Saturday, January 31, 2009

Twelve Years Car Free

Click on image to enlarge - © 2009 jim otterstrom

Today, Peggy and I celebrate 12 years of automobile non-ownership.

12 years of reducing our personal carbon footprints by almost 13,000 pounds of CO2 each year, for a total of over 150,000 pounds.

12 years of not blowing the putrid stench of our exhaust into the faces and lungs of pedestrians and bicyclists.

12 years of not buying expensive gasoline refined from oil which innocent people are killed over.

12 years of not paying gasoline taxes for habitat destroying road construction.

12 years of not wasting money on tires and car maintenance

12 years of not paying for car insurance.

12 years of not contributing to gridlock.

12 years of healthful exercise derived from walking and bicycling instead of sitting in cars.

12 years of withholding financial support for the destructive biosphere-polluting automobile and oil industries.

12 years of a greatly reduced responsibility for the substantial numbers of living creatures being sacrificed along our highways as roadkill; squirrels, rabbits, deer, birds, honeybees, butterflies, and all the rest.

12 years of conserving what's left of our dwindling oil supplies as the world reaches peak-oil production and economic decline.

12 years of practical experience getting ourselves around on foot, and, with bicycles fitted with utility trailers.

The above are only twelve of countless reasons we celebrate our decision to live without an automobile. To read more about our commitment to being car-free, read our 10th Anniversary post here.

The Chevrolet pictured above appears to be a 1941 Special DeLuxe Sport Sedan fitted with a 1940 Master Deluxe hood that has no way of ever closing properly because of the '41 grille re-design. This was a "wildly popular" best selling car in America in 1941. I especially like the improvised 2x4 wood bumper brackets on this one, with plumbers tape holding the bumper on. The car is a prop out in front of a roadside-Americana auto-themed restaurant in old-town Victorville, along a ragged stretch of what's left of the fabled Route 66, The Mother Road.

I know a lot about cars, the older ones that is. Like most boys of my era, I grew up infatuated with them, totally immersed in the stylish, sexy, hot-rod auto-culture of the 1950s. I could name just about every make, year, and model up through the 1960s. I rebuilt my own engines, repaired transmissions, did my own brake jobs, carburetor rebuilds, and tune-ups. I did auto-body work, and, for awhile, made my living taking apart wrecks and putting them back together, but that was a long time ago. My love affair with automobiles, except as post-industrial artifacts, has been over for many years.

That old Chevy is the style of car that populated the world I was born into. A giddy post-war world of about 2.25 billion people. A world full of promise with a bright shiny future being created for us by the folks at GM ("See The USA, In Your Chevrolet"), General Electric ("Live Better, Electrically"), and DuPont ("Better Living Through Chemistry").

Yeah, the old slogans still echo fresh in my mind, 60 years later, as our gridlocked auto-infrastructure devours more & more tax dollars while it crumbles into disrepair, as our antiquated overburdened coal-fired, gas-powered, uranium fed, hydro-electric charged (as in dammed rivers, or should I say ruined rivers?) electricity grid crashes on a regular basis, leaving millions without power for weeks on end, and our water, air, and food become evermore contaminated with the wonders of modern chemistry.

But, not to worry, the same folks are bringing us new technologies to remedy the incredible destruction caused by the previous ones, and some of them are already on the market, if we'll only start buying into them.

Soon, much of America's remaining open land will be slathered over with whirring aluminum & plastic windmills generating "clean" electricity, while killing birds along their migratory flyways, and destroying expansive scenic vistas (been to Palm Springs lately?).

We'll have mile upon mile of photovoltaic panels glaring in the sun from the surface of former Southwest desert wildlife habitat, all fenced in by chain-link and barbed wire to protect the crap from vandals and terrorists, all of it strip-mined & manufactured from the dwindling resources the world is now at war over, so we humans can continue to power our empire of destruction.

Yes, clean energy is coming folks, and zero emissions electric cars, so we can all have a clear conscience as we sit in the midst of our oppressive mind-numbing gridlocked bureaucratic crime-ridden war-ravaged nightmarish consumer-driven industrial civilization steeped in bankrupt ideology, failed technologies, and moral irresponsibility.

I've been listening to the salesmen of Capitalism and growth for 63 years now and the only thing that changes is the label on the cure-all snake oil bottle.

It's too late to patch all the monstrous holes in this Titanic and there's 5 billion too many of us to fit in the lifeboats.

It's way past time that we face the gravity of our predicament with the appropriate humility and show compassion for one another as the world we know disintegrates around us. We're all in this together, there's no one to blame but ourselves.

It's not the Muslims, the Jews, or the Palestinians, not the Christians, or the Pagans, the Gays, Lesbians, or Homophobes, and it's not the Democrats, Republicans, Commies, or Anarchists.

It's not even God, or Satan!

It's Us

And, it's just the way things happened, we're the victims of our own success.

We achieved too much too fast without soon enough gaining sufficient insight into the destructive consequences of our extraordinary power to alter and overpopulate the natural world we depend upon.

A world of 6.5 billion people, all scrambling for precious resources, is now reaching Peak Everything and we're not at all prepared for the downside of the curve.

