Climate change


Sure it's scary, but what can I do about it?

Well, this site is dedicated to figuring that out.

Prelude

Climate change. Global warming. Mother nature getting pissed. What is it really?

Eroded house

Simply put, it's the reason you got such a great deal on that seaside house.

But really, what's so bad that we should get ourselves all worried about this stuff? I mean, we still have food... and Justin Beiber.

Elon Musk colony

Well, if you’re planning to live on an Elon Musk martian colony then there's nothing to be concerned about.

But if you live on planet Earth, then it’s actually super important. And so far, everyone that you and I know lives right here on good 'ol planet Earth.

Global warming is something that we’ve been contributing to for longer then you've been alive. All around us, people are seeing that it isn't just about folks in Guam. It's an issue that will hurt rich people who take private jets, middle-class people who like to go skiing, poor people who don’t drive a monster truck, and basically everyone else.

Flooded jet
shrinking snow
Flooded car

So whether you’re into fishing, coffee, hiking, music, basketball, etc there's no question that the changes to our planet will make things more difficult.

Bottoms up

Aw hell. If everything’s so bad, and there’s nothing that little old me can do about it, I should just go get drunk.

Well, that there is the most important part.
There IS something you can do about it. Each and every one of us has the power to pull us back from the edge. The thing to recognize, is that it’s going to take a united effort by every one of us to turn things around. Our future can’t be about white vs. black, or futbol vs. football. We all have to work together to make radical transformations.

So buckle up my friends, and let’s take a deep dive into exploring what is currently damaging our future and what we can do to halt the descent.

In this site we will look at two areas of our lives - transportation and the food we eat. I will share with you not only the impacts on our warming planet, but also the impacts to our health and the many benefits we can enjoy from creating a powerful personal revolution.

Introduction

Carfree or Meatfree?

This work all began with a simple question: If we were all to make one change in our lives in order to live in harmony with the Earth, would it be better to not use cars, or to eat plant-based?

At first it seemed silly. What did cows have to do with global warming? But with a few years of study, and a thesis paper I learned that there's a ton of little-known sources that influence our planet.
(Spoiler alert: they both have a really big impact.)

Global Warming Overview

iceT melting

What exactly IS global warming? All over the world, people are scared. But plenty of others seem to be either dis-empowered, or confused about how to make a difference.
To put it simply, global warming is an increase in world temperatures caused by gases trapping the sun’s heat (like a greenhouse).

Climate denying spider

Not long ago, nearly half the people in the United States didn't believe global warming was a real threat. This is due to a hugely successful misinformation campaign funded by oil companies and corporations

Skip forward a few years to the current era of extreme weather; which makes denying our reality hugely difficult. The important takeaway here, is that we don’t have to agree about the science. Whether you believe in it or not, whether it’s human-caused or not. That makes no difference, The latest superstorm doesn't care. It's going to demolish houses no matter what we believe.

Global Warming Sources

Most people think of carbon dioxide when global warming is brought up. This is the most common element that we throw into the air, but it's not the only one. There are three other contributors to our current situation. Each one of these has a different degree of impact, and they're all compared against regular CO2 as a baseline.

GWP

IPCC

CO2

1

BC

2000x

CH4

80x

N2O

280x

Pssht. That's gonna be soooo boring though.

Well, yes. It is a lot to absorb. But the thing is. We're talking about the lives of every single person you know. Every dog, every dolphin, every child, every horse, every chicken, and every penguin on Earth. So, it's kinda important.

Carbon Dioxide

Trees reduce emissions

Carbon Dioxide (CO2), it's the ruler by which all greenhouse gases are compared. In 2015 our worldwide transportation spewed out fully 7.7 gigatons of Carbon Dioxide
(that’s more then 2 Mt Everests)
in only one year. (link) Three quarters of that amount is produced by those horseless carriages people seem to be so excited about.
Besides cars and planes, carbon dioxide is released through burning coal, oil, wood, and through forest fires. Within agriculture, the contributions come mainly in the clearing of forests to graze animals, and in the gas engines that run farm equipment. (link) (link).

All of this carbon released into the air was once just sitting in the ground, not bothering anyone. But once people burn it and it’s released into the air, that’s when things get really exciting. On this site we're going to explore all the ways that CO2 is produced, and how we can join up with the millions of other humans to slash those emissions.

Methane

Igniting Methane
Close Igniting Methane

Todd Paris -AP published by NY Daily News

When we think of methane, we probably think of farts and silly stuff. But methane is more then just kid jokes. It’s created anytime something organic sits in a place with no oxygen (like underwater). For climate change, methane is a big deal too. The reason is this: even though CO2 has only increased by 40% since the early 1800s, methane has increased by 250%. (link).

For transportation, methane is released mainly in oil drilling and through ‘flaring’ at refineries. (link) Thankfully, only 10% of the methane released is connected to oil (mainly through fracking), while the rest is from natural gas drilling. (link)
From a driver’s perspective, it hasn’t been considered a concern. The question though, is who is providing those figures? According to some research, figures provided to scientists have been much lower then the actual tested amounts. So the real impact may be a lot more.

Flying Cow Balloon

Animals raised for food, on the other hand produce most of the world’s methane. The combination of ‘cow burps’ and animal poop pits results in 9 billion tons of CO2 equivalent per year. ()link 2 my study).

There are a large range of sources for methane not only from oil drilling and cows but also from natural gas and rice farmers. (link) The point is that the more we that we know about which purchases support the most polluting industries, the easier it becomes to make choices that lower our impact.

