Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Quasi-scientific study

This morning I walked two miles, half of it on a main road through a small city, half of it on suburban residential streets. As I did, to amuse myself I decided to keep an eye on the cars driving towards me and count how many carried only one person versus how many carried passengers. Just one passenger was enough to be counted, and I disregarded any vehicle that seemed to be business-related (pickup trucks with logos on the sides, anything bigger than an SUV, that kind of thing), just to be extra-clear.

In the two miles, fifty-one eligible cars passed me. Six carried passengers. The remaining forty-five carried only the driver.

The rapid use of energy that took billions of years to store up is killing us. We know this. In order to get this energy, we've cut bleeding gashes into the earth, all of which, but especially one of them right now, are killing us. We know this. But nothing changes.

And to a certain extent, how could it? Or, rather, how could we change? I'm all for assigning some of the blame to each and every single one of us, and have engaged in some of that myself. But at the same time, our leaders have invested a lot of money and effort over the decades forcing us to behave in the ways that make us responsible. Sure, we could all do better--carpool, say. But our local worlds have been delocalized. Most of us have to drive to work, most of us can't eat without having our food wrapped in plastic and shipped from miles and miles and miles away. And so on and so on and so on.

As far as the cars go, I've often thought that if we need them at all, they should be modular. If you're just driving yourself, you've got a smart car or a motorcycle or something similar. Small, so you're not lugging tons of steel around just to move yourself. Then if you have a passenger, you can add a passenger seat. Or if you have cargo, you can attach a trunk. Of course, decades of engineering have steered us in a direction where designing that would probably be near impossible, even if anyone wanted to.

I don't really have a point. We're fucked and I don't know what to do about. Shocking, I'm sure.


Jack Crow said...


We own our share of the problem, but you are correct. Public transit, for example, was systematically dismantled in favor of a roads-and-cars system.

Ethan said...

After I wrote this I found out that my bus fare is going up next month.

Johnny Sunshine Jackson said...

I have been living car-free for almost a year. My new job requires either an hour commute on the bus or an hour commute on the bicycle. Without a doubt, my time is better spent riding a bicycle.

When comparing energy input to distance travelled, the bicycle is the most efficient means of conveyance ever invented. It certainly is not feasible for everyone to ride a bike rather than drive a car, but many people are capable and would stand to benefit by riding a bicycle as their primary means of transport. It requires a reorientation of one's expectations for the distance and amount of time required to travel, and it often means choosing carefully where one lives and works. Be that as it may, most people drive their cars short distances and as you demonstrate they often travel alone. What an extraordinary waste of life.

I got rid of my car for several reasons both personal and political, but the two main reasons were 1.) driving a car makes me miserable and 2.) my car was going to die anyway and I can't justify being a debt slave to a new one. I invested some money in a decent bike and a trailer for running errands, seasonally appropriate clothing, etc. I acclimated myself to weather changes and prepared my dress ahead of time. Finally, after cutting down my driving and increasing my riding, I was ready to donate the car to charity and renounce that particularly heinous aspect of our petroleum-dependent culture.

It's worked out wonderfully for me. I live in Minnesota and rode the bike through blizzards and -30F windchills this winter. I am not being sardonic when I say -- even through a bitterly cold winter -- it's been an absolute joy riding my bike. It has been a joy experiencing the seasons changing, breathing (sort of) fresh air, feeling the wind, hearing the birds sing in the morning, smelling flowering trees in the springtime. I feel my quality of life has improved immensely since renouncing the automobile. Living car-free requires more preparation, time and effort, but it's better for your physical and mental health, as well as your local and global environment. If you're able to ride a bike instead of drive, I recommend you give it a try.

Ethan said...

What an extraordinary waste of life.

I don't think it could be said any better than that.

I got rid of my car for several reasons both personal and political, but the two main reasons were 1.) driving a car makes me miserable and 2.) my car was going to die anyway and I can't justify being a debt slave to a new one.

Same here. I ended up being a bus person. I get a lot of reading done, which is nice, and I'm genetically doomed to be a sweaty beast so biking to work is out of the question (that and the fact that I work on the other side of a river that there's only one realistic way to cross while not on a highway, and it's miles out of the way). I do have a bike that I'd like to start riding recreationally and for quick errands, but I have to get it fixed up first. Gotta do that, gotta do that.

Ethan said...

I meant to say explicitly--thanks for writing so beautifully about your own personal decisions and how they've affected your life. Great read, and I wish there was more writing out there on similar day-to-day topics that didn't veer into gushy sentimental crap.

JRB said...

I hereby accuse Johnny Sunshine Jackson of being alive.