Thursday, May 14, 2009

The siren song of car-free living linked to a blog post by Matt Yglesias in response to the Times "Room for Debate" post I just discussed. He writes,
But one should be clear that nobody lives in Washington, or even Manhattan, without ever using a car. I don’t own a car. But Washington Post superstar blogger Ezra Klein does. And last weekend he and I drove in his car to Costco where we bought supplies for some mass weekend grilling.


In environmental terms, however, the crucial distinction is actually how much gas is burned rather than whether or not one reaches a pristine state of carlessness. If someone who’s currently driving 300 miles a week to drive back and forth from Dale City to downtown Washington starts driving to a nearby commuter rail station instead, that will be a substantial reduction in pollution, notwithstanding the fact that he’d still be suburban car owner. Indeed, the reduction involved would be much larger than the reduction involved in someone like Ezra—who owns a car, but doesn’t commute in his car regularly—went "car-free."

Yes, I'm not surprised that Klein owns a car. Some of us non-car-owning people do bum rides off of car owners - although many of us don't need to. And it is important to not get hung up on carlessness as some magical state of grace, and to keep our ultimate goals in mind.

Talking about our ultimate environmental goals, burning gas is not the only crucial distinction related to car use. In addition to how much pollution is released and how inefficiently resources are consumed, there’s also how much pollution (aside from carbon monoxide) is released, how much sprawl is generated, how likely it is that people and other animals will be killed or wounded, and how much political support is siphoned away from transportation that serves the poor, the disabled and teenagers.

Car-sharing is a clear improvement on the pollution and efficiency fronts. It’s a bit less clear when it comes to sprawl, carnage and transportation for all.

There's also a big difference between carfree world, carfree nation and carfree community I would like to highlight this quote from J.H. Crawford's response on the Times blog: "Once the last car disappears from the street, it becomes a playground for people of all ages. This can be seen any day in Venice or Fes. Peace, safety and tranquility settle over the street, and a rich and vibrant social life takes the place of the stink, noise, and danger of cars."

Even if we never get to carfree nation, it would still be nice to have that as part of our ultimate goals: a few places in every community where children, adults and old people can socialize in peace without worrying about being run over.

1 comment:

Yonah Freemark said...

I think another important issue that is rarely discussed is the carbon cost of producing the car itself. Owning a car but rarely driving it sounds nice, but the consequences of having to build the car in the first place aren't particularly good because doing so takes a lot of energy and material. So reducing car ownership, limiting overall car sales, and focusing on things like car share and taxis, makes a lot of sense.