I'm alarmed at how readily the car came to dominate and shape the life of our daughter Anthea who turns 3 shortly.
A harbinger was the very first advice I received as a first-time, ill-at-ease and slightly gauche dad as we were leaving the maternity ward. It was not about nappies or anything like that; it was tips on how to properly secure Anthea in a car seat about which the nurses were quite adamant.
• Conservation comment: How we can halt climate change
• Premium - Conservation Comment: SOS, we need more writers
• Premium - Conservation Comment: Paradise lost timely lesson
• Conservation Comment: Get them young and make it fun
In common with children of her age, Anthea has a busy schedule of activities. She attends a play group, goes swimming, regularly takes out books from the library, loves the park and enjoys other trips and excursions, etc. Unfortunately, getting to and from almost all of these activities is bookended by a journey in the car.
When we arrive at play group, Anthea will often excitedly determine who is already there. She sees the parked cars and identifies the names of the kids who will have arrived in them. Getting in and out of the car can sometimes be a major undertaking as she insists on checking the various parts of the car - wheels, lights, steering wheel etc - in a toddler-style WOF inspection.
A few months ago we joined the Toy Library. It was telling that the first toy Anthea chose to take out was a car that she could ride around in. She had correctly identified and integrated the importance of the car in her life. It enables her to aspire to the modern interpretation of adult freedom and access all the fun things that she does.
I'm reliably informed that this dependence on the car is likely to increase as Anthea gets older. Ferrying her to and from school and after-school activities could keep us fully occupied. This is an aspect of parenting that I do not relish.
When I arrived in New Zealand, I remember being taken aback as I drove up to a set of traffic lights and a newish BMW pulled up alongside me with a fresh-faced youth dressed in a school blazer in the driver's seat. I was surprised to discover that the legal driving age in New Zealand was 16. In the UK it is 17 and most of continental Europe it is 18. Consequently, in Europe you rarely see school students at the wheel. I can see that for busy families here in New Zealand, it is easier for students living in rural areas without access to public transport to drive themselves to school when they become old enough to drive.
One begins to appreciate why New Zealand has high levels of car ownership when compared to other developed countries.
Trains, bikes and automobiles make for complex crossing
'It's just looking at how we can make a positive out of this.'
This contrasts with my childhood where my family had a car but we still walked and used public transport regularly.
For our daughter, riding on public transport such as a train or bus is more a novelty or special treat than an integral part of her daily routine.
Growing up in the UK, all schools had large bicycle sheds to house the bikes of the majority of pupils who biked to and from school. These have largely disappeared in New Zealand.
Today households may own several cars. In a generation or so we have become totally dependent upon the car.
The challenge for us and society more generally is to reverse this car dependence if we are to have any chance of bequeathing Anthea's generation a world worth living in. Recent actions inspired by the young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg offer a modicum of hope.