The car society in the capitalist world system and in China

And the sketch of an alternative organization of mobility in cities – seven theses

An analysis presented by Winfried Wolf at the 4th China-EU-Forum on social Ecology and Legal Comparison // 25th – 27th of September 2014; Beijing, China


There are at least two reasons, that should remind me of containment concerning my presentation. First of all we are guests in this exciting country. And of course we are guests who are very grateful for the invitation. Who are grateful for the possibility of an exchange of experiences and last but not least grateful for criticism and suggestions. Secondly we come from a country where the passenger car density is very high. In Germany for every 1000 inhabitants there are 570 cars (trucks and buses omitted). The car density is seven times higher than the one in China. In 2014 China has around 100 Million passenger cars for 1.2 Billion people. For every 1000 inhabitants there are around 80 cars.

Nevertheless I want to speak directly and present an approach, that implies a radical criticism of the fixation on the car as the most important instrument for mobility. The ecological situation on this planet earth in respect of climate change is simply far too serious to allow us scientists not to tell the truth out of courtesy. This becomes apparent particularly in your country, our host country, when considering the enormous air pollution, especially in the cities.1

I will take the liberty to also add the following: I also present a comparable criticism on the fixation on cars in my own country. I practice it myself, by the way, like a few of my colleagues, by living without a car since 1986. I manage my mobility exclusively by car, public transportation and the railway.

What are we talking about?

The predominant form of transport of goods and passengers is based on cars, trucks and container ships. These are 99.9 per cent fueled by the combustion of oil and oil derivates (gasoline, diesel, cerosine and heavy fuel oil). The consequences are catastrophic – and largely known.

climate change and pollution// These forms of traffic and transportation have a massive impact on the increasing climate change: in the meantime more than a third of the climate-damaging emissions are produced by road transport, air transport and container ships. Road transport (cars and trucks) contributes 20% to the worldwide carbon dioxide emissions. In the cities the portion is even higher.

The contamination is in no way only a topic for the future. It is already an enormous burden for the people living today. In 2013 there was registered in Peking a fine-particle contamination of 800 units on the scale of fine-particle pollution. The EU-limit is about 25.

It is estimated that a million people die from the effects of air pollution. In the German cities road transportation is responsible for more than 20% of the fine-particle contamination. Why should that be different in Peking where there are 5 million cars?

In Peking there are discussions about the reduction of new passenger car registrations but there are no discussions about a reduction of car transportation in general. And there is a prohibition on barbecue…

Economic, environmental and external costs// This transportation system means enormous costs in terms of economic business, national economics and external factors. It is also wrong to say that road and air transportation cover the costs. It is important to include also the tremendous costs for the road network and parking spaces – especially in the cities. There are also costs concerning the damage to the climate, to the environment and public health – not least the “costs” in the case of car accidents. Different calculations made in the EU show that the costs of the car und air transportation represent between 7 and 10 % of the European GDP.

Time loss and costs for traffic jam// It is astonishing to see how inefficiently the passenger car transportation is organized: traffic speed is the lowest where there is the highest density of highways. Adding all the traffic jam calculations in Los Angeles, where there are 850 cars for every 1000 inhabitants, the average speed is about 15 kilometers per hour. This corresponds to the speed of cyclists. There shouldn’t be much of a difference in Peking – maybe there the passenger car speed is even slower.

Blood tariff” or those killed and injured on the road// car traffic means many fatal accidents and injured people. In the European Union, consisting of 27 member states (“EU-27”) about 40.000 people are killed by road traffic every year. This means that in a decade the population of a city of 400.000 inhabitants would be erased. In China, according to official numbers, there are 65.000 lives lost by road traffic per year.

The World Bank and the World Health Organization, WHO publish an even higher blood tariff number of up to 220.000 per year.2 This means in a decade the population of a big city containing about 750.000 or even 1.2 Million people is killed. I would also like to add that this form of transportation contributes to a tremendous increase of interpersonal aggression and brutality. There are, also in China, many impressive examples to underline this statement.3

This raises three questions: Firstly – WHY is this transportation system predominant if it is irrational, expansive and destructive? Is there not the common statement that the markets and capitalism are rational or at least conscious of costs? Secondly – Are there not already optimizations of this way of transportation like the electric car, biofuels or ideas like Car-Sharing? Thirdly – is there a fundamental alternative and if yes, how does it look like?

In the following six theses and a practical instruction are presented – the fundamental alternative.