Nitrous Oxide

Laughing gas

Nitrous oxide, or 'nitro' is usually thought of in terms of racecars. But the hidden side of N2O is that it is a powerful climate changing gas. Amazingly, it's thought to be 280 times as harmful as regular CO2. So even though it tends to be released in smaller amounts, it still packs a big punch.

N2O graph

Nitrous emissions are mainly caused by animal waste spread on farms in the open air. Although all plants need nitrogen to grow, plants can be overwhelmed. Currently nearly all the nitrogen on farms turns into pollution. Either it rises into the air, or it gets washed into streams and causes algae blooms. (link)

Around the world, farms using animal waste contribute roughly 3,500 megatons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gases so it's a serious issue.

Black Carbon

Shark for Ocean Rise

© Stephan Pastis

Just when you thought the great long tale of Earth warming gases was finally complete, there's one more to fill the set (though black carbon isn't really a gas).
Particulate matter, soot, aerosols, there's lots of terms for black carbon. We can simply think of it as billions of tiny bits that get thrown up into the air.

What's incredible about black carbon is that it's estimated to have 2000 times the impact of CO2 (link) (link).

The important side of this story is that the largest amount of the black carbon sent up by humans actually comes not from giant container ships, but from the millions of diesel motor vehicles around the world. (link)

Through a bunch of really complex math, I found that the world’s diesel cars produce an astounding 2,500 megatons of warming emissions if compared to carbon dioxide.

But on the other hand, there is good news here. Black carbon only stays up in the air for a few days. This means that getting rid of soot would bring huge results in only a few days rather then waiting years or decades like we'd have to with CO2 or methane. (link)

Embodied Energy

Even with all this knowledge though, the issue is not as clearcut as it seemed. It's true that the world’s cars and trucks produce over 7,000 megatons of climate changing pollution. But there’s more to the story then that.

A super important piece, was something called ‘embodied energy.’ This is the impact caused by manufacturing something- before it arrives on a store shelf. In my research I looked into the whole process, to offer an ‘apples-to-apples’ comparison. It’s difficult to contrast a living being like a cow with an automobile, but bear with me.

Embodied energy graph
Close Embodied energy graph

Strømman et. al. Norwegian Univ. of Science and Technology

The energy used to make cars and trucks, planes and ships includes a long industrial process. Vehicles don’t operate in a vacuum (not even for Elon Musk). The materials have to be mined from the ground, manufactured, and then delivered to a showroom. The figures for pollution created is very broad. For my research, I used a study from Beijing which claims 9.2 tons per vehicle. I then applied that to the 90 million vehicles produced per year . This proved that a whopping 830 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent are created simply from building cars and trucks worldwide.

Have your eyes glazed over yet? I hope not. Cuz we're just getting to the good stuff.

Simon's cat gas

On top of the energy used to build cars, there is also a great deal of pollution and energy from pumping and refining the gas. In order to figure this out, I had to take the pollution per gram (link) (link) and apply that to the massive amount of gasoline used worldwide note.

This, finally, gives us a figure of nearly 3 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent globally. note

Running on road note

Lastly we will look at the Greenhouse Gases released for road construction. As with the figures for fuel, these calculations were based on several expert studies (link) (link).

When those pollution figures were applied to the global road area, the average emissions for roads comes out to roughly 1000 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent released per year. It’s important to keep in mind that this is a very rough estimate based on national road figures. And this doesn’t even include parking lots, driveways, gas stations, and other pavement.

Animals use 1/3 of land

On the other side of the isle, the embodied energy from raising animals is focused on one area. Converting wild lands into pasture for animals. This is a big deal given what a vast number of animals we make room for. Every year, humans convert X acres of open land for use as grazing pasture. The emissions for this are a monstrous 3,800 magatons of planet roasting gases.
The damage from animasl wouldn't be so enormous, if it wasn't for the incredible number of animals raised. Worldwide there are well over 23 trillion cows, pigs, chickens, goats, and sheep. More then three for every single person on earth. This amplifies their effects way beyond anything imaginable.

Summary

Vegan viking

After all the research was done, and my head finished exploding, it finally became clear that a plant-based lifestyle does have a greater positive effect on global warming then a car-free one. In fact farmed animals create more climate-changing gases then all of the world’s transportation combined, mainly from cattle. Even when air travel and shipping are included, the total is 15,000 megatons for all transportation.
Meanwhile, the shear number of livestock throughout the world creates over 22,000 megatons. (link) You can view a more detailed list of solutions to many western lifestyle contributions here and there’s even a comparison calculator that can tell you how to move towards zero impact.

Total world Greenhouse Gases

In Bil. Tons CO2 Eq. World Total Animal Ag. Transport
CO2 37.89 5.19 11.93
Methane 28.88 9.10 1.46
Nitrous Oxide 2.28 1.06 0.076
Black Carbon 14.37 6.65 2.76
Total 83.42 20.71 16.23
Source
Why not both?

After all of this research, does this mean people who eat a vegan diet but drive are now off the hook? Would I go out and buy a car now?
Of course not. As you will see, our global crisis is affecting much more then just temperature and we are going to have to use every tool available in order to reduce the damage (link).

Mitigation curve

Changing our relationship with the climate is going to become more uncomfortable the longer we delay. At the risk of sounding too negative, it cannot be ignored that humanity has already passed the point where mild shifts can save us.

Naomi Klein -This Changes Everything

As Naomi Klein states, “there are no non-radical options left before us.” (link) We’re not just looking at a changing climate, we’re looking at a changing. . . everything.

