It's nothing new to Planet Greeners when I say cars suck...but it seems there's an endless supply of ways to prove it. Case in point: Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and Its Effect on Our Lives. In this brand new book, authors Catherine Lutz and Anne Lutz Fernandez effectively and accessibly lay out the social, financial, historical, and of course, environmental impact of America's love affair with the internal combustion engine.
With New Year resolutions looming, there's no better time than now to educate yourself on the automobile culture and get busy doing something about it. Here's are 15 steps to get you started:
6 Ways Our Culture Has Been Carjacked
1. Highway Robbery
The average price of a new vehicle in 2008 was $26,477 but, say Lutz and Fernandez, the costs keep coming. "The U.S. Department of Energy reported that the typical American household drove its average two cars about 22,000 miles per year," they write. "Most recent estimates calculate that driving costs the average American 66 cents a mile, or $14,000 a year per family to drive their two cars over the distance."
In 2007, Americans spent nearly 500,000 years stuck in traffic in 2007 (nearly 4.2 billion hours)--more than twice the per-person average in 1982. The financial cost of all this stop-and-go is traffic is $87.2 billion in wasted fuel and lost productivity, or $750 per traveler.
3. Your SUV or Your Life?
In 2005, there were nearly 6,420,000 auto accidents in the U.S. This resulted in 2.9 million injured people and 42,636 deaths. Roughly 115 people die every day in vehicle crashes in America—that's one death every 13 minutes.
4. They Paved Paradise
In the 20th century, an area equal to all the arable land in Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania was paved in the U.S. The cost of sprawl crosses many sociological factors but here are two examples from Lutz and Fernandez:
- In 1960, 10% of commuters walked to work In 2005, it was 2.5 percent.
- Families is "sprawled-out" metropolitans areas like Houston or Phoenix spend roughly $1,300 more annually to get around than families in more compact areas.
5. Car Culture vs. Eco-system
Where do I start? I could tell you about run-off, land use, air pollution, noise pollution, water pollution, solid waste, and impact on wildlife but not even scratch the surface. "In the U.S. alone," adds Jessica Root, "20% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from cars and small trucks like SUVs, contributing to climate change, pollution, and diseases like asthma."
"Race car" spelled backwards is still "race car."
9 Ways to Challenge the Car Culture
2. Drive a Hybrid
In terms of green activism in the realm of transportation, choosing a hybrid falls into the "hey, it's the least you can do" category. Unfortunately, since so much of our landscape has been altered as to make automobiles necessary, going hybrid is one of the only choices some folks have. If that sounds like your situation, don't miss options #2, 3, and 4 below.
3. Car Pool
This method is all about math. The more drivers you squeeze into one car, the less cars on the road. Thanks to a little something called the internets, it's never been easier to find fellow carpoolers seeking a lower footprint.
4. Car Sharing
"Companies like Zipcar operate in many major cities across the country," explains Collin Dunn, "offering use of their cars by the hour or day via a slick online interface that gives you the ability to reserve online, walk a block or two and just drive away."
Here's how the crew at Hypermiling.com explain it: "A method of increasing your car's gas mileage by making skillful changes in the way you drive, allowing you to save gas and thereby have an easier time withstanding the rising oil and gas prices."
6. Use Public Transportation
Not only would U.S. reliance on foreign oil drop by 40% if merely one in ten Americans used public transportation daily, this choice also addresses #3 on the first list above: It's 79 times safer to ride a bus than in your own automobile.
7. Switch to a Bicycle
Since 40% of everyday travel in the U.S. are trips of two miles or less, choosing to bike makes plenty of eco-sense. When Worldwatch Institute compared energy used per passenger-mile (calories), they found that a bicycle needed only 35 calories, whereas a car expended a whopping 1,860.
It's the ultimate all-natural, super green form of transportation but, as Lloyd Alter explains, it's not just putting one foot in front of another. To make the most of your walk, consider shoes, clothes, hydration, posture, and companionship.
9. Become a Transportation Activist
It's one thing to recognize how automobiles have carjacked our culture but what are we gonna do about it? As with all forms of activism, it starts with education and solidarity and succeeds with endurance.