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Going forward to the past


August 18, 2011

Last month I promised that in this month’s column I would write on update on my No Car Week experience.

I began my driving moratorium in the middle of July’s alarming, record-breaking heat wave, a perfect time to stay put in our tree-sheltered house, which is at least 10 degrees cooler than life on the road. Between cool showers, running cold water over my wrists and lying under the ceiling fan, I write, read and try to muster energy to make iced tea.

Day Two. Rather than driving to the gym, I walk to the lake and dip in to cool off. I prepare a meal with produce from the farmers’ markets. It’s my regular day for yoga, so I take out my mat and practice at home, which I’ve been doing more since the Yoga Café in Honesdale closed. Instead of making the one-and-a-half hour, round-trip drive to Bethany every week, I go on average once a month.

Day Three. I institute a no electronic technology day. What bliss. I resent having become a slave to email, and while I recognize its usefulness as a research tool, I’ve recently decided that the Internet is primarily the 21st-century’s version of channel surfing—a passive, addictive, hypnotic time-waster. My technology fast underscores how I often use electronic media for entertainment and stimulation.

Day Four. Summertime has its far-off enticements, one of which is the Delaware River. I suppose I can walk the two miles down to the riverbank, but I prefer not to drag my kayak along, and getting back up the steep hill poses significant challenges. I resort to the motorcar.

Not driving for three days afforded me the opportunity to examine my otherwise unexamined automotive habits. I estimate that 99% of the driving I do is unnecessary. Not only do I drive to the supermarket, post office, bank and doctors’ appointments, but I drive to destinations where I will find entertainment, recreation and diversion. Most of the time, I waste fuel and contribute to climate change for trivial indulgences.

Designing more efficient cars or finding alternatives to fossil fuel will not alter our global dependence on automobiles and the energy that runs them. To truly enrich and improve our lives, we must go forward to the past, re-creating the self-contained, decentralized villages that met their downfall when oil, gas and automotive industries, aided by the Eisenhower administration, began dismantling our public transportation systems, building highways and promoting the American Dream of life in the suburbs, a dream dependent on cars and petroleum.