So, hang on friends, and hold each other close in your hearts, because our great super-highway is fast becoming a very difficult and bumpy little trail to an extremely different future.

I played with my photo of the '41 Chevy in Photoshop, feathering the image with an oval mask, adding poster edge effects from the Artistic menu in the filters tools, and then slightly increasing the color saturation with the Image, Adjustments tool.

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Blogger Shell said...

Congratulations! I wish we could be car free, but alas, we live 10 miles from town with 2 small children that require frequent doctor appointments.

10:45 AM  
Blogger Tabor said...

We could be semi-car free, but I have to see my grandchildren which are an hour away. Your freedom is great though and you should pat yourselves on the back.

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, good for you and yours, Jim. I'm glad you have been able to do this. We live out in the country, but two people with physical disabilities couldn't possibly do without their cars, though my wife will be retiring in a few months and maybe we'll be able to get rid of one vehicle.

Damn pessimistic view you have of life. Sadly, it's one I'm slowly developing. There are just way too many people and it keeps getting worse. But how many people really give a damn? Most of the people in this country and so many others would rather live in glitzy, galmorous, exciting cities where they get their food from super-supermarkets and lose any connection to animals and the soil.

I'm teaching a course on Environmental Economics at the local university this semester and I was thinking this morning that it may be my last time. There is too much BS and hypocrisy built into the subject.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Shell and Tabor-

It's very difficult for most people to even think about living without a car. Our entire system is designed around them.

We wanted to try it for decades before we could make it happen.

Please don't take this post, or my rantings, to be judgemental. We've just managed to do something we feel is worth sharing, and, over the years, more than a few people have said our humble efforts inspired them to make changes in their own lifestyles.


Thank you for your insightful comments...

As I said above, for many people, it's near impossible to live without a car unless you happen live and work within a city that has decent public transportation.

I lived in both New York and San Francisco at different times in my life, where car ownership is more of a nuisance than convenience.

But, living here in the mountains is another story. We've only had off-the-mountain public transit for a little over a decade, and I had to commute 40 miles each way for 8 years before there was an opening at a local Post Office here. It was only a few years before I retired that we found our way to enjoying independence from auto-ownership.

And it's not life I have a pessimistic view of, it's our destructive anthropocentric behavior in the face of obvious and undeniable degradation to the health and diversity of the biosphere.

I'm a complete optimist about life itself, which will continue on with or without us. And, fortunately, I don't view the world through typically anthropocentric eyes, so my perspective is not as depressing as it might seem.

I feel a kinship with all living things, and am aware that every species faces extinction sooner or later, so our demise would only be another little bump in the course of evolution. As long as there is life on earth, or substance to the cosmos, our molecules, our atoms, will be part of it all.

With my ranting, I'm just trying to document the times I live in, the way they look to me, without hiding my eyes from hard truths.

Life has been very good to me, but there are hard times ahead for people, and the great majority of the world's human population are already living that reality.

The limits of growth have caught up with us and the natural balance of things will eventually be restored. That's not a bad thing, but it is rather ugly if you happen to be living in the midst of it.

I'm going to repeat that old Roman curse once again, "May you live in interesting times".

We certainly do, there shouldn't be any boredom in this day and age.

As for teaching Enviromental Economics, it's got to be an improvement over Milton Friedman Chicago School economics. Any minute change toward sustainable ways of thinking may guide us toward more clearly understanding our situation. Our entire culture is founded in "BS and hypocrisy" but I think it's good to keep working our way to something better, no matter how small or futile the steps may seem.

I mean, what real impact is our little commitment to being car-free having on the big picture? Not much, but we feel the need to do it.

When I raised nearly $1,000 for Barack Obama's campaign it wasn't because I think he can save humanity, but because he seems willing to restore good-science to it's rightful place in the national dialogue. Because he seems a much more articulate and compassionate human being than the loose-cannon who just vacated the same office.

If Obama can defuse just a tiny bit of the explosive tension in the world maybe we can face the challenging years ahead with a little more empathy and less hatred.

I don't believe our civilization has the time, or the will, to avert the fast-developing social, economic, and environmental cataclysm that is already upon us, but I'd like to hope we can face it with some measure of human kindness, with a generosity of spirit, if nothing else...

5:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim, you got me on that one: "And it's not life I have a pessimistic view of, it's our destructive anthropocentric behavior...I'm a complete optimist about life itself, which will continue on with or without us."

Yes, I was commenting from an anthropocentric point of view. Actually I often do manage to slip the anthropocentric reins, but too often I fall back into that conventional view. After all, it's the way we are trained to think our whole lives. It's not easy to escape.

But yes, Life on earth has experienced some major traumas in the past, half a dozen major extinctions and many minor ones. And it has always rebounded, more vigorous and with more variety than before. But the rebound occurs over several million years, which won't do Homo sapiens any good. I feel sorry for my grandkids who will live in a very different world. Ah, yes, interesting times indeed...

