Ditch the Car

Turns out I had more in the reserve pile than I thought.

This one was written in 2019. I am not sure why. Probably had something to do with Patrick Noble.

Not to be insensitive, but you folks who are wringing your hands over the impending implosion of the Global North economic monster, quit your moping already. Yes, extinction is real and dire. Yes, we have already lost a great deal. Yes, we will lose more. Yes, it will take decades, centuries, millennia to repair the damages wrought by mindlessness. But no, humans are not going to go extinct. Yet. Human culture may not even crumble. Certainly, life is not going to be wiped out. This planet is already doing what every system does when it is out of balance. It is correcting our mistakes. It will clean up after us. It will probably not destroy us in the process, though we are likely to lose quite a good deal of what constitutes a privileged life.

I might point out that most people have never lived and have no hope of living — regardless of desire, which is not as strong as most in the Global North would think — a privileged life. They do have a lot to lose. Many will lose their lives and livelihoods. But they will not lose their culture. They will not lose the idea of themselves. It’s the culture of privilege that will be destroyed, not so for those who live within the planet’s means.

Limits exist, folks. The direst predictions of collapse are predicated on continuing growth — not merely maintaining the currently unsustainable system, but expanding it. Exponentially. Last I checked there was no commensurate exponential expansion of Earth. Nor have we made commensurate progress expanding into the solar system (for reasons of more physical hard limits). Not only will we run out of the affordable resources — most particularly the non-renewable energy source we’ve been busily burning through for the last 300 years — but there isn’t even enough room.

That said, there will be breaks applied well before total ecological collapse. There is no physical way to exceed physical limits no matter what the econo-monsters would have you believe about substitution. The planet will halt our activities. In fact, it is already doing that with pandemics and crazy weather. This is not to say there won’t be a crash, nor that it’s a bad thing to prepare for the crash even when the probability of the crash happening is low — but, importantly, is also non-zero! A wise passenger always wears a securely fastened seatbelt. But a wise passenger also does not throw her hands up in despair, crying “Woe is me; there is nothing I can do!” when the driver is clearly behaving erratically. Go grab the steering wheel! This is not a difficult thing to comprehend.

Nor is it difficult to do. If the driver is drunk, you reach over him, slam on the breaks and steer the car to the side of the road. This is less metaphorical language than it seems. In actuality, you can make great strides toward fixing many of the world’s current ills by simply ditching your car. Among other things. And the suite of other things that can be ditched with benefits is large enough that you should be able — whoever and wherever you are — to do all the ditching in your power and have a great impact even if you have to retain a few bad things in your life until the rest of the world catches up.

For example, most rural folks are not going to be able to park the car immediately, but you all can certainly give up a great number of other things that will balance out your car-dependency while both you and society adapt to a car-independent world. Since I’m partial to real advice, here’s a list of explicits that can easily be ditched with great positive effects on the system and few negative effects on most of the world: airplane travel and tourism generally, fast and highly processed food, straws and bottled water, anything shipped more than a few hundred miles or shipped in refrigeration, anything made by people forced to work in unsafe and unsanitary conditions and being paid less than you would accept for the same labor. Moreover, you rural folks are ideally positioned to make wonderful positive changes, not just ditching the negatives. You can grow much more of your own food and store and cook it in healthy ways. You have the space to make things and possibly some of the skills and resources at hand. You may even have the shell of community to rebuild upon, unlike suburban and urban folk who often don’t even know their neighbors.

Take the wheel. Ditch the car. Get out of the machine and start doing for yourselves. 

There is this misconception that individual acts have no impact. Or at least are so slight in the face of overwhelming need as to be useless. Yes. If I and I alone parked my car and resolved never to fly again, it would not matter in the slightest. However, there is not some magical beast called collective action that will right all the wrongs without any need for individual input. There is no coordination without the individual. Even if you make signs and camp out in the streets alerting the world to all evils, you still have done nothing positive. You still have to actually make those individual changes that will stop the machine. You still have to give up many things that are driving the machine. Which, it should be noted, often includes traveling to high visibility places so you can make signs and camp in the streets to alert the world to all evils. You still have to start doing more of the driving, not simply pointing out the road signs and shrieking at the driver.

So grab the wheel. Take control of what you can. Ditch the car and get out!

And if you feel squiffy about the impending implosion of a system that is so very damaging to everyone and everything, maybe you need to work that out privately. Do not tell the rest of us that we need to save it. We don’t need the Global North. We need the Whole Earth.

©Elizabeth Anker 2021