barely moving. They're stuck, and they can't turn the engine off because they'd only have to restart it yet again. And they're only trying to travel three or five kilometres within the same city. Again, in 96% of vehicles, vehicles for six people or the smallest ones for four, you see only one person travelling: the one behind the wheel. And this vehicle is three metres long by two wide, roughly speaking. This is the extreme of capitalist individualism. Everyone wants to have a car and drive around the streets like an idiot: alone in their car, burning litres and litres of fuel, contaminating the atmosphere.

Are we to blame? We are not to blame. It is the fault of the capitalist propaganda fed to us via television since we were children. A child in front of a TV is in danger. Shown a nice new car - luxurious! A scantily clad woman - very pretty! Women as sexual objects, interposed with this and that and the luxury car. And the punchline? These are decent people! What is not shown is that decent people are those who help a disabled child, tend the elderly and sick, or cut their bread in two to give to the starving. A strange specimen! TV tells us that decent people are well-dressed and own luxury cars. Mind you, everyone has their own car: husband, wife, each has a car, and when their son turns 18 or 20, he gets one of the cars, and whoever doesn't have a car feels unhappy. Then there are people who feel inferior because they have to get on a bus or a tube or a tram, take public transport.

This model is unsustainable. Scientists have calculated precisely what will happen if the entire planet adopts the energy consumption patterns and lifestyles of the developed countries of the North. The US, for example, accounts for only 5% of the world's population yet consumes 25% of the energy produced. It's sheer madness.

Anyway, let's suppose we all wanted to live that way and that, by some magic, we could. Let's suppose that Nicolas Maduro, President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, was a magician and could just snap his fingers and we would all wake up tomorrow with a US standard of living. "Ah," someone would say, "Nicolas, you've produced the miracle of the century. Nicolas did what no one else could have done. Look, we're all making a good living; we all have a car and a house." If that were to happen, do you know what else would have had to happen simultaneously? We would need to have found seven or eight planets like Earth in order to sustain that way of life.

We have invented telescopes, the most powerful telescopes ever, yet we haven't been able to see, in the Milky Way or any other constellation or galaxies, a single other planet like Earth, nor one which has water. Not yet! And one must add that with such a way of life - as magically produced by Nicolas - the seven planets would, over the course of time, be destroyed like we're destroying this one. That way of life, consumerism, cannot be sustained. The demolished Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre consumed more electricity than several sub-Saharan African countries.

Do you know how many hours of electricity they get in Haiti? Two hours a day. The US automobile sector on its own consumes much more fuel than all the countries of the Caribbean put together. It cannot be sustained. We must discourage the use of individual vehicles and that is why the measure taken by the Mayor of London seems a good one to me. Those entering central London have to pay whatever the sum is. Otherwise use public transport more. Walk. Count the times you see people who start their car, drive off, and spend half an hour in traffic and who knows how much on fuel, to get to a place they could have reached on foot in fifteen minutes. Excuse my language, but this is pure idiocy, utter stupidity!

Before my visit to London, I attended a round table discussion on energy at the Presidential Summit in Vienna. Many people were listening out for what I had to say on the subject - perhaps on others too - but the concern over the energy crisis, which the world is only just beginning to experience, took precedence.

Mark my words: we are only just beginning to experience an energy crisis. We have been studying the question a great deal due to our status as an oil-producing country. We have research centres in OPEC countries, the Petroleum Technological Institute in Caracas and many experts in the field. So I addressed the presidents, after I had heard them speak on the price of oil, on how OPEC was not producing enough and so on, and I said to them: "Look, the first thing I have to say, which no one else has mentioned, allow me to raise the subject, the first thing you all have to ask yourselves is the following. What is the model of consumption we have and what is the model of consumption we can support?"

Our current environmental approach, the management of solid waste, is not feasible. Buildings that are closed on all sides, virtually windowless or of impenetrable dark glass, are artificially lit by I don't know how many spotlights and light bulbs burning twenty-four hours a day. This is not feasible. Ninety percent of vehicles on the streets of London, Vienna, Madrid, New York, and Caracas carrying only one person is lunacy. One car each? Our planet won't stand that, brothers; that model of capitalism, extreme individualism and consumerist egotism. The destructive so-called developmentalism that is destroying the planet is quite frankly una cosa de tontos.

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