  1. The history of the “western way of mobility” is closely connected to the history of economy of the 20th century and the enforcement of the US hegemony in the world market

In the 19th century the railway prevailed in the “modern world” simultaneously. The first public railways were built in England in 1835, in the US in 1829, in Germany in 1835 and in Russia in 1837. Since China was back then mainly protected from the world market or parts of it were of colonial status, the first railways were not built before 1904 or 1910.4 In the case of cars and airplanes the situation is quite different. Car industry and as well the construction of airplanes, was developed first in the US (mass production of cars since 1907 by Henry Ford). To the same extent that the US became the leading capitalist power, they also enforced their model of mobility: the “American Way of life and mobility” became the “global way of life and mobility”. These developments correspond to an enormous phase-shifting in the enforcement of a car society. If we take the old scale (one passenger car for four inhabitants) for a fully motorized society, this status was achieved in very different periods of time in the regions of the western capitalism: in the US in 1927, in Western Europe in 1960, in Japan in 1980 and in Eastern Europe in 1995. In China this degree of motorization might be achieved in 2025. Then in China should exist 350 Million passenger cars, presently being nearly 100 Million.

However the worldwide car industry and the international construction of airplanes was controlled by 80% by the US car companies GM, Ford, Chrysler and American Motors (and their subsidiary companies Opel/Vauxhall or Simca-Chrysler in Europe). Even today about 80% of the worldwide passenger car production in North America, Japan, Western Europe and South Korea is controlled by these companies. Even in China today the passenger car market is dominated up to 55% by the companies from this “capitalist center”.5 If we had enough time, we would have to analyze the history of capitalism at the end of the 18th – beginning of the 19th century, to understand why the car prevailed all over the world. During the turn of the century Rockefeller (oil) and Ford (cars) became the substantial segment of capital before the railway capitalists (also Vanderbilt). And simultaneously to the conquest of US capital on the world market at the beginning of the 20th century, this specific form of transportation became prevalent around the globe.

What everyone should think about is the development in China where a model of mobility is implemented which was developed and gained ground about 100 years ago in the USA – a model, which doesn’t prove effective, by the way. This happens precisely at a time when China is on its way to overtake the US holding first place among the industrial nations. Or when it is in the process of entering a competition to become the hegemon on the world market.

  1. The Organization of traffic and transport on the basis of cars, trucks, air planes and ships is ideal for the implementation of the principle “privatization of profits and socializing losses”

In railways transport route (the rail infrastructure) and operation (the „rolling stock“ with vehicles such as locomotives, wagons, etc.) usually form a business unit. The „external costs“ – which are „paid“ by the environment, natural resources, etc., are low. Almost all business costs appear in the balance sheet of the company – for both private or state railway company. (The fact that the EU wants to blow open this unit in the context of privatization policy, is another topic).

Completely different is the case of road transport, air transport, and the waterway. Infrastructure (roads, airports, seaports) is almost always in public ownership (or is separated from the operation and publicly subsidized massively). The resources (vehicles) are privately owned – owned by the „ordinary people“ (cars) or the property of individual companies (eg transporters). The manufacturer – car companies and aircraft industries – are again „further away from the action“. The external costs of these forms of transport are enormous – and are not (or only to a marginal extent) paid by the private sector.

Through this systemic and systematic separation of infrastructure and operations an optimal implementation of the principle „privatize the profits“ (among other things at the car companies) is possible. This also means low costs of a “motorized individual transport”(for car users) on the one hand and a socialization of a large part of the costs of this form of transport (in the public sector, public utilities systems such as health insurance and pension funds, in later generations) on the other hand. In public, the actual costs of this mode of transport are disguised in a most sublime way. It gives the impression that all “pays for itself“.

However, if all actual costs of car traffic were calculated the costs for car or truck use would more than double. Thus the advantages or the other form of transport would move into the right light. Moreover the term „external costs“ is already part of an ideology – in reality it is „internal costs.“ Costs that should be fully attributed to the current costs of road transport and equally to the air traffic (and container shipping). The much too low costs, which derive from incomplete calculations, for these modes in turn act to the effect that the relevant transport services increase inflationary – and displace other, economically more meaningful traffic or productions.6

  1. The car society and low-budget airlines remind oftheold Romanprincipleofbread and circuses“ forthe preservationofnowcapitalistdominion. Through them the alienation which comes along with labor and capital is partly compensated.

The literature on the automobile often points out that it is still “people“ who want to afford „a car“. Who want to „reach a distant place,“ with a low cost airline. A policy „against the car“ and „against low-cost airlines“ would be a policy „against the majority of the population“.