Community tree planting

For some, this info will be pursuasive enough to convince you of how important and positive these changes can be. Others may feel that this is all too overwhelming. For those in the latter crowd, I welcome you to connect with communities which are already on the path towards greater compassion. Go to a tree planting event, connect with bike commuters, take part in a vegan potluck. Every step that we collectively take to reduce our emissions is, without a doubt, helpful for the well-being of all living beings on our planet. What I hope to impress on you with this essay, is that personal choices based on a single issue are merely one chapter in a larger and more beautiful novel.

We can bike

If you take in the full breadth of issues affecting the world and consider how interconnected everything is, that will help you develop a broader and richer level of awareness. You might already be an activist, protester, or social justice warrior. You may believe that where you are right now is good enough. But that’s not the end of the story. While most of us think about being earth-friendly in single issue terms; being plant-based, political campaigning, ditching plastic, etc. The truth is that there are many choices that we make every day, and all of them have an impact either positive or not.

Transforming urban space

As you read on, I will share with you other issues surrounding both farmed animals and motorized vehicles beyond their effects on global warming alone. The effects of both are wide-ranging and often subtle. This is why I support you in continuously pushing yourself to adopt more a planet-friendly choices. It is my hope that you will use this essay as a source of inspiration to follow a new and more fulfilling path.

Support cruelty-free products, lower your heat and wear sweaters, or ride a bike to the store for small items. Every step is a higher evolution for our own health, the animals, and all fellow beings.

Benefits

Vegan blanket solution

Now that we've explored the downside of harmful lifestyles, it's time to see all that we can gain from making the change.
There are a huge number of advantages that come with both a plant based lifestyle and a car-free lifestyle. Both choices help us to enjoy healthier and more stress-free lives while reducing our impact on the world that we live in.
It really feels in my own opinion that living ‘plant-powerful’ helps us improve our lives in a huge number of ways. (link) (link)

On one hand, plant-based food gives us energy and boosts our immune system. It strengthens our heart, our muscles, digestion, and skin. In fact there are so many advantages that they would easily overwhelm this essay (link). You can save time by just watching ‘What the Health’ for a quick overview. Keep reading on to learn about the myriad ways (even little known ones) that our lives can become richer.

Vegan couple spring rolls
Close spring rolls

from Daniela Lais author of 'Vegan on the Go'

Benefits of biking

There may not be as many netflix movies about the joys of carfree living, but the benefits are still wide-ranging. For starters, a car-free lifestyle helps us burn all of that delicious food more regularly, which results in a stronger and happier body.

So if you're someone who feels worried or concerned about the issues surrounding our climate crisis, this should come as very good news. Because a carfree lifestyle (which has almost no carbon footprint) will also bring improvements to so many other parts of your life. (link)

Differently Abled

handicap cyclist

'But not everyone can ride a bike ya'know.'

I hear this so many times that it could literally fill a book. It's common for people who look at transportation from their own perspective, to assume that only one solution exists for everyone.

The fact is though, people are individuals, and everyone has different abilities. There are a huge number of amputees, elderly folks, and disabled people that use human power to get around. Many differently abled people actually depend on a bike or a wheelchair to help them along because of difficulties with walking.

Kids pulled over
Close Kids pulled over

FunnyAsDuck.net

At the same time there's a huge number of people who would find it difficult or impossible to travel by car (like children). Later we'll explore how reducing car-dependency has enormously positive effects on childrens' development and ability to explore the neighborhood.

But for those who don't feel confident with human power, providing decent bus or train service makes their lives easier and offers more variety.

  • Transit-friendly streets with slower traffic speeds make it easier for people to watch for children.
  • They're safer to cross for those who walk more slowly.
  • They also (obviously) reduce the number of injuries that cause people to become disabled in the first place.
Bus book

In the U.S. riding on buses has a negative perception to it. This is because it's common for people to want to live the lifestyles of the wealthy. But wealthy people aren't the norm and they're definitely not efficient. In offering safe transport for people of every ability, transit is the shining star.
The key of course is making sure that transit is frequent, and accessible. When that happens, even people who normally travel by car see the value of using it. (link)

No matter what people use for the main part of their trip, where differently-abled people are concerned, the single most important area is the sidewalk. Well-designed ramps and fines for drivers who block sidewalks are critical.

Small scale street

When we create streets that are more human-scaled, which offer a more pleasant way to get around then everyone benefits- whether they are fully abled or not, whether they travel inside a vehicle or not.

Social Connections

streets open for potluck

One of the many benefits of active transportation is the increased connections that we build with other people that we pass along the way.

Random social encounter

As just one example, every 10 minutes commuting without a car results in 10% more social connections. (link) (link) These social connections provide enormous benefit to our well-being. They fight depression, improve democracy, prevent disease, and even help us live longer. (link) (link) Seeing the street as a place to BE, rather then just a through-way helps us to foster a greater sense of community and connection within our neighbourhoods. (link) (link)

Social street brings new friends
Close Social street brings new friends

credit: Aaron Naperstek @Naperstek

When people travel on foot or by cycle, we get to enjoy spur-of-the moment conversations, we might ask someone on a date, or point out some beautiful scenery to a stranger. I remember one ride that led to a fun conversation with a guy while commuting from work. After I got home, my roommate asked me who this person was that he’d seen me laughing and talking with. Sadly, my roommate hadn’t been able to join in the conversation because, he had been driving. Just imagine what it’s like to commute to work and say hello to a random friend every single day.

'Lingo'

What does this word mean?

So now that we know that there are some advantages, it would help to know what all of these things mean. Vegan, carfree, plant-based, car-light. Are these just catchphrases that the eco-hippies use? Do you have to watch ‘Portlandia’ to understand them? Of course not. That’s what I’m here for.

