June 2010

Article inspired by: “The Moral Imperative of the BP Oil Spill: Drive 20 Percent Less

“Today there is an ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that stems from the insatiable demand for oil and for using that oil for driving. Almost half of the oil used in the US is used for personal driving, and upwards of 68 percent of the oil we use is for all transportation.” ~Jason Henderson, a Geography Professor at San Francisco State University

One of the biggest challenges of living a simpler lifestyle is rethinking your transportation choices. The concept that we need a car has been ingrained in our brains by advertising; that owning a car will make life easier, give us freedom, and make us more appealing to the opposite sex. But this concept is far from reality.

If you’ve been following my writing for the last few years, you know that I’m a proponent of car-free living. Cars are expensive, dangerous, horrible for our health, and are destroying the environment.

In the wake of the gulf oil spill (and a world economic crisis), Americans love affair with cars must end. We have a “moral imperative” to start driving less. Above all we need to be mindful of how our consumption patterns effect what we value most in our life. Shifting away from an auto-centric culture will be hard and require a lot of hard work. However, at it’s core this concept is about simplifying work, leisure, and life itself.

So take a moment to imagine what our cities look like without so many cars on the streets, parking structures, and concrete. Envision what your life would look like without a car.

Here is a list of the most important things you can do to reduce your dependence on automobiles:

1. Go car-free, car-lite, car-pool, use public transportation, and avoid non-essential driving.

As oil prices have become more volatile, it’s my fear that with ever-greater demand for oil we’ll see more disasters similar to those in the gulf. To curb these types of disasters, we must make a significant reduction in our dependence on oil by driving less and giving the moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico time to work.

2. Use your bicycle, walk and take advantage of multimodal options.

Biking and walking are two amazing ways you can get to different locations. Both of these activities are cheaper, more pleasant than sitting in a car for hours everyday, and can improve your physical and mental health.

Take advantage of multimodal options. For instance, if you take the bus to work you can bring your bike with you and then run errands at lunch or make up the distance from the bus to the office.

Find the answer to these questions.

  • What is your city’s bike and walkable rating?
  • If your city is not bikeable or walkable, would you consider moving to a different location?
  • If you can’t move and your city is not walkable or bikeable, how can you improve your community?

3. Encourage the federal government to fund public-transit options.

Tell your friends, family, and policymakers that fully funded public-transit systems essential. Public-transit systems in the U.S. are in need of cash. Ridership has increased, which is a good thing. But city transit systems can’t take on new riders without appropriate infrastructure and money to handle the surge in demand.

Jason Henderson, a Geography Professor at San Francisco State University, pointed out last week that “the government bailed out banks and automobile companies that it deemed ‘too big to fail.’ Given the ecological disaster in the Gulf and the much-needed moratorium on drilling, public transit is now too big to fail if we are going to get out of this.”

4. Accept responsibly for your community.

United States citizens, the United States government, and BP are all responsible for the oil spill in the gulf. BP would not be drilling if we as a nation weren’t addicted to oil. I think it’s time all of us take a hard look at our individual consumption patterns and ask how we can we can start driving less and become active, engaged citizens.

5. Take action.

“…culture is re-produced in action, not affirmed in acts of passive consumption.” ~Nowtopia: How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclists, and Vacant-Lot Gardeners are Inventing the Future Today!

Reducing your dependence on automobiles is an awesome way to take action. However, the structure of our communities will not change unless you get involved with local politics and organizations that are shaping long-term policy decisions.

The internet rocks and you can do a lot of advocacy work through blogs and social networking. However, nothing beats face time. Moving past passive acts of consumption requires community building and making real life connections. For instance you might consider attending city council meetings, volunteering for a non-profit organization that promotes alternative forms of transit, and contacting your elected officials. Start making noise. And don’t take “no” for an answer.

Consumerism has turned many of us into passive citizens, who are deeply in debt, and unhappy. Nevertheless, this trend has already begun to change. “Pirate programmers, outlaw bicyclists, and vacant lot gardeners” are rethinking work, life, play, and creating a new American Dream.

Micro-actions:

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” ~M.K Gandhi

Log onto a computer at home or in the public library and complete the following activities.

  • Find out if your state has a bicycle advocacy coalition and connect with your community.
  • Look up your local bike shop and ask for advice on the type of bike to purchase.
  • Find out if your community has a bike cooperative. For instance, Sacramento has an amazing organization called the Sacramento Bicycle Kitchen. Most bike cooperatives focus on do-it-yourself maintenance and they usually offer classes, list community events, provide tools and volunteer opportunities. If your city does have a local bike cooperative, start volunteering.
  • Check out the Bike Kitchen Wiki. It has a list of educational resources and a community bike shop directory.
  • Find out who your local and state leaders are and ask what they are doing to create sustainable transportation policies.

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