To pursue such a policy would be „politically disastrous“. This is both right and reduced in its meaning. Why, one must wonder, do hundreds of millions of Chinese people want a car if they know that in their lifetime, this dream will never come true. And why do they pursue such a dream despite the apparent massive damage to life, health, environment and quality of life? Why, should be asked again with another point of view, does only every second household today have a car in Berlin, where in this city actually 90 percent of households could afford one? Why does this supposedly „deeply human desire“ for a private car not exist there – or: Why is the desire not that strong? This appears to be related to the relatively good public transport. Why, we should continue to ask, can be observed at least in North America and Western Europe among young people a massive decline in the appreciation of the „own car“ for over a decade (the smartphone symbolizes more status for them than a “PS box”)?

The reasons for the – undeniable – wishes and desires of hundreds of millions of people for the possession of a car lie on a deeper level.

Broadly speaking: The capitalist society systematically produces alienation. This means that the nature of the human being “to realize themselves”, to get out of themselves to do something meaningful and in that sense act as a producer and work, is perverted by capitalism in different ways. Among other things, the fact that the product produced by the employees belongs to someone else (the capitalists; the company, the Group) and that often unnecessary things, scrap and even destructive products are manifactured instead of something good and meaningful.

And in that, the more the employees, who depend on their salary, have to slave away, the greater is the power of capital – a power that is directed against them and against the vast majority of the population: the rich get richer, the poor get poorer; the middle class expires.7 And hand in hand with the rich becoming increasingly richer go cuts in social services, the dismantling of public services, the erosion of basic achievements such as free education, in-depth education and a sophisticated culture.

Above all people know: they have just about no influence on the really important decisions in society. This applies also perfectly to countries with a bourgeois democracy. In the last three state elections in September 2014 in Germany, only about 50 percent went to the polls (in Saxony it were even less than 50 percent). So when people experience everyday life completely alienated, when the „great freedom“, participation in major decisions8 are denied to them, then they try to find refuge in smaller freedoms: A low-cost fligt to the sea. A sex-click on the internet. A trip into the countryside with their own metal box. Or into a continuing traffic jam.

It is therefore in some way logical that historically the main sponsors of the car companies were also those who drive or drove the alienation to the climax: fascists.

Henry Ford was a convinced fascist and anti-Semite (he was honored by the NSDAP with the highest German prize for non-Germans). His assembly-line mass production of cars whose principles had been taken over by the industrial mass slaughter in slaughterhouses of Chicago by the end of the 18th century was associated with an extremely cynical worldview.

Mussolini had built the first Autostrade (highway); Italian fascism promoted the Fiat group and pursued the goal of a „motorization of the people“ with the small car „Topolino“ (= „little mouse“; Fiat 500). Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime operated the “Reich” highway construction on a large scale, they also advocated the „motorization of the people“ (with the model VW Beetle) and had the Volkswagen plant built in Wolfsburg.

And is it not perplexing that the German architect Albert Speer received many large orders from China for city projects, including one for the “Motor City Anting”. Albert Speer junior is not liable for the fact that Albert Speer’s father, Albert Speer Sr., chief architect of the Nazi Party, was involved in the planning of the “Strength through Joy City” of Volkswagen, the later Wolfsburg. But Albert Speer junior committed himself to the essential principles that were already represented by his father. So he said: “ I find this idea (the idea of Albert Speer senior,), to exclude the stations from the cities and to keep the inner city free of rails, also useful today.”9

  1. There isnotonlya capitalistconstitution ofthe world economy.There is above all a materialconstitution ofthe capitalist worldeconomy thatis completelyfocused onthe currentmobilitymodel.

The current world economy is – even in the case of Chinese capitalism- determined by capitalist laws: profit maximization, world market competition and the struggle for world market domination. There are nearly no discussions about the fact that the world economy is determined, also materially – in the specific composition of global capital by the current mobility model (and energy model). However this has enormous political consequences and explains to a large extent the enforcement of the current mobility model.

In July 2014, the new issue of the U.S. capital magazine „Fortune“ was released including a list of the largest corporations and banks in the world in 2013.10 Putting together a subgroup of companies within the “Global 500”, the oil industry, car industry and the aerospace industry makes about 30 percent of the cumulative sales of the „Global 500“.11 When it comes to the profit this group even covers 35 percent of all reported profits. And in these calculations banks, insurance companies and hedge fonds and their acitivities in the oil / car / aircraft industriy are omitted. The capital group of oil, cars and aircraft is by far the most important within the Global 500 – and thus also the most important within the world capital. Linked to this group are huge lobby armies and huge advertising budgets.

