Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Some Love for the beleaguered motor car

Being mobile is a part of being human. Sure, we don't fly like birds or swim like fish, but we've managed to emulate and adapt beyond our physical limitations more than any other creature in the known universe - we get around.

Mobility is, however, about more than just getting around. It's also about independence, it's about freedom, it's about quality of life, and it's about privacy. What do I mean by that?

Imagine planning a birthday party for a 9-year old. Five kids going from Chuck E. Cheese to a movie, and it happens to be pouring rain. Try doing that on the city bus, if you live in an urban centre. Or in a cab. Now compare that to the freedom of piling into the minivan and getting on with the festivities.

Grocery shopping in winter is pain enough. Doing it on the city bus?

Taking the kids to hockey or soccer or whatever you do to keep the youngsters active, stimulated and busy?

I want to like and use public transit, but standing at a bus stop for an hour in the dead of winter is the wrong time and place to think about how much I'm doing for the environment vs those polluters passing me by, getting on with their lives, warm and on the move.

A loved one has died. Are you, along with family members in a state of mourning, going to take the city bus to the funeral parlour?

Am I sounding selfish? Perhaps. But western civilization has an assumption of personal space, of privacy, that is part of a free society. That can be difficult on any kind of mass transit.

Well, consider how much the price of a dozen eggs or a head of lettuce might cost if it was delivered by bicycle. Delivering a lot of stuff in one big truck is more efficient than sending a bunch of smaller vehices - and less traffic too. And even if you "buy local", farmers from out of town still have to bring their produce "to market", which usually means somewhere populated and somewhere else than where they are farming. Or, you can go out to the farm and pick up your fresh produce...but you won't get it done if you're walking.

What society needs is a wholistic balanced mix of transportation options that maximizes mode with need. I don't need to be the single occupant of a full-sized four door sedan just commuting back and forth to work. If I could live close to where I work and walk or cycle or use public transit, great.

Social responsibility should also trump corporate responsibility and force corporations to develop technology that is environmentally and ecologically more harmonious. Alternative fuel and power solutions for large vehicles (ships, airplanes, transit vehicles) should be made law sooner than later to ease the greenhouse footprint (regardless upon which side of the greenhouse debate you fall, polluting/consuming less is a good idea)...having said that, it's to be noted that passenger vehicles are responsible for approximately 12-20% of the carbon emitted into the atmosphere. Put another way - if all cars were zero emissions vehicles, 80% of the sources for carbon emissions would still be there. Statistically speaking, cars have taken a somewhat unfair bad rap - if we, as a society, are serious about reducing our carbon footprint, there are plenty other bigger emissions sources we can target to get cleaner.

There's lots we can do. But, in the meantime, we all can - and should, I think - appreciate how cars have contributed to our quality of life, directly or indirectly.

1 comment:

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