Save the Earth One Trip at a Time

Make a decision

In 1992, I began a trial separation from my car. I garaged my slogan-crusted Honda Civic for use in a pinch and made better friends with my bike. After spending the next year cycling, walking, taking transit, and sharing rides with friends, I realized I weighed less, felt better, had more money, and had used my car only eight times–hardly enough in justify paying registration and insurance. I sold the Civic and chalked up my first car divorce.

Since then, I’ve had other relationships with cars. I had a brief union with an electric car that ended in disappointment. I’ve had flings with rentals and trysts with taxis. I now have a cordial though distant friendship with a hybrid owned by my husband, but I’ve never again held title to an internal combustion car. My history has convinced me that nearly all of us can drive less, helping ourselves as we help the Earth.

I’m hardly the only one around who eschews car travel. Good thing, too, given that the Union of Concerned Scientists calculates it’s our single most planet-trashing consumer activity. I’m unusual, though, for having done this in rural areas with little or no transit. I lived in rural northern California when I first went car-free and began writing about it. By the time Divorce Your Car ! came out, I had moved to an even more rural locale in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. My home here is twelve miles from the nearest town in a region known for heavy snowfall; we usually get more than 200 inches from October to April.

So now I have a car-lite car divorce–not a permanent parting, but certainly more distant than the daily dealings of a marriage. Most mornings, I walk to work in slippers. My home office cuts my need to drive, and I love the dress code.

For trips to town, sometimes I bike, using my bike trailer or panniers to carry cargo. Sometimes I travel, with of without my spouse, in his Prius. Other times, I share rides with neighbors, and have developed wonderful friendships this way.

For shorter trips, I walk or cycle. In winter, I use snow tires on my bike, and when there’s too much snow even for those, I snowshoe or ski. It helps to have Web access, a washing machine at home, and a small-scale farmer around the corner.

Travel long distances

To do that, I play the transportation field. I often take cross-country trips on Amtrak.

After writing Divorce Your Car ! I used a combination of folding bicycle, bus, and train for more than 4,000 miles of car-free book touring. All the biking I did through these tightly scheduled tours helped defuse the stress of back-to-back readings.

These days, I sometimes choose not to go places when getting there without driving would be too hard. This might seem disappointing at first, but my life–like most–remains full to overflowing. I’ve realized I don’t really need to run around so much, and I’ve added simplicity and relaxation to my list of potential benefits from car divorce.

I f you’re feeling too married to your car, pick a trip where you ordinarily drive and try taking it car-free. Walk for a short jaunt, cycle a medium distance, take transit for a longer journey, or mix and match. Skateboard, rollerblade, paddle a kayak whatever fits your location.

See how this goes, then do it again.

Work up to going a full day car-free, then more days.

You might telecommute.

Get a bike trailer for errands.

Call friends and share rides.

Over time, if you cut your driving enough to sell a car–especially feasible where car-sharing’s available–you can save thousands of dollars.

But even more, it makes you less complicit each time that, in one way or another, we pave over yet another piece of this earthly paradise.

Given how much we’ve done of that paving–and Cemitting, and oil-spilling–we have much to do to restore our struggling planet.

Of all the steps we take, the most important might be yours as you walk your child to school, or walk to a bus stop, or walk to your bike and pedal away, saving the Earth one trip at a time.

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