Pictured above is the world's cheapest car: the Tata Nano. The entry level model retails at just US$2500. Its makers hope to sell over a million Nanos a year, and at that price and in one of the world's most populated markets, you wouldn't bet against them. The market for which the Nano is intended and in which it will be built is India. Ratan Tata, the entrepreneur responsible, told Time magazine he expects it to revolutionise life for poorer families:
Tata hopes the Nano will help millions of poor people around the world — the "Bottom of the Pyramid" in developing world marketing-speak —switch from two wheels to four.
It's impossible to overstate the boon for the word's poor of such a car. As Brendan O'Neill says at Sp!ked Online, instead of "having to rely on overcrowded, unpredictable public transport or sweating everywhere by pushbike," "millions of people in the developed and very quickly developing world [can instead enjoy] the freedom, flexibility and – yes – status offered by a car."
This could transform India. If the railways, a byproduct of British colonialism, served India well in the twentieth century, then the rise of a new car culture could change the face and feel of India in the twenty-first. Millions more people will have steady, relatively well-paid jobs on car production lines; miles and miles of new roads and motorways will be constructed to accommodate the new motorised middle classes; and the average Joe Patel will enjoy greater speed and liberty in his everyday life courtesy of the affordable car. The People’s Car: one short drive for a man, one giant leap for mankind!
It's all good, you would think: A win-win situation for everyone from Mr Tata to the dirt poor of India's dusty streets. Not so. The same kind of people who have between them made the developed world's houses more and more unaffordable bemoan this boon as "planet threatening" -- as far as the world's poor are concerned they say (just as Marie Antoinette might have said), "Let them all walk."
What [impoverished buyers] foolishly and selfishly think of as a wonderful opportunity to get their mitts on the steering wheel of a super-cheap four-wheeler is actually the latest instance of human destructiveness against the planet [notes O'Neill].
... as one British newspaper points out, while the launch of The People’s Car has been greeted with ‘zeal’ by India’s middle classes and aspirant working classes, it has been greeted with ‘worry’ from the environmentalist lobby, which is disgusted by the ‘unbridled enthusiasm’ of ordinary Indians for the super-cheap car, and which predicts ‘a plague of ever-cheaper cars and ever-swelling clouds of climate-changing fumes.’ The People’s Car will apparently have ‘drastic consequences for pollution.' Those dirty Indians.
Environmentalists’ discomfort with The People’s Car throws into stark relief one of their core convictions: that the developing world must not achieve the same standard of living or level of wealth as we in the West enjoy, because if it does the Earth will perish.
Once again, global greenmongering puts at risk global prosperity, this time for those who need it most. And once again we see their global crusade pitting their planetary aspirations ahead of real people and their own push for prosperity. "As a used-car salesman in New Delhi said when The People’s Car was launched: ‘It’s the same dream anywhere in the world. You want a good home, a good car and a beautiful wife'." But that's not a dream the "eco-miserabilists" want these uppity brown people to have. As O'Neill concludes,
However much green activists use the word ‘rich’ and ‘middle class’ as terms of abuse, there’s no disguising the fact that these Westernised, white-led campaign groups are lecturing brown people for getting ideas above their station – or above their station wagon, in the case of The People’s Car.
In his book All the Trouble in the World, PJ O'Rourke pointed out the covert racism of all the hand-wringing about the "population explosion" back when the population was supposed to be exploding, and we were all supposed to be worrying. That myth was largely exploded by Julian Simon in his book The Ultimate Resource, a reviewer of which makes the same point as O'Rourke and O'Neill:
Pervading the anti-growth movement is the miasma of racism, as evinced by this extract from The Population Bomb quoted in The Ultimate Resource: "I came to understand the population explosion emotionally one stinking hot night in Delhi...The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping, people visiting, arguing and screaming. People thrusting their hands through the taxi window, begging. People defecating and urinating. People clinging to buses. People herding animals. People, people, people." You can almost hear it: "my dear, the natives, they were everywhere. Beastly, smelly people, little better than rats". The fact that these "human pollutants" have just as much right to existence as any one of us seems to escape the population doomsayers.
The doomsayers haven't disappeared, neither has their (still) unacknowledged dirty secret -- and nor have they yet accepted that reviewer's ultimate point.