London: Zed Books, 2010, 208pp.; ISBN: 9781848135185
Although Ian Robinson's engaging book covers an impressively wide range of issues, from climate change to road safety, from oil to advertising, and politics to health, it is, at root, about one thing: the automobile. And, writing this review for Anarchist Studies, it strikes me how similar the car is in many ways to the state. It is almost omnipresent, yet often culturally invisible; it's the source of numerous social and environmental problems; and it's seen by most either positively, or as a sadly unavoidable component of modern life.
So The Energy Glut ought to be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the state of the world. Because, like the state, the car is hugely problematic, and the arguments for our continuing reliance on it are even less convincing than those that present the state as necessary. When even most environmental groups fail to challenge the inevitability of car use, Robinson's book comes as a welcome voice of radical hope that we really can make drastic changes to the way our world is organised. And, if the idea that the car's existence equates to the way the world is organised seems a little too much, then all the more reason to read this book.
Because another success of The Energy Glut is to expose the ways in which the car dominates not only our physical, but also our political, economic and cultural landscapes. From oil wars to the destruction of independent shops, from the increasing atomisation of daily life to the ever expanding power of multinational companies (so many of which are directly linked to the automobile), the car plays an insidious but often hidden role. How often, for example, do we hear the claim that our sense of community is slowly being destroyed? There are many reasons for this, but a significant one, as Robinson powerfully argues, is that as we step outside our front-doors, we are faced with noisy, polluting and often intimidating levels of traffic. Our streets are no longer human friendly.
Throughout the book, Robinson, an epidemiologist and former trauma doctor, draws on both empirical and personal experience to explore the devastating consequences of the car to our health. On top of huge problems of obesity caused by a reduction in physical activity, we add a polluted...