Living a car-centric, commuter life is bad for your health, bad for your community and bad for the environment. If it seems like the reasonable conclusion is to invest in walkable communities, then congratulations sheep-person, you’ve been sucked into a nefarious Globalist, satanic, New World Order, deep state plot run by George Soros, Bill Gates and the World Economic Forum to restrict our freedoms and cull the human population. Or at least, that’s what the conspiracy theorist fringe would have you believe.
Yes, the open-your-eyes contingent has been busy regurgitating fossil fuel lobbyist propaganda in response to the mere concept of living in a place where you can walk to most of your daily needs. Wired has a new report on the rise of conspiracy theories surrounding the “15-minute city” movement. As you might expect, these folks are behaving in a completely rational manner, and not employing hyperbole at all when faced with folks who extoll the virtues of living in a walkable community. Take Carla Francome, who posted on Twitter about her passion for walkable neighborhoods. As Wired explains:
“That’s not freedom, that’s a socialist prison,” said one reply to her thread, from an account with the user name @pauldup80977540. Another account, @BusinessLioness, whose feed is peppered with anti-vaccine messaging and retweets of far-right commentators, sent Francome an image of the Warsaw Ghetto with a message: “There were already 15-minute cities in Poland during the Nazi occupation … In 1941 the Nazis introduced the death penalty for going out.”
The aggression of the messages has left Francome shaken. “How can I put us at risk from someone for just saying that we’d like to be able to walk to the local pub?” she says.
Francome had unwittingly blundered into the middle of an evolving conspiracy theory, which has bundled up innocuous ideas in urban development, from traffic calming and air pollution measures to cycle lanes, into a kind of meta-narrative—a meeting point for anti-lockdown activists, anti-vaxxers, QAnon adepts, anti-Semites, climate deniers, and the far right. With help from right-wing figures in the US and UK, including the author Jordan Peterson, the 15-minute city concept has become entwined within a much bigger universe of conspiracies based around the idea of a “Great Reset” that will see people locked in their homes by climate-obsessed autocracies.
Researchers found the conspiracy theory can be traced back to claims of a “climate change” lockdown back in 2020, when lockdowns were happening, but not for climate reasons. Naturally, the climate change lockdown theory became part of a larger conspiracy theory called The Great Reset, which posits that ultra-powerful and shady forces are colluding to ban people from driving cars, force them to eat bugs instead of meat, and of course, bring the entire planet under a single all-powerful government.
Some of the more unhinged conspiracy believers have sent death threats to city councils trying to mitigate heavy traffic, and popped off on social media with comparisons to Nazi Germany. As we’ve seen before, conspiracy theories have very real world consequences. Take the Freedom Convoy, which shut down Canada’s capital city and even some of the most important trade routes in North America, all over COVID-19 conspiracies and misinformation.
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For the last 100 years, cities and communities around the world (and especially in the U.S.) have been built around the car. This philosophy has made Americans both less free and less safe. Over 43,000 Americans died in traffic crashes in 2021. Just the ability to walk or ride a bike to the local watering hole rather than drive could save thousands of lives from DUI crashes every year.
Car ownership is a requirement for survival in many places in the U.S., but car ownership also traps low-income people in a perpetual cycle of high costs and unreliable transportation. Mass adoption of the car was even a significant factor in the creation of our current police state, making us far less free, as Columbia law history professor Sarah Seo argues in Policing the Open Road. It’s one of the reasons why some of the original wacky conspiracy theorists, the self-titled “sovereign citizens,” refuse to get drivers license or register their cars to avoid state oversight.
The thing is, climate change is real. It’s happening. And mass-consumption of EVs will not help humanity prevent unmitigated disaster. In fact, a mass transition to EVs while maintaining our automotive status quo could further destroy the planet if we don’t do some serious reexamination of how we live our lives. It’s not a conspiracy; it’s common sense.