American citizens have been racking up three trillion miles of travel, on the highways of the country, this year. That’s three million million miles of automobile travel – enough to zip between the sun and back nearly 30,000 times. That’s a lot of hurtling about, and an awful lot of gasoline being combusted. To put it into perspective, if you look at numbers for 1960, total mileage then was less than a quarter what it is now. Could it really be said that all of that extra macadam-pounding has bought us a fourfold increase in happiness?
That’s certainly up for debate – but what is beyond dispute is that those trillions of miles are fast forwarding global climate change. Of course, we do have some noble white-chargers, riding into the rescue – with the imminent arrival of the electric car. However, that promise needs some qualification; GM is looking to produce around 25,000 Volts in 2011. That compares to predicted nationwide car sales of some 15 million units. The charge of the electric car brigade is still a long way off.
So if the average car user wants to do something, here and now, to slow down the CO2 pumping out of their tailpipe, what should they do? Well, perhaps a good start is just to do a lot less – and adopt a ‘car-less’ strategy. Not to stop using cars altogether- but to look at your car use, and think how you can cut it back. Your car dependency (and it is a form of addiction) can be broken, with a little thought and discipline.
We all need to get to work, college or school, during the week. And if you add up your mileage just for commuting, it almost certainly takes the lion’s share. But there are several ways that this can be reduced towards a mouse’s share -and none are mission impossible.
First off, sharing your car journey, with one or more of your colleagues, saves on your gas money, as well as on emissions. Secondly, there may be public transport options available – and these can be a lot quicker and more convenient than you might think. And thirdly, there is the human locomotion option – walking or cycling. If you’re close enough that this is practical, you will benefit enormously. The exercise, and getting out of your car’s cocoon, into the real world, will improve your health and life-quality no end.
On the shopping front, there’s every chance that the whole weekly ritual can be dispensed with altogether. Many stores offer the option of home delivery or internet orders – so freeing up your time, and lowering stress. All for a fraction of the carbon footprint.
Finally, with leisure or holiday time, it has to be said that hitting the road, and touring the sights on the interstate, is something that cars were made for. But there are many other leisure activities where the car can be ditched. Going to the gym? Why not cut out the middleman, and the fees, and go for a run instead. Out on the town for an evening? Why not let the taxi take the strain occasionally, and stop worrying about being the joyless ‘designated driver’. All that is needed is a little imagination.
But there is a big hurdle to all of these plans. We’ve become quite habituated to jumping in the car, once we’re out the door – no matter how short the journey. The car has become a journey’s ease, as well as a comfort and security blanket. But like all bad habits, there are ways for reducing your habitual use. Once the first steps are taken, the benefits can quickly snowball. So where to start?
The answer is stupidly simple – hide your car keys. That sounds radical, to the point of idiocy, but this isn’t to make it impossible for you to drive – but to make you think. If you put your keys somewhere out of the ordinary, every time you reach for them, you’ll stop – and have the opportunity to ask ‘do I need to drive?’. That questioning, of each trip you take, might just allow you to the chance to start building good travel habits and to break the bad. And once you do start to use your car less, you’ll be treating the earth, and your life, to a little bit more care.
David is a stay at home dad.