Having an activist spirit is sometimes really difficult in our world. If you're anything like me, you want to do what you can to make a difference. You want to make decisions that will make a positive impact, but sometimes those decisions are not black and white. For example: obviously, sweatshops are a bad thing, so one would immediately think to boycott companies and brands that produce their goods using sweatshop labor. However, if you think a little bit more about it, what if those companies are providing the only jobs available in an extremely impoverished country? The sweatshop may be paying people next to nothing for long, punishing hours in sub-par working conditions, but is it worse than the nothing that they might otherwise receive?
Another example is buying a hybrid car, which seems like a great step for the environment, but there are big negatives to hybrids. One is that the hybrid battery itself is very harmful to the environment, so much so that it almost outweighs the positive aspects of owning a hybrid versus a conventional vehicle (Source). Secondly, studies show that people who own hybrid cars actually drive more than those who own conventional cars, because the lowered gasoline cost encourages more car travel (Source).
|Ford Escape Hybrid Battery Pack|
These are obviously rough sketches of these decisions and their consequences and by no means an exhaustive analysis of either issue; I'm bringing them up simply to make a point about how hard it is to make a statement with your actions without the possibility of an unforeseen negative result. For those of us who try to be socially conscious, this is a nightmare, because all we want to do is make a positive impact on this world. We want to be aware of how our life choices affect the world, and when it starts to seem like our choices have rotten consequences no matter what you choose, it’s very, very discouraging.
Well, I have good news for all of you. I know of one radical act that helps the environment, improves your health, and sticks it to the corporate powers that be. Not only that, but it has virtually zero negative effects to weigh against the positive. Do you want to know what that is?
Ditch your car.
That’s it. That one gesture is a revolutionary act of defiance. Choosing not to drive a car flies in the face of the status quo in almost every way that you could hope for. Why is that? Let’s talk about it.
The earth is the biggest benefactor of your decision to stop driving a car. When you take your vehicle off the road for good, your carbon footprint decreases greatly. The impact of this reduced carbon output cannot be overstated, especially when more and more people start doing it.
Probably the simplest way to improve your health is by increasing your physical activity. Walking has been proven to reduce the risk of obesity and diabetes, which are two major and growing threats to American health. When you stop driving and start using alternative forms of transportation, an increase in physical activity is automatic. Even if you’re riding the bus or taking the subway or a train, you’re probably walking to and from the bus or subway stop. Ideally, people should be able to live in walkable cities where they can access almost all of their work and desired goods and services within walking distance and won’t necessarily need to even use the bus or subway very much, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. The point is that choosing to stop driving a car results in walking or biking more no matter what transportation mode you choose, and that is extremely beneficial for your health!
It’s hard to choose, but sometimes I think my favorite thing about not driving a car is sticking it to the man. I’m just a born anti-authoritarian, what can I say? John has already written a post about how much money the average person can save by not owning a car, and the figure is astronomical. In today’s economy, where people of our generation are saddled with thousands of dollars of student debt, healthcare costs are rising, and we face an uncertain retirement future with Social Security in jeopardy and fewer companies offering pension plans, it is an objective fact that we could really, really use that money.
|We obviously have enough to spend our money on...|
When I saw those numbers, my first reaction was to feel very indignant. It’s pretty obvious to me that the automobile, gasoline, and insurance industries have quite an interest in keeping us all dependent on cars. They stand to make hundreds of thousands of dollars from each American family over the course of their lifetimes; not to mention that they stand to earn the interest on that money from us rather than allowing us to earn that interest for ourselves on our own hard-earned money. Do you see why this makes me angry? Of course these corporate lobbies do everything they can to make walkable cities and transportation options seem like a ridiculous pie-in-the-sky concept; their very bloated livelihood depends on us being trapped in an urban and suburban model of living that keeps us in our cars forever. I, for one, am more than willing to do what it takes to say “no, thank you” and throw that back in their faces. That is why John and I do what we do here at Carless In OKC.
If you want to get on board with a movement that is truly revolutionary, get on the train - or sidewalk, bike, or bus – and ditch your car. You don’t even have to go completely carless like we are to make a big difference. Just start walking, biking, using car sharing or ride sharing programs, or taking public transit when you can. I promise you’ll get hooked on the feeling of doing something great for your health and the environment, with the happy side effect of disempowering the corporate system that keeps us in our cars and dependent on oil.
The activist in all of us should be satisfied with that.