“If aliens arrived to earth and peered down on us, they’d likely think cars were the dominant life form.” – Les Drew and Kaj Pindal
Isn’t it crazy to think how true that statement is? Our lifestyles, activities, culture, and personal identities have all been heavily defined by the modern day vehicle: the soccer mom in a mini-van, the tough, bearded biker on his Harley, the yogi in a Prius parked at Whole Foods and the financial investor with a brand new Porsche. It’s a part of who we are and how we live our lives, so it’s unfortunate that driving is expensive, inefficient, bad for our health, constantly polluting, and relatively dangerous.
So what do we do about it?
1. Change How We Use Cars
The act of driving itself is not the problem, it’s how much we use them. Driving allows us to participate in activities that we couldn’t easily otherwise. However, as Mr. Money Mustache unabashedly states: “90% of the car use that occurs in the United States is pure bull@#$%.” He goes on to say, “[driving] would be excusable if all these cars were providing an essential service. If every car trip delivered great rewards to its driver, and by extension to society as a whole, I’d gladly toss down this keyboard and cheer on the heroic drivers as they passed by.”
How many car trips are less than a few kilometers?
2. Change the Car-to-Person Size Ratio
Over 95% of energy used by a car is to move the car itself; only the remaining fraction is used to move the actual passenger. Micro-cars like the Smart Car are headed in the right direction but ultimately any 4-wheeled machine with a gas-burning engine (regardless of size) is likely excessive for most trips that move a single, 150-ish pound human a short distance from ‘A’ to ‘B.’
3. Completely Rethink the Car
Compared to the Model T, we’ve improved efficiency by leaps and bounds. But car companies are still focusing is on snagging those last little pieces of efficiency left in the traditional internal combustion engine car. Electric cars like Elon Musk’s Tesla are revolutionary in a way, but it’s still a car.
It’s reached the point where a whole new type of vehicle is needed.
Primitive humans could’ve kept perfecting the mud hut to its absolute best design, but there came a point where technology and outside-the-box thinking resulted in an entirely new way of building houses. The same can be said for any innovation. Companies could’ve continued to create the most amazingly efficient land-line phone, but the thinking we really needed was ‘how can we create a communication device that doesn’t need wires?’
Bill Mcdonough, author of Cradle to Cradle, believes we need to create a car that isn’t designed to be the ‘least damaging’ but rather the ‘most benefiting.’ He calls it something like a Nutri-Mobile, where components of the car can easily be replaced and reused by the manufacturer, or recycled back to its original material. The tires we use today release tons of particles and toxins in to the environment. What about a tire that breaks down biologically, or even provide nutrients for the surrounding environment?
4. Change the Path of Least Resistance
Humans are like water or electricity in that we take the path of least resistance. It’s easier to order take-out sushi rather than cook, or go through the car wash rather than get out the bucket and soap. The same goes for driving- if our jobs are most easily reached by car, we’re going to drive more, right? When traffic gets bad, a city planner’s typical jerk reaction is “we must build more roads.” If they put more focus on improving bike, pedestrian and bus infrastructure instead (which is a fraction of the cost and footprint compared to road building), folks will take the path of least resistance, or in this case, the path of least traffic.