The Carbon Files (Part Two): All The Way Home

Several times every single day, we have to get from A to B.

You might have to get to work, shops, the bank; if you’re my age, you might still be going to school. Usually, the places we go to are fairly near home, but occasionally we roam further afield, sometimes even visiting other countries.

So the question is: when you go places, how do you get there?

Cars are the most popular these days. Nearly everybody uses them for even the shortest trips.

But for years now, we’ve known that an average car, especially if used every day to get to the supermarket down the road, is by no means good news for the environment. There are several reasons for this; one of them being the carbon dioxide they spew into the atmosphere. On average, it’s nine kilogrammes of CO₂ for each gallon of petrol. That makes cars a very relevant issue for the Carbon Files.

I’m probably not telling you anything you didn’t already know, and that’s my point: we all know cars are bad. So why are they still being used so much?

I might not be the most qualified person to answer this, seeing as I’m still too young to drive in my country, but I think the answer’s simple enough. Cars are really, really easy.

They involve little physical effort of the walking variety, they’re nice and warm and don’t need pedaled, you don’t have to wait for them to come chuffing into the train platform, there’s no need to be squished up between a bus driver and an annoyingly loud person, and there’s <em>definitely</em> no need for feeding them grain and hay and trying to find a warm stable to rub them down in.

I can see why people use cars all the time, and I realize that there are places where there isn’t really any other mode of transport available. I’m incredibly lucky – I live in a country with an awesome local transport network and anywhere worth going to from my own little town is just a train ride away.

But I still think that car use can be cut down. Some of the kids in my year drive or get driven to school every morning. I cycle, which takes ten minutes, or get up earlier and walk, which takes just over twenty. Either way I’m getting healthy exercise and a moment to myself to think and reflect. Plus I’m wide awake when I reach school.

Have you been to the Netherlands before? Again, it’s a train ride away from where I live, and every time I’m there I see bikes. Sometimes, like in the middle of Rotterdam next to the station, bikes are literally all you can see. They have bike stands covering spaces the size of football fields and entire roads dedicated to cyclists. People are a lot more likely to cycle to the local shop than to drive there. I don’t think it’s only because of how flat the whole country is, I reckon it’s also because everyone cycles. It’s like positive peer pressure – everyone does it, so you don’t think twice about doing it yourself. That’s the great thing about trying to make a difference yourself. Other people take notice, and the word spreads.

A while back, for various reasons, my family accidentally ended up without a car for an entire year. At first, getting a new car was a priority, but as the weeks started ticking by we realized that we were coping just fine without one. In fact, I think we did better without the car than with it. We were forced to use local shops, because cycling to big supermarkets further away took too long, and we got used to walking longer distances to get places. We had to use trains for long-distance travelling, and realized that it was possible – even with four grumpy kids! Money was saved, health was gained, and to be honest I started to forget, after a year, why we’d even had that car in the first place.

I’m not saying that everyone who uses a car is wicked and wrong and that we should go back to good old horse-and-cart mode. I’m not unrealistic like that. In some placed, there’s little public transport and the distances are too far for cycling. But I do think that we use our cars way too much and should take a moment to step back, get the bike and the walking boots out of the shed and learn how to live without having to find a parking space every time we go into town. After all, only when more people are using public transport will politicians really make an effort to increase accessibility.

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Thoughts are appreciated as always, and I want to hear your ideas. What eco-friendly ways of travel do you know of? How else can we reduce our carbon output? What’s your main inspiration for parking that car and leaving it be?

~ this whole wide world

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