These lobbies take effective influence on the respective transport policy in Washington, Beijing, Tokyo, London, Moscow, Brussels and Berlin. And they influence to a large extent the media, the advertising world and the film industry.

The composition of China’s economy shows clear parallels to the composition of the world’s largest companies. Among the Global 500 already 95 companies were located in China. Among these 95 companies 13 are directly connected to the oil, car and aircraft sector. The two largest Chinese companies on this list – Sinopec Group and China National Petroleum – are pure oil companies. This resembles the situation on the top of the US-companies in the group of the Global 500, where Exxon Mobile and Chevron are positioned second and third (rank 1 held by the retail giant Wal-Mart).12 According to Fortune the added revenues of these 13 companies arrive at a sum of 1,508 billion dollars. This already corresponds to 25.8 percent of the total turnover of all Chinese companies under the Global 500.13

Back to the global dimension: The irritating fact is: in 1973, during the period of the first oil crisis, when the „Club of Rome“ published the report of the „end of growth“ for the first time, the problem of the oil and car company society was discussed. At that time, the share of the oil, car and aircraft group among the Global 500 was only about 20 percent. Since then it has increased by at least 1.5 times.

In Germany we have a silly macho slogan of the „milkmaid calculations“ that are apparently inconsistent. In fact, the “milkmaids” could and had to calculate – they had to economize.

Each milkmaid in the mid-1970s would have said: if oil and other fossil fuels are finite, if they run the risk of exhaustion, then we need to economize their consumption accordingly – we need to move away from oil, car and air plane. A society ruled by milkmaids would operate a restructuring of the world economy – and it would also win majorities. But unfortunately we are not ruled by milkmaids and we aren’t determined by their arithmetic and logic.

  1. There is noconvincing„internalreformof thecarsocieties. Electric car, agrofuels(biofuels) and car sharingofferno alternative

Since criticism of the car society increased and peak oil, the end of the oil age became apparent, a „calming offensive“ arose. For about a decade, we are told by the car lobby: We already have alternatives to the conventional and privately owned car. There will be electric cars and cars that are driven by agro fuels. Additionally, intelligent systems for rental cars and car-sharing will become common. The critical examination of this alleged „internal reform“ of the car society can only be outlined very briefly:

Within all already listed alternatives there remain essential aspects of criticism concerning a car based transportation system. The car transportation needs about four times more territory than a transportation system that is based on walking, cycling and public transportation. Car transportation is simply not suitable for densely populated cities and destroys life quality as well as urbanity. The already highlighted extremely disproportionate blood tariff remains the same.

The CO2 footprint of electric cars is, when the production of these cars is involved in the balance calculations, already in Europe largely the same as that of car transportation using conventional fuel. In China electric cars perform even worse because their electricity comes mainly from coal power plants. The more electric cars, the more CO 2 emissions from coal power plants. The social costs of a system based on electric-car transport are enormous. In China, there are subsidies for each electric car in the equivalent of 7.000 to 13.000 Euro. Everywhere where electric cars are in use, the owners and users get tremendous privileges like free – for e-cars reserved- parking, shared use of bus lanes, free or heavily subsidized electricity. Nevertheless, in 2013 only about 180.000 electric cars could be sold worldwide – in China, less than 30.000. This corresponds to the global level a ridiculous equivalent of 0.25 percent (in 2013 about 70 million conventional cars were sold worldwide). Particularly since most purchases of e-cars are second and third cars.

For example Norway: In this Scandinavian country the percentage of sold electric cars is the highest – and the country plays a leading role at subsidies for this form of transportation.14

In 2014 there was study showing that 93 percent of the buyers of electric cars already have a car with a conventional drive. Consequently electric cars even increase the entire car fleet. The buyers of electric cars afford a second or even third car for driving in the city. They block bus lanes and thus hinder public transport. And they use for other itineries their petrol or diesel driven car.

When it comes to car-sharing the proportion of those who already have a private car is very high. Despite substantial subsidies for car-sharing models, transportation costs for car-sharing users are at least twice as much as public transport.15 This implies that car-sharing is largely the mobility model of the upper middle class. However it must be said that the car use via car-sharing is undoubtedly better than a motorized individual transport with private cars.

All „alternatives“ offered by the car lobby, thus represent above all a „green-washing“ of the car company. An interesting fact is that the car companies develop e-car models, of which they themselves are not convinced. A typical example is the BMW e-car in China. In November 2013 the German car company introduced the new electric car model Zinoro together with its Chinese partner Brilliance in Canton (Guangzhou). But only Chinese journalists were allowed to assist the world premiere. This was justified by a BMW spokesman by saying that the vehicle was „not relevant for the rest outside of China“.

