Activists are increasingly resorting to attention-grabbing techniques to bring development issues into the public domain
TRANSPORT policy is one of the biggest
influences on the course of development and often determines how sustainable' that subsequent development
will be. This is especially true wherever
population densities are high. Yet it is
subtle and is poorly understood. Each
generation's lessons tend to be forgotten by the next and the
same mistakes are made again. People seem to think that
what goes wrong in one country "can't happen here".
Currently, provincial France routinely repeats the strip or ribbon development mistakes of Anglo Saxon countries in the
1930s. Regularly, a new road bypasses a congested town and
then acquires a row of factories or office blocks and more and
more local traffic. Evehtually, a new bypass has to be built and
soon the whole shape of the town turns out to have been
decided by the course of a road delineated by civil engineers
three decades before.
In a democracy, how does one educate public opinion in
the basics of sustainable transport policy so that people and
their governments can make intelligent choices- unswayed
by lobbies of motor manufacturers, road building civil engineers , land owners, local government functionaries or small
Recent European experience suggests that the most effec-
tive way is based on bizarre theatrical performances in which
conventional press campaigning is combined with building
tree houses, jousting with the police, advocating the rights of
snails and birds in court, obstructing bulldozers by lying
down in their path and deploying pantomime cows.
All these means were used recently in the 'Third Battle of
Newbury' around a new road bypass being built
to the west of a modest market town in southern England.
In the case of the bypass the objectors he
hopes of actually stop the road from being bui
but that was not regarded
as a reason for not trying. Oxford, the accepted home of lost causes, is only 20 miles away and lies on the A 34, a congested road,
which was once itself a bypass in the 1960s.
Nobody knows just how many hours of air time and how many column inches have been given to the bypass battle
Peter Stone is a UK-based
environmental activist and
free lance jouranlist
if it were paid for at peak hour advertising rates, as is the case
with public service educational messages, the bill would be
counted in millions of dollars. That is the point of the exercise
- to educate the country in environmental basics at the lower cost.
The chemistry of the way the media pays attention to
environmental protests is such that the actual views of the
environmentalists have to be covered, not just their antics.
There have to be explanations as to why they suffer being
assaulted by the police, why they sit up in trees with their ban -
ners, jn shifts for weeks on end, and why they camp in the
winter by an arctic snail habitat in a bog.
I am reminded of an earlier environmental demonstration at the UN Stockholm Environment Conference in 1972.
That was the first time government ministers and their
bureaucrats were exposed to the irreverence and originality of
youthful environmental protest. The protestors parraded a
more or less lifesize whale in the streets of Stockholm, carrying the message "Maybe Dick". The whale was made of black
plastic sheeting, some padding'and a double decker omnibus.
It was not there for just effect. It helped to make the fate of
whales a symbol of the success or failure of the Stockholm conference.
Another feature turned to good effect is the general look
of the protesters as seen on television, contrasted with, say,
the mayor of the town or of the remaining tracts of heathland
and the defilement of the North Wessex Downs Area of
Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The exposition of the administrative and conceptual mess
surrounding the government's road building policy is thus
given a general public prominence it would otherwise never
receive. An ammunition box of fact and case study was made
available in the public domain for use in the next struggle
over transport policy. There is little doubt about
what sort of people will find it useful next
next time the policy will change.
s little influence on this
:ourse of events. The way
forward is to promote
informed environmental awareness among all
the people. If it requires young activists up trees and
playing it for laughs
and instruction at the
same time - so be it.
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