Vegan potluck
Close Vegan potluck

What do you eat if you don't consume meat?
Why, everything else.

Plant-based, or as YumUniverse calls it ‘plant-powerful,’ means that food comes from plants (sounds obvious I know). Whether it’s a veggie-burger, hummus, pizza, oatmeal with bananas, or a fruit smoothie. It just means that the food is made from only plants, with no ingredients that come from animals. Some people go further and suggest a ‘whole-foods plant-based lifestyle’ which uses plants in their natural form (after all, oreos are vegan).

However like ‘eco-friendly,’ vegan can have different meanings for different people. Most people consider a person vegan when they don’t consume animal flesh, but also do not wear clothing with leather or fur. Some people also believe that living a fully compassionate lifestyle includes avoiding things like airplanes and plastic, as I do.

Beauty

Beautiful cheesecake
Close Beautiful cheesecake

vegan cheesecake by naturally.jo

What is the first thing that you think of when you hear this word? Is it a really gorgeous man or woman? Well I’m going to cover that too. But first a side note. What is it that makes us like beautiful people, animals, or things? The best answer is because when there’s beauty, there’s also benefit for us (mainly health). A beautiful tree brings us healthy emotions (see the section below), a beautiful plant loaded with fruit helps us get vitamins and other nutrients, and a beautiful landscape helps us relax.

Mountain Glacier

As for beautiful people, well, we evolved to see beauty as an expression of health. So when a person gets exercise, and eats good food then they often appear more beautiful. In western cultures where unhealthy diets are the norm, it’s less common to see people who look beautiful beyond their 20s. Obviously there are exceptions to this and obviously physical beauty (especially in people) is overprioritized. The important point here is that healthy lifestyles reinforce beauty, which is only one of the many benefits of eating well.

Erykah Badu
Close Erykah Badu

Erykah Badu
image by NJPAC

Even before I learned about veganism, I was impressed by the youthful shine that shows on the faces of people who eat healthy and stay active.
I’ll never forget a trip that I took years ago cycling with a young couple west of our city. I felt a bit of struggle trying to keep up with these people who looked so much younger and I was feeling my own age as they raced ahead. It was only a year later when I ran into one of them again that I found that he was in fact my own age. Since then I’ve noticed that people who adopt a vegan diet and active cyclists look, so much younger then people who live the typical western lifestyle. (link) (link)

It’s ironic how closely aligned these healthy lifestyle choices are with living in respect of the life on our planet. It’s as if our bodies are subtly telling us that this is what we were meant to do all along.

Being Efficient

Another huge advantage to both lifestyles is efficiency. Whether it's space or fuel used, or embodied energy. You might be surprised to learn that cars are actually the least efficient machines ever created for moving people around. (link) (link)
The average car wastes almost 90% of the energy it uses from the gas tank to the wheels. On top of that, less then 1% of the energy used by a car is actually needed to carry the person themselves. (link) The waste energy just gets turned into heat, making cities that much hotter in the summer.

Close Comparing efficiency by mode

David Banister, Univ. of Oxford

Bike is most efficient

On the other hand, a bicycle is considered to be the most efficient machine ever created for turning power into motion. The efficiency for a person riding a bike is estimated at 700 and 1000 miles per gallon (that’s comparing calories in food with calories in gasoline). For a bicycle, our food is our fuel, which means that we can eat (within reason) anything that we want.

Space needed by mode
Close Space needed by mode

Urban Ambassadors. Pictures by www.tobinbennett.com

As if the energy savings wasn't enough, traveling without a car saves huge amounts of space on our shared roads. While a person in a car uses the whole footprint of the car and the space between each car, bikes and transit squash all this space used to half or even a quarter of that.

Road work fail

In addition to using less road space, bikes also cause less damage to the road surface. Even a heavy person on a mountain bike causes 006% as much damage as a car. (link) So if you haven't seen a road construction sign recently, thank a bike commuter.

Most US grain fed to animals

Meanwhile, the efficiency of plant-based food is in the huge reduction in the land and crops used when raising animals to adulthood. Whether an animal is eating grass or corn, the amount of food needed to raise a cow vastly outweighs (no pun intended) the food. (link) A single cow will eat about 13 tonnes of food per year. And the return that a rancher gets for that is about 254 kilograms (560 lbs) of meat. With a vegan diet on the other hand, the food goes directly to people. This means that more people can be fed on all of that wheat, oats, rice, lentils, pasta, or potatoes we grow.

Air Pollution

Try holding your breath while you count your money

It may surprise you that air pollution related to animal-based foods and automobiles are responsible for an enormous number of health problems throughout the world (not just in cities). (link) (link) The World Health Organization estimates that 92% of all humans are breathing unsafe air. (link)

Air & Space Museum

Looking beyond the climate, we see a variety of impacts which cause health problems for all of us no matter where we live or how much money we have. The largest source obviously, is from autos and other combustion engines. One study found that 50,000 U.S. deaths can be attributed to roadway pollution, while another estimates over 200,000. I’ll touch on just a few of the specific gases below, but you can see a larger list here.

Clear sky bike ride

Imagine instead a world, that we’re all able to create, where everyone’s children can run outside and play in the fresh air like folks in Switzerland and Canada are able to enjoy today. (link) It’s not only good for our health, but the unused hospital care can save everyone time, money, and productivity.

