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Is Driving Hypocritical?

December 6, 2011
a wind turbine farm above a freeway

photo from kevin dooley / flickr

“So you like trees, huh? Did you drive here?” This is a classic idea – “environmentalists who drive are hypocrites.” It’s a favorite way for cynics to poke fun at those of us who doggedly believe that we CAN make a difference.

What is the best green way to get around? This is a tricky question. Obviously, gas and diesel are bad for the planet – drilling, refining, transporting, and burning have all caused major environmental damage. Hybrids are a nice solution, but still require gas and a resource-intense manufacturing process. Even electric cars aren’t much better if their electricity comes from burning coal! Bikes, walking, and public transit are all more efficient.

But these aren’t perfect solutions either, because so much of America’s addiction to cars is deep-seated and out of our control. Even in the most eco-friendly of surroundings – for example, I am lucky enough to live in a city with good bike lanes and public transportation – there are plenty of trips that seem like they demand a car. And for those of us with families and in the suburbs, forget about it: a car is often a necessary part of life.

Ultimately, a less polluting society would require redrawing the map. So I’ve got one solution that I’d like to share.

It’s two-pronged. First, I do what I can to limit my use of gasoline. For me, this means choosing to ride my bike or take the subway to work. For you, this may mean using a hybrid – go for it, if you can. Or, it could mean just keeping the car you’ve got, and driving it less. Turn it off instead of idling! [pdf] And carpooling is great – you get a partner to talk with. Alone, this doesn’t solve the problem, but it spreads awareness, and through many people doing the same thing, it does make a meaningful difference.

But second, I work hard to NOT get fed up.  Remember: I can make a difference. Even though part of me might like to drop everything and move to an eco-village mecca with no cars, I’m not planning to do it. We live in a society where opting out of the car-based lifestyle often means making unreasonable, difficult changes.  Not everyone is in a position to live that way, and not everyone would want to!

So take a deep breath. And instead of getting frustrated, get active. We can make our communities better.  We can organize bike rides with our neighbors. Or work with other citizens to improve our city’s bus transit.  Call on our city leaders to install a bike-sharing program! Demand that oil companies be held accountable for spills and pollution. Next time I move, I want to be somewhere I won’t have to drive to work.

We can’t change everything overnight, and our car-dependent ways are part of that. It’s not about atoning for eco-sins – it’s about what we can do to make our lives, and the planet, greener.

“Yes, “ I answer the critic. “I drove here. Next time, let’s carpool. I want to talk to you about bike lanes!”

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