However the Chinese car market is the largest globally – and therefore extremely „relevant“ for the „rest of the world.“ According to the newspaper “Frankfurter Zeitung general” the model was developed „under pressure from the Chinese government.“ The government requires „that foreigners establish a Chinese brand and that they bring a developed vehicle which was built in China with alternative drive systems on the market.“16 Also, the Daimler Group hides its e-car model “Denzo” which was developed for the Chinese market. And even the leading car company in China, VW, is extremely reluctant when it comes to the subject of electric cars.

Fairly honest was the Daimler-Chief Development Officer Thomas Weber, who said: “Denzo is the best alternative to return to the bike.“ 17

It is precisely that issue: Please do not return to sustainability and reason! It is better to beat the irrationality of the conventional traffic with the irrationality of the – largely virtual- e-car mobility.

  1. The alternativeOr: The lessons learned from thepastofBerlinandGuangzhou

Often when developing a vision you might find essential aspects in the past. Let’s take the two cities Berlin and Canton (Guangzhou) as examples. We will begin with the capital of my country.

In 1929 Berlin had 4.3 million inhabitants. In the city about 28.200 cars and 50.000 motorcycles were registered. There were around 1.5 million bicycles. In addition to the non-motorized modes of transport – walking and cycling – the tram was the ultimate mode transportation; the tram had a road network of 550 km in length. This means that almost the entire area of the city could be reached via tram. Other modes of transportation complemented the tram. All in all in 1929 a total of 2 billion passengers were transported via public transport – tram, subway, buses and commuter trains. When applying the so called modal split – the distribution of paths according to the vehicle choice by the passenger – about 50 percent were footpaths and bike rides, 49 percent were public transportation and approximately three percent cars and taxis.18

Two special circumstances are to be emphasized. First – the public transport company (BVG – Berlin Transportation Company) was profitable by the end of the 1920s and brought a good income to the city. Secondly, Berlin was regarded as the European City of Culture. Who at that time compared New York – the US megacity was already back then a car city – and Berlin with each other, certainly didn’t see a disadvantage in the absence of cars.

Despite the reunification Berlin has only 3.4 million inhabitants. The number of bicycles is approximately as high as in 1929, possibly even higher. More recently, the bicycle traffic has increased again, but it is significantly below the level of 1929. This also applies to pedestrian traffic.

Which is mainly due to the fact that the city is dominated by car transportation. Walking and cycling is often difficult and sometimes even dangerous.

The two main differences compared to 1929 are: the number of passenger cars registered in the city is now about 1.14 million; it became forty times as high in comparison to 1929. Thus, the car became the main mode of transport. At the same time, the number of passengers in public transportation has halved in urban areas – from just over 2 billion to a billion passengers a year. The reason for the reduction of public transport doesn’t lie alone in the relatively large number of cars. Rather, there was a significant structural change in public transport. Today there is an extensive underground network with a total length of 150 km network. But it can manage „only“ about 500 million passengers – just half of what mastered the 1929 tram.

However, today the tram network today has only a length of 180 km – one third the length of 1929. So most of the capital was invested in the construction and maintenance of the metro. But the construction of one kilometer of metro network costs at least ten times as much as the construction of one kilometer of an equally powerful tram. Consequently the public transport in Berlin has an annual deficit of more than 700 million Euro.

Nowadays, Berlin is once again one of Europe’s most popular cities. Berlin owes this mainly to the huge cultural variety and its character as a multicultural city. However, unfortunately Berlin became a car city. Especially in the summer, the dust pollution and ozone-levels exceed the limits.

There is much to be said for the revival of the virtues of the past: to promote pedestrian and bicycle traffic and in particular to reconstruct an extensive tram network.

Take the example of Guangzhou. In 1993 the city had about 7 million inhabitants. Thus it was almost twice as large as Berlin in 1929. In Guangzhou there were 320.000 motor vehicles; including around 70.000 cars. In addition there were 200.000 motorcycles. This largely corresponds to the proportions of cars and motorcycles, which existed in Berlin in 1929. In Guangzhou, there were still 2.8 million bicycles in 1993. Again, this largely corresponds to the described proportion of bicycles that existed in Berlin in 1929. Two decades ago the bicycle transport shaped the city’s atmosphere and formed the backbone of passenger transport. Back then you could read in a German newspaper, which otherwise represents perfectly the interests of the German car industry: „The cyclists have the roads almost to themselves. Rigid traffic laws are not required. At the crossroads streams of cyclists pass each other like shoals of fish. „19

In 2013 around 13.5 million people live in Guangzhou; almost twice as much as two decades ago. The city is now dominated by car traffic – like it is the case in Berlin today. The number of registered passenger cars is expected to lie at more than 3 billion (an exact number wasn’t to be found). Motorcycles have been banned in the downtown area. That might have been useful, because noise and the number of accidents were declining. However, it is likely to have finally strengthened car traffic.

