Thursday, October 15, 2009

Car Ownership, Climate Change and Personal Responsibility - #BAD09

I'm not a scientist, but I feel strongly that you shouldn't own a car unless you need one. That's a view that has gradually dawned with me. I grew up in Los Angeles, CA. In L.A., owning a car is a way of life. My parents bought me a car at 16 or 17. This is because the transit system in L.A. isn't good. It was really bad when I was a teenager. You had buses and that was it going over the sprawl that is L.A.

What's funny is that the rail system was good in the past. In fact, it was one of the most extensive in the country. However, as cars became more affordable, the car industry actually bought the rail system infrastructure. You can imagine what happened then:
At first automobiles were too expensive for the average paycheck until the late 20s when car prices came down, sales went up and rail ridership started to decline. This was made even worse in the late 40s with the opening of Los Angeles's first freeways (called parkways then) which made traveling by car more convenient and enjoyable. However, these were not the only reasons for the demise of the Los Angeles rail system and rail systems around the world. A consortium of oil, rubber, General Motors and other companies bought up rail lines worldwide then replaced interurbans and streetcars with buses. By 1961 the last remaining interurban rail line in Los Angeles went out of service and in 1963 the last streetcar line shut down.

from Los Angeles Public Transportation
As a result, I grew up in a city that was all about cars and freeways.  Now, I'm seeing other cities follow in L.A.'s footsteps.  Seoul is clogged with big fancy cars going from one nice part of the city to another. Beijing is started to go in the same way.  It's scary.

Traffic runs slowly as heavy haze hangs over Beijing, China. Photograph: Diego Azubel/EPA

When I moved to San Francisco for law school, I moved with my car loaded with three cats (my cat and my friend's two cats I'd agreed to look after while she was in NYC), boxes and all my possessions.  I wouldn't let the car go. However, during exams I was studying all week. I went out to move my car and it had been totaled! Someone hit it, destroyed it and drove off...lovely. My car was insured, so I got a check for the car and that's where it ought to have ended. However, silly me. I bought another car. It was a waste or resources and money. I was paying to park it in a private lot. I never really drove it. I learned a good but expensive lesson. For the rest of my time in San Francisco, I relied on mass transit. It was great. I could walk short distances between my apartment and places I needed to go. I could take the bus, train or streetcar everywhere else. If I needed to drive to L.A., I'd rent a car.

That's how I think now. That's what I do now.

When I lived abroad, I didn't have a car initially. However, I got one because I was out in a remote area. That's the situation where I think it's okay. However, even then, I owned a small economy car. When I moved to Seoul, I decided I didn't need a car. Again, I was in a vibrant city with great mass transit!

Now I'm back in the USA in New York, NY. I definitely don't own a car here. I use mass transit. When I need a car I use I don't know if my actions help thwart climate change. I hope they do.

I'm just telling my story in the hopes that others in big urban areas start to agree with me. You don't need a car if you're lucky enough to be in a city with great mass transit. If you're well off enough to be able to afford a car in a big city, good for you, but don't buy a car.  Hire a car service when you need one. If you're in a city with crap mass transit like L.A. get on the local and state government to develop a great mass transit system that people will use. For those who don't live in urban areas and need cars, think economically. Get a hybrid.

I just feel very strongly that we've got to take responsibility and stop making excuses. I can't say I like what Tony Blair had to say on the subject of China and cars.  I do like that he, at least, wants to focus on technology.  However, China and other countries with fast developing economies has newly rich citizens who MUST buy a car there is going to be smoke cloud over Asia that will be no joke because that smoke cloud is going to impact the whole world.

Owning a car when you don't need one is wasteful. I learned. I hope more do because we've got to reverse climate change.

(I need to fix the code, so the "read more" leads you nowhere...sorry).

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  1. I've moved to Brazil and I also either ride my bicycle, walk or take the bus now. And if I want to go somewhere very far away, then I take a plane. It makes life so much simpler and less expensive!

    I'm not wealthy, so if I had a car it would actually make it MORE difficult to travel. With car payments, insurance, registration, speeding tickets, repairs and gasoline expenses, where would I find the money for a plane ticket? Buying a car to get around here would make it more difficult financially to explore everywhere else.

    That photograph of the smoke haze over Beijing is scary and it shows that a billion more cars on the Earth is not be sustainable, whether in the US or China.

    I haven't driven a car since 2004. I don't miss them. For those times when I want to get somewhere fast, it's far cheaper to get a moto-taxi (two to five dollars) or get a regular taxi.

    I'm also a lawyer who has turned to writing as a means of self-expression. I'm glad you've linked to Black Women in Europe, because she's really nice.

    I also know what it's like to love a place when you arrive, have great experiences there, but ultimately conclude that you stayed there too long. I have this fantasy of finding a place that I'll like so much that I'll be happy there for ever. But, in my case, that's as likely as a bee finding a flower with so much pollen that the bee doesn't need to fly anymore.

    Francislholland at

  2. Thanks for the nice and thoughtful comment. It seems like we have quite a bit in common, so I'm glad you found my blog.

    Merry Christmas to you!


Hey there! Thanks for visiting my blog. It's my first blog, and I'm glad folks are still stopping by even though I'm no longer living in South Korea. Feel free to comment. If you want a personal answer, leave your email, and I won't publish the comment. Nasty comments and spam links will not be tolerated.