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Both Ways

We simply can’t have it both ways.

We can be a community of motorists who take our own 3,500-pound, six-foot-by-sixteen-foot shipping container with us virtually everywhere we go…

…or become a community of walkers, bicyclists, and public transit users who live where these modes are viable and practical.

We can be a nation of consumers who comprise five percent of the human race but devour twenty-five percent of the world’s resources…

…or become a nation of citizens who return to the virtues of thrift and conservation, personal responsibility and self-restraint.

We can be a world of depletion and inequity and strife…

…or become a world that is sustainable and just.

Why can’t we have it all? Because of (1) basic geometry; (2) basic laws of physics; and (3) basic human nature. Our planet simply does not have enough arable land, resources, or ecosystem capacity to support six billion people who live the “non-negotiable” American Way of Life. The 0.3 billion of us who appropriate the lion’s share for ourselves aren’t going to get away with it much longer.

(1) Your vehicle takes up a lot more space than your body. When you get in your car instead of walking or bicycling or using public transit, you demand a lot more lifeless pavement – about two thousand square feet of personal dead space around you wherever you drive, and at least three hundred square feet of asphalt everywhere you park. Your car is like a Pac-Man, gobbling green dots of living planet. We are running out of green dots.

(2) Your vehicle consumes much more energy than you would use to walk or bicycle or share public transit. Have you ever tried to push almost two tons of dead weight at fifty-five miles per hour? That’s your car, and making it go means gulping energy from a hose instead of sipping from a straw. So don’t get your hopes up about “green” vehicles; they will still require far more nuclear plants or horizon-dominating wind turbine farms or vast acreages of biofuel crops than walking and bicycling and public transit would.

(3) When we - the richest and most powerful people on Earth - ignore and bully and hoard for too long, the poor and weak will always strike back. Avarice, dissipation, and vanity will always destroy us from within.

None of this is rocket science. The fundamental problem is our unrestrained, rashly excessive use of private motor vehicles. There is no sugarcoating it, no “green”-washing it, no making it easy to swallow for a nation of automobile addicts. A smooth and undemanding progression from a material-growth-obsessed economy to a resource-frugal, sustainable one is pure fantasy. The transformation will be wrenching, and the longer we delay the worse it will become. God help us should it be natural laws or angry men who ultimately force us to change. God forgive us if our children inherit the burden.

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