Carbon Monoxide

Auto daily carbon monoxide emissions
Close Auto daily carbon monoxide emissions

A car's Carbon Monoxide emissions for one day

This colourless and odourless gas released when burning fossil fuels and interrupts our lungs’ ability to deliver oxygen to our body. It’s produced whenever fuels such as wood or oil are burned. When there is poor ventilation or when the number of cars becomes overwhelming, fumes can build up to toxic levels. (link)

While it rarely kills right away, lower levels can build up and cause serious harm over time. (link) (link)

Vader suit for pollution

Benzene

Lord Nelson Column gas mask
Close Lord Nelson Column gas mask

Activists install gas mask on
London statue -photo by Jiri Rezac

Not many people are aware of Benzene, which is a toxic gas found in gas fumes and 2nd hand smoke. (link) It’s known carcinogen which can irritate the skin and eyes. In higher concentrations it can cause leukemia and other damage to the brain.

Samples show that it’s found at higher levels inside of a car then in samples taken elsewhere in a neighbourhood. (link) Though heavily diluted in lubricating oil, benzene is sometimes added to gasoline as an anti-knocking solution. (link) This is why the highest levels are due to gasoline vehicles, with smaller amounts found at gas stations and refineries.

Hydrogen Sulfide

No bullshit

Hydrogen Sulfide is caused by the vast population of livestock being raised the world over. It’s mainly produced when animal waste is concentrated in giant waste lagoons used in factory farming.

Hydrogen sulfide is toxic even at low levels, and causes damage to the nervous system and respiratory system. The gas is mainly concentrated at the source, but elevated levels have been found along the homes of people living downwind from factory farms (link) with neighbors suffering breathing problems. (link)

Ozone

Perri Air
Close Perri Air

Spaceballs © Mel Brooks

If you grew up in a dense city (like I did) you learned early about smog alerts. Ozone) which helps make up smog, is considered the most widespread pollutant in cities. It’s created by traffic, power plants, and industry (but mostly by the first one). Breathing high amounts causes a wide range of health problems for vulnerable people like children and people who are already sick. (link) Researchers have estimated that over a million deaths worldwide can be linked to ozone pollution. (link)

Air pollution is NOT invisible

City Haze

According to the American Lung Association, nearly half of the U.S. population (147 million people) live in counties with unhealthy air. (link) It's estimated that reducing ground level ozone by 10 parts-per-billion could prevent 1,700-5,000 premature deaths each year as well as reducing childhood asthma. (link) In fact when Stockholm introduced congestion pricing (charging people to drive into the city) new asthma cases were cut in half. (link)

Nitrogen Dioxide

Bane gas mask

It’s easy to confuse Nitrogen Dioxide with Nitrous oxide. However ‘nitro’ doesn't tend to cause health problems like it's counterpart. Nitrogen Dioxide, on the other hand, causes severe harm to the lungs of vulnerable people. (link)

Caused mainly by burning gasoline, this colourless gas is more dangerous than anything found in second-hand cigarette smoke. Even worse, it can bond with other elements to form particulate matter (see below).

What makes this element so scary is that the numbers for how much pollution is being produced by the world’s cars is wildly understated. (link) The news around Volkswagen’s pollution rigging has only shined the spotlight on a long running deception. Nitrogen Dioxide is responsible for a staggering number of deaths throughout Europe, 14,000 in the United Kingdom and 1.2 million in China.

Particulate Matter

Breathing trees
Close Breathing trees

© Chris Madden

Particulate matter (PM) is microscopic pollution produced by all kinds of sources. This pollution isn't limited to combustion either, as it can be produced in nearly equal amounts by electric cars or gas powered ones. (link)

This is because most particulate matter isn’t only released by the exhaust pipe. It also comes from sources like tire and brake wear. Since EVs are heavier then gas cars, they cause more tire wear which evens things out. (link) As the amount of small particles in the air rises, even from low levels, there is a direct connection to damage of the lungs, heart and circulation. Many people exposed suffer from heart damage and lung cancer. (link) For others, symptoms for existing diseases like bronchitis and asthma become dangerously severe. Not surprisingly, people living in areas with high concentrations of particulate matter experience the greatest harm. (link) (link)

Happy face mask

Children sadly, are at the highest risk because their lungs are still developing, which contributes to a host of breathing problems later in life. People living closer to high traffic areas are found to have poor concentration, and less reliable memory recall then those who grow up breathing cleaner air. (link) This may be connected to studies showing that people who breathe in more of this pollution tend to have brains that ‘age faster.’ (link) (link)

The risk from these pollutants has caused France to create tough laws limiting the number of cars entering Paris in hopes of reducing the damage.

Comparison to Cigarettes

Smoking car exhaust

According to the Center for Disease Control, “All cigarettes are harmful, and ALL exposure to tobacco smoke causes some damage within the body. There is no safe level of exposure.” What many people don’t learn, is that most of the same chemicals from second-hand smoke are also given off by cars and animal pens.

According to The National Cancer Institute, there are at least 69 cancer-causing gases in cigarette smoke including several listed on their website. As you can see from the table below, eight of the 12 chemicals listed are also found either in car exhaust or near livestock farms. This ties in perfectly with research proving that car companies have been using the same deceptive tactics to retain customers as cigarette companies did in the 20th century.

The good news is that reducing or cutting animal foods from our diet can help our bodies more easily heal from or even reverse the harmful effects that this pollution causes. Below is a graph of toxic chemicals found in cigarettes as well as roads and farms.

Pollution from driving/meat

Chemical Source Risk Reference
Arsenic crop pesticides medium link
Benzene car exhaust high link
Butadiene car exhaust high link
Cadmium animal feed medium link
Cadmium refineries/exhuast medium link
Ethyl Oxide car exhaust/antifreeze low link
Vinyl Chloride car seats low link
Benzoapyrene car exhaust/cooked meat medium link
Tuluene gasoline high link

Driving on Fumes

Driving with gas mask

I've actually heard people use pollution to justify the use of their automobile as protection from the noise as well as the smell of traffic, believing that the car’s shell will keep them safe. But are you actually breathing easy inside a metal cabin?