The bicycle transport in Guangzhou is nearly not relevant anymore.

The city is proud of its large subway network which has a length of nearly 250 kilometers. 1.2 billion people are transported per year. Taking into account the different sizes of cities in Canton the length of the subway network and the number of transportation corresponds to the numbers Berlin today. It therefore becomes clear: Although China in general and Canton in particular are relatively rich and efficient, the metro network and its performance is only modest.

The underground as the main means of transport is generally a problematic option. It is based on the fact that spaces for public transport are opened up in the ground, in order to reserve the surface largely for cars. Lots of capital can be bound in that way. The ratio of capital expenditure to traffic performance is highly unsatisfactory.

Once again a comparison shall be made: the Guangzhou subway network is half as large as the Berlin tram network of 1929 – the population of Berlin was almost a third of the present population in Canton. The whole public transport from Guangzhou– above all metro and buses – has less than 2 billion passengers. Thus the transport service in Guanghzou performs now poorer than that of Berlin in 1929. However, the population is three times higher.

Guangzhou is undoubtedly an impressive metropolis. However, the dominant traffic should not be part of the positive features of this city. Its consequences are comparable to those in other cities: noise, highly polluted air, continuing traffic jams, lots of traffic deaths and injuries.

The reason why the Chinese cities became car cities, does not primarily lie in the people’s decisions. It were primarily the decisions of the political leadership and the transport politicians who brought about these changes. Above all, the bike was consciously and purposefully displaced as mode of mass transportation. What was considered to be “modern” was the car. In 1990 Carl H. Hahn was the top manager at VW.

On the occasion of a visit to China, he stated in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing: „In Germany we think long term. I can imagine that one day more Volkswagen will be built and sold in China than in our country. “ 20 The objective of the VW boss became true. While in Europe the registration numbers of cars have been declining, while it is considered in many cities how the car dominance can be avoided, in China, the error committed by the capitalist West, was repeated. China currently saves the western car industry worldwide.21

The question arises: Why not take a look back into the past? Can we not learn from these experiences for the transport of the future? Approaches for such a necessary shift in transport also exist in China. Thus since 2013, there are investments for an expensive rental system for bicycles in China’s capital, Beijing. The city council announced the slogan: „We will win back the bike for Beijing. After all, the Chinese capital was once considered the „Kingdom of cyclists“.22

  1. Chinaandthe historical dimensionof thecar society

The number of cars has tripled worldwide between 1985 and 2014 from 335 million to one billion, while the world population has „only“ grown from 4.8 to 7.2 billion people, or has enlarged by 50 percent. In the emerging countries a massive acceleration of motorization has taken place in the last few years. Investments are made for doubling the number of cars by 2030. And they are made to a decisive extent in China – by the Chinese car companies and, not least by the car companies from North America, Europe, Japan and South Korea. VW alone wants to double its production capacity in the next five years in China – heading to 4.5 million units output by 2020.23

If in China „only“ the average European car density (500 cars per 1000 inhabitants) is reached, this alone will already lead to a boost of further 500 million units as part of the global passenger car fleet.24 A similar catching-up of car-motorization in India and other emerging countries lead already to a doubling of the total global car fleet.

Today’s passenger car fleet with 1 billion units consists of 99.5 cars with conventional drive. The car fleet of 2 billion units for 2030 is aimed to consist of at least 95 percent of conventional cars. However, the past two decades teach us that this trend could accelerate and the goal “two billion cars worldwide” could be reached already in 2025.

Nonetheless, the question is: is such a goal actually achievable? And what are the consequences for the environment, climate, quality of life in the cities and the number of road fatalities and injuries? What implications does this have in the context of peak oil? Which gigantic and destructive measures must be taken to come up with enough fuel for such a car fleet – through the exploration of the Arctic, through oil production from sand, through the dangerous fracking, through increasingly larger areas for agro fuels?

Obviously, such a development is not conducive for people, nature and climate. It has catastrophic consequences for the climate, the environment and human coexistence on this planet.

Unlike 100 or 50 years ago now the dangers that result from the perspective of continuing motorization are known. Basically it is also clear that a transport revolution on a global scale is required. And that the Western countries have to take a special responsibility: They operate the car society. They contributed significantly to their global implementation.

