The thing is, we're looking for the better automobile, but couldn't we do much better for ourselves by finding ways not to have to spend so much time in them in the first place?
Here's a list of thoughts. Some of them are my own. Some of them are sparked by WorldChanging's Alex Steffan's recent post "My other car is a Bright Green City" (but references you'll find to the beauty and intelligence of my wife are my thoughts alone).
- Societal obsession with inventing a high-efficiency vehicle obscures the fact that using our land to live in suburbs instead of compact villages and cities deprives ourselves not only a sustainable but a much more satisfying solution.
- Cars cause about 20% of our greenhouse gas emissions.
- The more we drive the fatter we are, the fatter we are, the more heart disease we have, the more heart disease we have the quicker we die.
- If everyone in the United States deserves a car, then everyone in the world deserves a car. If everyone in the world gets a car, we're toast.
- As our population grows, traffic will only get worse.
- Studies show that building more roads only causes more traffic.
- Where, in major cities like, say, New York, are you supposed to fit more roads anyway?
- We need to help developing countries create better alternatives.
- As Alex writes: "The single best way we can do that is to lead by example. By embracing our own models of sustainably prosperous living, we would do two things: we'd help change the cultural messaging about what prosperity really means, and we'd create some (perhaps many) of technologies and designs other countries will need to invent their own models."
- Commuting by car, in traffic jams, breathing in the fumes, getting mad, and honking horns, like cars themselves, sucks.
- 3.5 million Americans now spend the equivalent of a month a year in their cars, according to Alex.
- Not being able to walk to our neighbor's house, not being able to ride a bike to the store, not being able to let your kids play on the street--all these things are alienating. They make us lonelier and sadder.
- According to Alex, "procurement of the materials used to make and maintain that car (and then dispose of it at the end of its life) may mean that almost half of the direct climate impact of a car never comes out of its tailpipe."
- So even if you come up with a car, based on the same materials, that gets infinity miles per gallon, you'll only have cut your footprint by half.
- Imagine if the huge amount of public space sandwiched between the buildings in cities, often known as streets, was dedicated to people instead of to cars.
- Imagine if 90% of Manhattan's air pollution did not come from automobiles and if the 95% of the island's residents who don't even own cars didn't have to breathe it.
- Imagine if we didn't have to pay $29 billion a year to clean up the water polluted by cars.
- According to Alex, "the greenhouse gasses emitted while building and maintaining roads add an additional 45% to the average car's annual climate footprint."
- Alex, quoting the Baltimore Sun, points out: "The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects total miles driven to increase by 59 percent by 2030, which the report's authors say would cancel out whatever reductions in carbon dioxide might be achieved by improving the gas mileage of cars and trucks."
- Meanwhile, people who live in the newer fringe-burbs are reportedly the least happiest of Americans, and the long commutes they endure are the major reason why, writes Alex, quoting an article in BusinessWeek Magazine.
- By the way, the BusinessWeek article he quotes, "Extreme Commuting," is by my wife, Michelle Conlin, the smart one in our partnership. Wicked cool!
- A commuter who travels one hour, one way, would have to make 40% more than his current salary to be as fully satisfied with his life as a noncommuter, writes my beautiful wife.
- According to Smart Growth America, if 60 percent of new developments were even modestly more compact, we'd emit 85 million fewer metric tons of tailpipe CO2 each year by 2030 -- as much as would be saved by raising the national mileage standards to 32 mpg.
- Alex points out, "the amount of density the study's authors call for is extremely modest. They encourage building new projects at a density of 13 homes per acre, raising the average national density from 7.6 units per acre to 9 an acre."
- In other words, instead of figuring out how to replace the United States's 226 million cars (2003 figure) with high-efficiency models, how about if we eliminate the need to drive them everywhere we go?
Colin Beavan (that's me!) is now leading a conversation about finding a happy, helpful life at Colinbeavan.com. If you want to know how people are breaking out and and finding authentic, meaningful lives that help our world, check it out the blog here and sign up to join the conversation here.