01.05.2010

Hit the Frog'n Toad: Are roads really so beneficial?

Are roads really so beneficial or do we need to return to a slower pace?
Inveterate traveller Jeremy Ball reflects on roads - and their true cost

This may come as quite a surprise, a tour guide speaking out against roads. Roads have delivered me many pleasures and powerful experiences, yet I have a love-hate relationship with them.

I have just returned from traversing roads off the beaten track in Australia's Central Desert to discover my beautiful kitten was killed on the road outside our home the morning we returned. I believed him to be the reincarnation of my previous cat who was killed on the road the day I began my return journey from Mount Kailash in Tibet in 2006.

As well as my two feline friends, I have lost two dear cousins and my best childhood friend to road accidents. Many of us can fill the fingers of both hands with friends and colleagues taken by road deaths. Add to this the pain I feel when a bird crashes into the window shield or I spot the carcasses of kangaroos and other animals slain by the road.

When I visited Australia Zoo in Queensland, I popped into the koala hospital packed to the rafters with these most gentle of creatures, all recovering from road injuries.

If, like me, the pictures of ancient forests or gorgeous wetlands being carved in two with flora and fauna spread to the winds pull at your heart and raise the steam of anger, you will understand my ire at natural destruction for needless roads.

Here are two videos to boil your blood, first in my own backyard, a road 200m from my home http://www.savenorthlake.com.au/ and, of course, the gross destruction in the Amazon rainforest - this video entitled

"Road to Destruction"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dt-9QMB17s4

I grew up in England and one thing that always had me yearning for the wide open spaces of the Southern Hemisphere was the mass of grey concrete and black tarmac beneath my feet covering up nature, and the massive grey skies overhead. I find it a far more pleasurable and soft experience travelling along dirt roads, because of the greater connection with the land and the lesser damage and destruction caused to nature.

I'm always amazed when in India and many Asian countries I see a road that bends to accommodate a beautiful tree, whereas in the West we easily and readily rip up an ancient tree even when it partially obstructs the route of a proposed road.

I used to marvel at the great play of archetypal energies portrayed in the book The Lord of the Rings. I'm sure many of us placed ourselves in the position of the hobbits, dwarves and men battling the wanton destruction of nature by the orcs, whereas from all that I can see, in the reality of life on earth, it is the Western society of consumerism that are the orcs chewing up all of nature and turning the earth into a wasteland.

This is not to mention the direct human deaths from the roads. Fifteen hundred Australians were killed in car accidents in 2008; add to this the cancers caused and aggravated by the petrol fumes and asthma and other breathing difficulties. It is also the major contribution to obesity and ill health due to an over reliance on transportation rather than our own bodies, and the stress of jostling in traffic, and let's face it, many of the world's wars are fought to procure more juice to feed our mechanical obsession.

It is when we travel with our feet on the earth and our arms brushing nature that we gain and exchange so much more with life, enjoying the journey and a sense of beingness and presence, rather than rushing on a freeway to a sedentary job.

It's often postulated to us by politicians that roads and transport represent a leap forward in human evolution, but even if we look back a few hundred years in our history, this has not proved to be the case. Can we really say that the improvement in roads has brought us a better poet than Shakespeare or composer than Mozart or Beethoven? It has brought us more and faster, but has it really brought us better? In fact, it has brought us worse if we just look at the changes in food and food production, for example. The nutritional value of our food has deteriorated radically and is chemically altered to such an extent it has lost its connection to source. Roads have helped create this and while we have a greater variety of food, we have greater illness, malnutrition and obesity.

Roads have been a wonderful thing for linking communities, to share in trade and technology and, of course, culture. Yet, as with most things in the modern world of consumerism, our penchant for taking everything to excess has led to roads becoming a major cause of death and natural destruction.

I think most people today are beginning to accept that planet earth is either a living being in her own right or at the very least has the collective being of nature upon her and that sustaining and cherishing nature is of the utmost importance. Wrapping the earth's surface with concrete and tarmac to the extent that we have, not to mention the pollution that comes with it, causes immense pain to our Mother and is in some way akin to tattooing or taping up our body in arterial roads so that we are almost suffocated.

I am not against roads as such, but the proliferation of roads, for roads' sake, is not only pointless, it is harmful. Let us take a more enlightened attitude to roads and transport.

Right now we have the technology for electric, non-polluting vehicles (if the electricity is derived from sources like solar power which is readily available in the southern hemisphere). Of course, this will mean a reduction in speed at least to begin with, but give me a safe and soothing three hour journey any day, over a polluting and hectic two hour drive. We can design the layout of roads, not just so they do least damage to nature and are less ugly on the eyes, but also so that they do not cross and obscure ley lines and energy points, poor design which is known to cause blocks and accidents.

In Germany, there are modern day druids who dowse the land at traffic accident black spots and place monoliths much like giant acupuncture needles that ameliorate the damage to the energy grids and vastly reduce accidents. By evaluating roads, not just on their dollar and cents value but on their value to life, we can all leave fewer footprints on Mother Earth and our journeys on her surface can return to honour and pilgrimage, rather than commercial gain.

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