7:05 PM  
Blogger roger said...

the earliest family car i remember was a 41 or 42 chevy coupe. (i was born in 42) my youth was full of auto stuff too. all that wrenching, as we called it. my skills helped me live a frugal life, but now i have no interest in fixing cars. i want to fix my garden, and work in it all day.

life will go on. humans may not. life will be better off.

8:59 AM  
Blogger Linda Navroth said...

Congratulations--and right on about it being our problem. I wish I could be more hopeful about an outcome for the future, but given that human beings are in charge of fixing things, I don't think we have much of chance. I'm as "damn pessimistic' as you are.

I will say again that your blog was a revelation to me when I found it last year. I went through all of it, every entry, and slowly started changing the way I do things, too.

Haven't given up the car yet, but have reduced my trips. I buy more 'green' products and organic foods. I recycle obsessivley. And all I really feel like I'm doing is improving my own karma. Most of the time it feels like digging a hole in sand.

And yet I keep on doing it and trying to make a difference...

9:19 AM  
Blogger CoCargoRider said...

Congrats. We are a one car family. We are also sick of all the life boating that our Govt. is selling. It is up to each person, family, etc. to change.

We are considering a move to a relatives farm, but it will require some major sacrifices that we trying to get our heads around right now.

10:14 AM  
Blogger David Edward said...

congrats on your 12 years
you are beautiful people

9:20 PM  
Blogger Deb said...

Congratulations Jim. I agree about the "clean energy" thing; there are environmental costs to every kilowatt of electricity produced, and so much of it is wasted on lighting up the city all night and obstructing the view of the night sky for many miles around. Reducing energy consumption is seldom mentioned.

8:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more, but I'd have to agree with what Deb said, plus what we put on our plate - which is why my family is vegan. Animals pollute! Not only the enormous amounts of energy it takes to produce flesh for consumption, but the pollution and toxic run off goes 24/7. We live in the country and though we do have a vehicle, we don't use it unless we need to. It's certainly not as polluting as consuming animal products and electricity for sure. GO VEGAN and turn off those lights.

3:51 AM  
Blogger gfid said...

Happy anniversary!!

"it's us!" yes, we each have to take responsibility for our part in the state of things. and i agree wholeheartedly with Deb. (and with the example you and Peg set) that it's more about consumption than the source of the energy. we can't continue to consume energy OF ANY KIND in the wanton way we do. greed is greed, regardless of what it devours.

7:07 PM  
Blogger Jim said...


yes, between gardens & cars there is no contest, gardens win hands down


maybe we should coin a new word, possimistic---pessimistic about western civilization, but positive about the possibilities for a living future for planet earth?

I can't believe you've gone back and read every one of our posts, you probably know us better than we do. I had to go back & read some of that stuff just to see what I'd forgotten.


The family farm thing sounds really interesting, I hope it works out for you. Keep us posted.


Thank you neighbor...


Exactly! We all need to simplify our lives and conserve as much as we possibly can. Every human alive right now faces the challenge of how to live more sustainably, whether they know it or not.

W. Haines-

I completely agree that industrial production of animals for food and by-products is not only immoral, but completely unsustainable and highly destructive to our ecosystem.

Unfortunately, I still carry, in every fiber of my body, hunter/gatherer DNA. It defines what I am, omnivorous.

It's a huge paradox, I no longer live in a world suited for the skills evolved within my genes, there's too many people to support hunter/gathering.

And our primary farming methods are also destructive and unsustainable.

That's why Peggy and I eat organic foods as much as possible and have greatly reduced our meat consumption.

Have you read 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' by Michael Pollan? A very good book for our times, and thankfully, a best seller.

And we always keep the lights off even though we switched out all of our light bulbs for low consumption fluorescents about 15 years ago when they first became available at 12 bucks a pop. We've saved more than we spent on the bulbs many times over. Still, the few we've had to replace have had to go the the toxic waste collection site because of their mercury content.

There's no easy answers, but extreme conservation is a very good start.



And yes, it's all about consumption, AND OVERPOPULATION!

It's a bizarre world where an unemployed single mother with 6 kids, on disability, and living with her own mother, is celebrated for having octuplets through in vitro fertilization.

Fourteen kids, just nuts!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to add my congratulations.

Being car free is very impressive. We've managed to half out use over the past few years and are hoping to go further shortly (it involves a horse!), so I found your posy most inspiring.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Black Bear Hollow said...

A much better book than An Omnivore's Dilemma is "The China Study" by T. Colin Campbell. It's the most up to date scientific research on the human diet and proves we are primates - just like our cousins and will do best on a low fat vegan diet.

Also, Nat. Geo just came out with evidence recently that the idea that we started out as hunter/gatherers is incorrect. We all started out in the "garden" in Africa, were herbivores, and were forced to migrate due to drought which is when we were eventually forced to eat meat or starve having migrated to colder and different climates.

There is absolutely no denying that meat consumption, organic and not, is a major polluter. Not just the animals, factory farms, and disease they cause, but also the drugs and antibiotics used in farming that are polluting our waters, fish, and sea life.

Simply, there's no denying that a low fat vegan diet is the most healthy and the least polluting.

7:27 PM  

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