Their car companies are key players in the process of the motorization of the merging economies, especially China. However, the appeal to carry out such a turn is directed to all people with an understanding of solidarity – especially to people who are committed to the goal of human emancipation.

It is a tragedy of left-wing policy that the term „revolution“ was almost always understood as rather another form of development than a different quality. Walter Benjamin wrote: “ “Marx says that revolutions are the locomotives of world history. But the situation may be quite different. Perhaps revolutions are not the train ride, but the human race grabbing for the emergency brake.”25

Benjamin’s imagery to describe revolutions in general makes the need for the transport revolution in particular abundantly clear. A different world is possible – a different mobility is necessary.“

1 „The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surged at its fastest rate in 30 years last year amid signs that the world´s oceans and forests might not be storing the planet-warming gas as readily as they have in the past. The rise of emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas produced by burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil, is the biggest driver of global warming, scientists say. Carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, and according to a new analysis by the UN´s World Meteorological Organization CO-2-concentration rose 2,9 parts per million (ppm) between 2012 and 2013, the biggest annual increase since 1984. Pilita Clark, “Carbon dioxide emissions surge”, in: Financial Times (London), 10th of September 2014.

2 According to official figures in, 2010, 65.225 people were killed on the roads in China. This statistic defines road traffic deaths only as people who were found seven days after a road traffic accident. Assuming, as in the case of the EU statistics, the definition of „death by road accident within 30 days“, this number must be multiplied by a factor between 1.75 to 2. So in 2010 there were 114,144 to 130,450 road traffic deaths a year in China. The World Health Organization, in turn, reports other dark figures and published a number of 220,783 road traffic fatalities. See in detail Klaus Gietinger, total loss, Munich 2010, p 245ff.

3 On October 13, 2011, the two year-old Wang Yue in the Fushan City in Guangdong Province, was hit by a car and was lying on the road. The girl was still alive. But she was still run over by two trucks. On video, which was put on the internet one can witness how seven minutes passed during which eighteen persons carelessly walked past the girl. At the end a garbage collector rushed to her and took her to the hospital. She died there. See Frankfurter Allgenmeine newspaper of 15 October 2012.

4 The Shantung railroad on the 395 km long route from the port Qingdao Jiaozhou Bay to Tsinanfu could be fully used on June 1, 1904. It was built with German capital and was part of the German colonial policy in China.

5 In 2013, the following foreign car manufacturers came to a total 53.7 percent share of the Chinese domestic car market (in production); Shares are written in brackets and without the Chinese partner SAIC and FAW as VW or BMW Brilliance etc.): VW (19.5%), General Motors 10.4%, 6.6% Hyundai, Toyota (4.5% ), Nissan 83.9%); PSA-Citroen (3.6%); Ford (3.3%); BMW (1.1%); Mercedes-Benz7Daimler (0.6%) and Fiat (0.2%). In terms of sales, the proportion of foreigners should be more than two-thirds. Information provided by: Morgan Stanley Research, April 2013; by: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of April 2nd, 2013.

6 Thus the cheapness of container traffic and the extensive subsidization often lead to absurd transport chains. In Germany walnut is the second most popular type ice cream, followed directly by vanilla ice cream. The leading company in this sector Mövenpick imported almost all walnut ingredients for this ice (variety „Maple Walnut“) of the PRC. The walnuts are harvested by farmers there and delivered in factories. There, the walnut meat is sorted, then packed in bags, transported in a container in a Chinese port and then shipped by sea to Europe. In Europe, the walnuts are caramelized, drawn by hot maple syrup, and finally mixed with the ice. Meanwhile, every year hundreds of tons of walnuts remain unharvested in the EU; they rot under the trees. Said bluntly: The transport of walnuts from China to Europe is cheaper than people in Europe to pay for their labor.

7 The result of the alienation that people experience in capitalism Karl Marx sees as follows: „It therefore comes to the conclusion that the human being (the worker) only sees her- or himsel in his or her animal functions, eating, drinking and sex, and at maximum an aparment, jewelry, etc., as acting freely and in her or his human functions [as workers] only as animal „Karl Marx, Paris Manuscripts in 1844, here after. Karl Marx texts to method and practice II, Paris 1844 manuscripts, Frankfurt / M . In 1966, p.55.