Actually, the environment inside of a car is more harmful then the sidewalk. Sadly too, the most vulnerable (such a children) are exposed to very high levels of toxic gases which can cause lifelong damage. (link) (link) Data from several studies show that the high concentration of pollutants, especially when starting an engine and idling does extensive harm to the body. (link)

Holding clean air

I'm sharing all this with you to drive home the point that there are more issues facing us then global warming alone. Are the effects of greenhouse gases more important then the pollution in our cities? To those who deal with asthma and bronchitis, they are both hugely important.

What I encourage you to take away from this essay, is that making choices which cause less impact is a benefit for everyone. Not just you yourself, but your children, your parents, your friends, your partner... everyone wins with less pollution and healthier lifestyles. This is what makes me feel great about enjoying both a car-free lifestyle and vegan food.

Water

Not sure if pollution

Beyond global warming and air pollution, the effects of cars and cows have a huge affect on another resource. That being the oceans and waterways of the world that every living being depends on. In some cases the water gets polluted. In other areas the water simply gets consumed, causing drought and reduced stability. In all areas, the water is becoming more acidic because of CO2 absorbed from the air.

Batman iceberg

Our water systems are vitally important not only for all of us humans on the planet, but for all of the plants and animals who depend on them as well. It’s up to each of us to consider how our choices affect the health of these beautiful places.

Latent ocean heat

One enormous concern with our oceans that remains hidden beneath the surface (literally) is the amount of global heating which the world's oceans contain. The temperature rise and storm damage will be many times worse when the latent heat stored in the oceans escapes into our atmosphere.

Fishing

Bass fishing

The 20th century has seen a lot of advances in the boats and fishing nets which have resulted in ever larger numbers of animals being fished and killed. Overfishing for example is at a crisis point with 70-90% of the world’s fish species overconsumed and depleted. (link) (link)

Rather be swimming

Overfishing is a lot like budgeting our money. If we keep spendng on credit, eventually we’re going to be left with a lot less then if we just cut back here and now. (link)

Rescuing a whale

The sad truth is that not only is an ocean food source deadly to all the animals being captured, it’s also sadly devastating to thousands of other species that people don’t even want to harm. (link) (link) For example the populations of predators which depend on the smaller fish being caught in nets, or who go hungry for lack of food themselves.

For large commercial fishermen only one out of five animals caught in their nets are actually sold, with the rest discarded as ‘bykill'. (link) On top of the actively used nets, there are thousands of nets which escape from fisherman only to continue trapping sea life on the ocean floor.

Dolphin 6-pack ring

(Remember that image of the plastic under the ocean wave? Well nearly half of all the plastic litter in the oceans comes from fishing.) In fact, if you are someone who eats seafood, there’s a good chance that your food contains thousands of bits of plastic which get imbedded in your body. (link) But thankfully, groups like the global ghost gear initiative help to encourage better practices which can reduce this threat to our safety. (link)

Barcode fish

Plenty of people suggest that the solution is fish farms. These days, the US imports more then half of it’s fish and shellfish. Farmed seafood is regularly advertised as the answer to both of the above problems. In reality though, raising fish in concentrated areas causes overloading of space and oxygen (think of breathing in an airtight room). When overloading happens, the area becomes “spent.” What was once thriving habitat for native animals becomes unlivable.

There are many other harmful impacts, like when genetically modified fish escape into the open water, or when antibiotics leak out and impact other fish. (link) (link) In Brazil, for example, so many areas have been overloaded that some operations have had to shut down. You can read more about the issue here.

Water Pollution

Fish with clean water tank
Close Fish with clean water tank

© Bennett

Water pollution is also a major issue to be aware of. Given that 1% of the trillions of gallons of water on the planet is fresh and available to us, the impact of polluting that water is a critically important concern.
When people think of ocean pollution, they generally think of major oil spills like the BP explosion. This is only the surface of a much larger problem.

Virginia oil spills
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Oil train crash Lynchburg Virginia - April 2014

The fact is that pollution of our water supply occurs in many different forms every day. The enormous profits secured by multinational petroleum companys gives them the resources to fund brilliant PR departments. These employees are highly skilled at downplaying the effects or even outright blocking oil spill events from the news entirely. (link) But thanks to the internet, we have the tools to discover information that wont ever be broadcast on corporate news shows.

Largest oil spills
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Graphic by Jen Christiansen for Scientific American

For example, the big historical spills like the Exxon Valdez spill (estimated at 11-38 million gallons) don’t even make the list of the 10 largest oil spills in modern history. Even much more devastating events like BP's Deep Water horizon spill often lose the focus of media attention after a year or two and eventually fade into history. So should our efforts be spent on reigning in the power of the big oil companies and pushing for more thorough cleanup? Of course that’s a worthy goal.
However, what will no doubt surprise you is that these large oil spills make up less then 10 percent of the oil that humans leak into our oceans and waterways every day. (link)

Hopping on oil spots

The largest source of oil spilt is that little black stain on most people’s driveways. Oil which sits on pavement or in the storage tanks of gas stations will inevitably get washed into the nearest waterway by rain.
Every year oily road runoff from a city of 5 million could add up to as much pollution as one large tanker spill. (link) (link)

Scared icy river

Given that a single litre of motor oil can pollute 1 million litres of water, (link) it’s so very important to use as little of the stuff as possible.
And it’s not just petroleum that gets washed into our waterways. Car tires and brake pads flake off bits of debris throughout their lifetime. This leaches toxic chemicals like styrene-butadiene which cause incredible harm to the oceans. (link)

Pollution from animal waste

On the other side of the equation, the enormous amount of animal waste produced [mainly] by factory farms and the fertilizers used for growing cattle feed cause gigantic algae blooms along river deltas. The ‘red tide’ that results has been linked with severe birth defects in humans (link) and with low oxygen-levels in the water. (link) Tyson foods, one of the largest meat product producers in the U.S. releases more toxic pollution into North American waterways then even companies like ExxonMobil.

