Leaving some for others

Friends and family have been asking me why. Unlike other, more self-explanatory things I’ve given up for periods of time (alcohol, sugar, meat), driving seems to be both necessary for modern life and not inherently harmful. It’s also convenient, and under the right circumstances, down right fun. So, why am I abstaining from using a car for a year? Good question.

Photo credit: Ian D. Keating via Flickr CC
Photo credit: Ian D. Keating via Flickr CC

Here’s my best guess.

The Environment: As anyone who knows me knows, I am opinionated about the topic of food and food production. When prompted, and frequently when not prompted, I’m happy to rail against industrial agriculture and the fickle fluctuations of the modern diet. But when it comes to discussing the environment and climate change, I can’t. Go there. Maybe it’s the scale of the problem, or the near perfect weather in Colorado– so distant from the wild, violent vagaries that other parts of the world experience– or maybe it’s just guilt. I like hot showers. And traveling by airplane. And air-conditioning.

The possibility that I’m daily guilty of making choices that are depriving future generations of planetary resources is disquieting.

Which is the wrong way to react. Just because I like to turn on my ac during the hottest part of the day doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t explore other ways of remedying the damage that we are doing to our planet. Americans have the largest ecological footprint in the world. (An ecological footprint is a calculation of how much land is needed to support a individual.) The average for the world is three hectares per person. For the average individual American, the ecological footprint is ten hectares. (A hectare is a metric measurement equal to about 2.47 acres.) This means that if every person on the planet today lived an American lifestyle, which is the direction we are headed, we would need three Earths to support us.

That’s not sustainable. Not logical. It’s gross, actually. Americans are to the planet as Chris Farley’s Cindy is to french fries. And that clip raises a valid question. Can we leave some for others?

I don’t see myself giving up hot showers anytime soon. (Although last year, at the Prairie Festival in rural Kansas, I took a solar shower at the campground at one in the afternoon while everyone else was dutifully attending a seminar, and it was amazing.) But, in my effort to leave some for others, I can give up using a car for a year. Cars consume limited resources as well as pollute. And if you extrapolate even further, and think about the infrastructure required to make driving so convenient– roads, lights, gas stations and pipelines– it becomes clear that cars are a huge part of why Americans are so hard on the planet.

I’ll climb down from the soap box now. In fact, I’ve run out of time and space for the two other (more cheerful) reasons why I am giving up my car for a year. In my next post, I’ll detail the benefits I expect to enjoy during my year of not using my car.

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