This is what a car ad should look like

Issue 144

This past week, e-bike maker VanMoof got the best gift it could possibly get. Its new ad was banned from French television for discrediting the auto industry and linking cars to climate change — I’m not seeing anything wrong with that! — and naturally that attracted a ton of media attention and viewers.

The ad itself is really nice, showing reflections of smokestacks, traffic congestion, emergency vehicles, and more on the body of the vehicle before it melts and the camera shifts to a backlit e-bike.

It seems particularly ironic that the ad was banned for reflecting the reality of automobility when so much car advertising is premised on presenting vehicles in conditions most drivers will never experience them in, emphasizing speed, empty urban streets, and more.

Last year, Angie Schmitt wrote an article in which she outlined how cars ads often display dangerous driving behaviors and how those kinds of ads should be banned. It should come as no surprise that we’re so wedded to driving and replacing it is so hard when Schmitt notes the auto industry was the largest advertiser in 2018, which also presents serious questions about editorial independence because of how dependent so many news outlets are on auto ad dollars. Did you think the Auto and Drive sections were just a coincidence? (It’s the same with the real estate sections.)

The VanMoof ad actually displays cars in the way they should be shown to people, illustrating all the problems that arise from a transport system so dependent on vehicles that fuel climate change and kill over a million people around the world every year. Car makers shouldn’t be able to hide all those issues with ads that are misleading and promote dangerous driving. There’s been talk of following the lead of tobacco regulations and putting warning labels on gas pumps, but things clearly need to go much further than that.

Hopefully the rise of the e-bike will bring more ads that are critical of automobiles and show them for what they really are. But one piece of ending the reign of the automobile will be reining in its advertising power, and thus providing better sources of revenue for media so journalists can be more critical of cars in the first place.

Critical urbanism

For Jacobin, I reviewed James Wilt’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Cars?” and echoed his call for better transit. Lauren Kirchner has a great report on the importance of libraries during the pandemic. Alon Levy did a deep dive on French rapid transit. Los Angelesfreeway system is “one of the most noxious monuments to racism and segregation in the country.” Addressing those inequities requires reinvesting in transit, which a new federal bill is trying to push forward. In Paris, mayor Anne Hidalgo was reelected as part of a green wave. Germany will be connecting some major cities with trains every 30 minutes. Tenants on a rent strike in the Bronx explain what their lives are like during the pandemic. 540,000 bikes have been sold in Italy since early May. Canada needs a public housing revolution, not a basic income. US could be on the verge of an unprecedented eviction crisis. Shared streets also present questions about rights to public space. Intercity bus companies are struggling after COVID-19 and haven’t received US federal aid like airlines and transit. If Uber buys Postmates, restaurants will feel the pinch with even higher fees. UK considering post-pandemic future of public transport. New Zealand’s trains are idle as the government pours millions into Air New Zealand.

Tech dystopia

On April 10, Google and Apple imposed a global health policy decision that presents serious questions about the unaccountable power of Silicon Valley firms. Shirin Ghaffary and Jason Del Rey did a deep dive on Amazon’s inadequate response to the pandemic and how it’s cracked down on dissenting workers. Silicon Valley elite think journalists have too much power. New Zealand rejected Palantir’s COVID-19 tracking system. BMW is adding microtransactions to its new vehicles. Whatsapp is a hotbed of conspiracy theories. Canada’s privacy commissioner investigating the mobile ordering app for Tim Horton’s coffee chain.

On this week’s Tech Won’t Save Us, I spoke to Motherboard senior staff writer Aaron W. Gordon about how VC-backed tech companies upended the bike-share industry and why the dockless bike and scooter model is failing. In Horizons, I wrote about the need for a public alternative to the tech industry.

Climate crisis

The far-right in Germany is invading green groups to spread ecofascism. Inquiry finds koalas could be extinct by 2050 without action by governments in Australia. Hundreds of elephants mysteriously died in northern Botswana. New report says coal is no longer competitive in many countries. Shell wrote down $22 billion in assets. The pandemic is generating a ton of plastic waste. Salt marshes could help with sea level rise in British Columbia. US CARES Act subsidizing fossil fuel companies.

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