Water Consumption

Fracking water use vs cow water use
Close Fracking water use vs cow water use

get source

The last point that I would like to share with you here is water use. The ever more common droughts around the world are threatening thousands of people. Yet at the same time millions of gallons of water are used in oil exploration and for animals raised for food. This makes it difficult for small farmers to keep growing the food that we all need to stay alive.

Falls-pan

In the U.S. alone, at least (verify-link-PSD) 176,398,000,000 cubic meters (46,600,000,000,000 gallons) of water per year are used to breed animals for food. (link) Just how much is that? Well the LA Times produced a very clever graphic to help us understand. Simply put, it's roughly 1/3 of all the global water used to grow the food that we need. As a result, the amount of food available per person has gone down by 17% between 1984 and 2004 in part because of water shortages. (link)

Drinking Australia dry

The UN states that water use for animal agriculture “includes slaughtering, meat and milk processing, and leather tanning, all of which have a very high water usage and a high wastewater generation.”

Fossil fuels on the other hand, use water mainly for drilling and fracking. It’s impossible to tell how much is used, because the companies simply refuse to tell us. In California, for every barrel of oil pulled out of the ground, a well produces 19 barrels of water polluted with chemicals like Benzene.

When dolphins get weapons

We may not be able to verify which camp has the higher impact on our shared supply of clean water, but we do know that both oil use and farmed animals create massive and unnecessary damage. The compassionate path then, is simply to ditch both and enjoy a peaceful conscience and healthier life.

Back to the Land

Farmed animals land use

Land consumption is the next chapter in our book of hidden impacts. The huge amounts of land that we humans devote to both cars and meat is another troubling issue, since it takes away space that should be left in it's natural state to host wildlife.
Our natural lands can be harmed in many ways. Sometimes it's the loss of trees and plants which hold the topsoil together. Other times it's the act of covering the land with asphalt or concrete which which smothers the soil. Finally there's the pollution from oil, animal waste, or pesticides that cause long-lasting damage to the earth. Whatever the impact, treading the earth with a smaller footprint will always bring us communal benefit.

No trespassing

As I travel through the countryside, there are regularly signs stating that this piece of land is 'private' or available for 'development.' What this really means is that the people who currently have control over that land see it's value mainly in the amount of money it can provide rather then seeing value in letting the area exist did before humans. This regular consuming of more land is heavily driven by the loss of value from grazing animals.

Trees

Tree filled landscape

Clearly, we can tell that an area is healthy when there's living beings being supported by the land. The most visible sign of health then are trees. Whether it's a Boabob or a common pine. Trees are the canary in the coalmine for the health of a region. Incredibly forests actually create their own local rainfall. (get link from webpage on other computer)(link) This is why deforestation regularly leads not only to soil loss but also to less frequent rains and desrtification.

Trees are very much the lifeblood of our planet, providing oxygen, rainfall, shade, and homes for animals. They absorb pollution, build topsoil, cool the air, absorb stormwater, and support mushrooms.
Forests of trees are also carbon sinks (sort of the opposite of a coal plant). They store more CO2 emissions then they create. So when you see trees, feel free to give one a hug (it wont get embarrassed).

1 tree provides
road crossing forest

Besides being cut down for firewood, trees are also cut down to make way for roads, grazing land, or industries like fossil fuel drilling. The protection of our trees is critically important, especially in light of new evidence that deforestation is found to have twice the effect on global warming then scientists previously thought.

Deforestation on a larger scale is connected with drilling, mining, and shipping oil from it's place locked in the ground (link). The splurge in fracked oil from Alberta has been devastating to the once pristine forests of Canada. These operations are among the largest human-made structures on earth and they're filled with toxins.(add data) (link)

tarsands

Alex McLean - Suncor facility, Alberta Canada

But the impact of cars and roads is dwarfed by the mind-blowing amount of damage connected to farmed animals.

Amazon deforestation for agriculture
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Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Worldwide, the breeding of animals for food is the single largest reason that we're losing natural forests. Some defenders of the status-quo claim that expansion is only using degraded lands (link) but research has shown that forests are really the most impacted. (link)

Close Gibbs graph of farm expansion

Gibbs et. al. 2009

Between 1990 and 2005 almost 3/4 of the deforestation in South America has been tied to making cattle feed. (link) (link) And much of the deforestation in South America is tied to the consumption of meat in the U.S. (link) (link) But it's more then just cows. Many of the chickens consumed in UK supermarkets and fast-food chains are actually raised on land that was once tropical forest. (link) In addition, great swaths of land are also cleared to grow soy which is used as animal feed. (link) More then 1/3 of this soy goes to European animals (link)

No matter what the end purpose, destroying forests also destroys the health of the soil. So we'll be looking more at topsoil loss soon.

Restored forest in Sao Paulo

There is good nows however. There are proud warriors fighting back against devastation. Antonio Vicente bought a patch of land in Sao Paulo and began planting a forest. Over the next 40 years he added 50,000 trees to the hilly area. These trees have slowed the degradation of the region and brought enormous benefit.

