September 22, 2016: Traffic

  1. So I am picking up my daughter at the Middle School to take her to an orthodontist appointment. The parking lot is jammed. Trying to get out and turn left has a line about twenty cars long, so I get myself out by turning right on Dorset Street and finding a way to U-turn – about twelve minutes later we get to the orthodontist office that would have taken us less than ten minutes to walk.

So I am thinking to myself “What is wrong with all these people?! Why can’t the kids just take the bus?”

But wait – I quickly realize that I am there picking up my kid because she has something scheduled right after school, and I don’t want her walking alone across busy streets and I want to be there to hear what the orthodontist has to say. I guess all those other parent pick-ups had equally good reasons. I’m as much as fault as anyone.

Except – I am there in my all electric car. I’m not burning any gasoline, nor am I emitting any harmful emissions. Maybe I’m not quite as much at fault as everyone else.

But wait – I quickly realize that the electricity I use to charge my car has environmental costs, like any source of energy. So I’m back to being equally guilty.

Except – I bought a share in a community solar array, so I am contributing to clean, non-fossil fuel power production. So now I’m feeling a bit superior again. I think I’ll give myself a pat on the back (except I am driving and don’t want to cause an accident, especially in this heavy traffic).

But wait – even though I help fund some solar electricity production, the actual electricity that comes to my house and charges my car is a mixture of all the sources of electricity the utilities use: solar, coal, oil, gas, hydro, wind, nuclear. Maybe I need to rescind that pat on the back.

Except – I am doing what we hear so often: even small steps in the right direction will make a big difference if enough people take these small steps. Right? If everyone drove a more efficient car, right? If everyone invested in renewable energy sources, right? Right? I can’t hear you, RIGHT?

Hey, I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but the days of thinking that buying a hybrid car or bringing a reusable shopping bag to the market are going to save the world are over. Sure, these are all good things to do. I don’t want to dissuade anyone from doing these “good for the planet” things. But if we really want to turn around the harm we are doing to the environment that sustains us, we need to start thinking about significant structural/institutional changes. We need to recognize that we can’t just tweak our lifestyles and go about enjoying business as usual. BUSINESS IS NO LONGER AS USUAL.

The problem with traffic at the school parking lot (and the traffic going into and out of so many places in Chittenden County at so many times during the day), and the problem with Lake Champlain being so polluted, and the problem with climate not only changing but becoming dangerous and unpredictable – they are all the same problem. There are too many of us demanding too much stuff and putting our comfort and convenience (at least what we have been taught to be comfortable and convenient) ahead of the needs of the peoples of the world, the other living things of the world, and the world itself.

Except – what can I do (after all, I had to get my daughter to the orthodontist)?

But wait – maybe I can help create new ways that we live in this world. Maybe we can create safe and effective public transportation systems that get us out of our cars. Maybe we can decide to walk or ride bikes instead of being lazy and using the car for everything. Maybe we can collectively demand that renewables replace fossil fuels. Maybe we can think BIG, and act BIG, as if our very lives depend on it.