8 How does our government act in respect to the war in the Ukraine? Shall the German military continue to be stationed in Afghanistan? Shall weapons be delivered to Kurdistan? Should subsidies of about a billion Euro not be rather used for public transportation than for Bundeswehr missions abroad? Should not be more money spent for kindergartens and schools instead of private banks and corporations? In Germany in all these aspects there are clear majorities in favour of the civil responses. But the federal government is almost systematically in open contradiction to these majorities.

9 In: Der Spiegel 45/1999.

10 Global 500 –The world´ largest corporations, in: Fortune, July 21, 2014, S. 61ff.

11 I take oil, car and aircraft together to a subgroup, since the corresponding company depens directly on oil and its derivatives diesel, gasoline, kerosene. One could accept Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) and include in this case the shipbuilding (shipyards) and large shipping companies, especially the Container Shipping. In the case of the Chinese Global 500 companies, this would include China’s Shipbuilding Industry (rank 87 among Chinese Global 500 companies, ranking 403 on the Global 500 list) and China’s Ocean Shipping (90/451).

12 The Chinese companies in the Global 500 group are the following (in brackets the first number is the rank among the Chinese companies themselves, the second is the rank among the Global 500 group): Sinopec Group (1.3); China National Petroleum (2.4); China National Offshore Oil (11/79); SAIC Motor (13/85); China FAW Group (17/11); Dongfeng Motor Group (18/113); China South Industries Group (30/16); Aviation Industry Corp. of China (31/178); Beijing Automotive Group (40/248); China National Aviation Fuel Group (59/314); Guangzhou Automobile Industry Group (72/366); Shaanxi Yanchang Petroleum Group (88/432) and the Zhejiang Geely Holding Group (92/466). It is striking that in this group of Chinese companies in the Global 500 list there are nearly as many powerful energy companies (like State Grid, China Southern Power Grid, Shandong Energy Group or China Huaneng Group), in which there are certainly cross-connections to the oil companies , but this was also not considered here. Interestingly, in this group, three companies from the railways are: China Railway Construction (12/80), China Railway Group (14/86) and China Railway Materials (89/442).

13 The total turnover of the 95 Chinese companies among the Global 500 is about 5.839 billion dollars.

14 There is a large tax exemption on the purchase of electric cars (no VAT, no road tax. A recent study in 2014 showed: per year (!)the state in Norway subsidizes electric cars with 6200 Euro – or during a ten-year life cycle the state pays subsidies up to 62,000 Euro. Study by Anders Skonhoft, University of Trondheim, 2014 ( and Reproduced in: Tageszeitung of September, 9th in 2014.

15 In a car-sharing-scale test of the Daimler Group, named „Car2Go“, which it is carried out for over five years in the Southern German city of Ulm with massive local subsidies, the user en up paying almost three times of what the use of public transport would cost.

16 Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, November, 15, 2011.

17 In: Handelsblatt, April 22, 2014. In addition, the companies that produce only electric cars go into the red, despite the subsidies (as Tesla in California, USA). This also applies to the Chinese company BYD electric-car sector (Build Your Dreams).

18 The exact modal split was as follows: 37.7% footpaths, 10.3% bicycle trips (together with the non-motorized traffic it is about 48%), 23.8% tram 11% commuting train, subway and 7.1% buses (public transport – without taxis was about 49% . Car transport accounted for 2.5% and another 0.5% taxis See Winfried Wolf, Berlin -. cosmopolitan city without a car. A Transport History 1848-2015, Cologne 1994, p 247th

19 Hans Dieter Sauer, „Fahrräder aus der Stadt“, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, December 9th, 1993.

20 The cadres of the VR China shall replace their bike by a Gulf „, in: East Frisian newspaper of November 23rd, 1990.

21 In the ​​tobacco sector the development is further advanced. In almost all Western countries, the insight has prevailed that smoking is extremely harmful to health – and that the government must take action against it. Accordingly, in most countries of North America and Europe, smoking is prohibited in public places or severely restricted. The consumption of cigarettes declines drastically in some cases. But the international tobacco companies are still booming. Why? Because they expand, especially in Asia and Africa.

22 Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften, Frankfurt am Main 1999, Band V/2, Das Passagenwerk, p.1232.

23 In 2012 VW produced, together with its two Chinese partners SAIC and FAW 2.5 million passenger cars in China.In 2018 the number shall be increased up to 4 million and in 2020 at least 5 million. By 2018 VW and its partners will have invested about 18 billion Euro. See Börsenzeitung of May 17th, 2013, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, January 14th,2014.

24 We’re not talking about the car density of UDSA which is 720 cars per 1000 inhabitants.

25 Walter Benjamin, »Collected Works«, Frankfurt am Main 1999, Vol. V/2, »Das Passagenwerk«, p. 1232.