India reforestation

Over 500 students have come together with the help of coordinator Shashank Sharma to plant thousands of saplings around government schools in Jigana India.(link) Using the Japanese Miyawaki method, the trees have already grown to 3 meters (10ft) tall in only one year. The students have now gone on to revitalize the Kyasanahalli Lake and Vabasandra Lake areas. As of 2019 the students have planted over 12,000 trees and created habitat for hundreds of animals.
There are hundreds of reforestation projects like this one happening around the world. (link) (link)

Outa Space

Pave paradise

Just as we looked at energy consumed, we'll now see that destructive choices take up a huge amount of land as well. Wordwide, a mind-blowing 177,600 square km. (68,572 sq. mi.) of land is given over to roads, and that doesn't even include parking lots (link 2 my study). This results in paved areas consuming between 30% and 60% of the land in North American cities. (link)

Hwy space consumed

Why so much room? Well, a traveling car creates a vacuum of space around it that would be dangerous for anyone else to use. The space consumed can be 1000 sq. ft. for local trips to several thousand square feet on the highway. (link)

Redistribute road space

This means that the average car, traveling at highway speed can occupy as much space as a small house! (link) (link) This just to carry a single person from point A to point B.

Bribe for tree
Close Bribe for tree

© Tony Carrillo F-Minus

More subtle impacts can be felt farther away too. There is something called the ‘road-effect zone’ which is even more upsetting. Noise and pollution here can harm people's health and animal migration as far as 1 1/2 miles to each side of a road. Harvard researcher Richard Forman estimates that 1/5 of all land in the U.S. is impacted this way. (link)

suburb

All of this space taken up by roads and parking lots means that the people who use them become more distanced from each other. In older neighborhoods a person could connect with half a dozen people without crossing the street, but in modern suburbia the same half dozen people would mean a trip 2-3 times as far just to say hello. (read more in the section on ‘Emotional Health’)

video on induced demand

The crazy thing, is that despite what North Americans might believe, some experts are beginning to understand that it’s actually big roads that bring more cars and not the opposite. (link) This is called ‘induced demand’ or the “if you build it they will come” phenomena. When roads are removed, the traffic actually gets better. (link) (link) It’s a lesson that transportation officials in Denmark and Copenhagen learned decades ago, but which North America hasn't yet come to terms with. (link)

For those who are able to see this reality, there has been an embrace of a new idea called the ‘road diet.’ This means slimming a road from 4 lanes to 2; leaving room for bike lanes, dedicated bus lanes, or a tree-lined median. There's a huge number of examples showing that removing lanes results in calmer traffic and reduced crashes. (link) (link) (link) (link)

Road diet result
Paved area in Winipeg
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Portion of downtown Winnipeg devoted to cars.
Courtesy of Brent Bellamy

The same issues apply to parking lots. The vast seas of asphalt seperating businesses from the street that serves them create an incredible drain on our cities. In Los Angeles alone a whopping 17 million square meters of land (over 6.5 square miles) are devoted just to parking cars.

compare roadspace Amsterdam US

Bike-only street alongside a school in Amsterdam. Wide sidewalks allow for play space. - Compare with: America.

Minimum parking for restaurant

But why is so much valuable land given over to a car which sits parked 95% of the time? Well, for the answer to that we must look at early 20th century U.S. culture. This was a time of skyrocketing car use and people who drove were demanding that politicians bow to their need to store each vehicle, and so cities created minimum parking requirements. (link) Yet despite this, modern drivers still find themselves devoting hours of time in their search for that elusive parking spot. What planners don’t realize, is that a ‘free’ resources will only encourage more demand. Just like with roads, offering more parking then needed encourages people to fill that space.

On the other hand, when cities show courage in removing parking requirements then the space available to people goes up. (link) Berlin, Paris, and various cities in Japan and England, as well as some U.S. cities have done just that. (link) It’s clear by now that the era of seeing properties with more then half the space devoted to cars has come to an end.

So if we don’t want to use a car, then what alternatives are there?

Urban space, area per person

Well as with plant-based food the alternative is - everything else. Walk, ride a bike, take the bus, use light-rail if your community has it.
Just like with all other decisions to reduce our impact, each person who embraces compassionate habits brings about hugely positive results not only for themselves, but also for everyone else nearby. Think of how much more peaceful your day would be with no car horns. Imagine if there were mini-playgrounds or trees where curbside parking now sits (link).

Close Road capacity mode compare

Antwerp Belgium

Road capacity mode compare
Close Road capacity mode compare

Capacity of one urban travel lane at rush hour

When I was growing up, there were was bus service but it was under-funded (see the‘Cost’ section) so the bike was more practical. Nowadays many cities have frequent bus service and a few even have dedicated lanes so your bus doesn’t get caught behind the less efficient cars.
When it comes to saving road space, public transit is the reigning champion, even beyond walking or biking. Jeff Speck proposes that every passenger mile traveled by rail replaces nine miles by car. Public transit is also valuable for those who can't get around by other modes and for going long distances.

Maplewoods camping festival

Beyond the land consumed in our cities, cars and gas vehicles cause lots of harm to the countryside as well. From unpaved roads to cars parked in empty fields, to 4x4s and quads, the land gets torn up from the many types of 'wreckreation' vehicles that people use. With such large swaths of land being negatively affected, it’s easy to see why so many environmental groups are pushing for more ‘roadless areas.’ (link) (link)

Off road destruction
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The Jeep 'Predator'

No offroad vehicles

Off-road vehicles cause massive damage to already fragile land by destroying vegetation and crushing the soil. It can take years or even decades for an area to recover from such damage. (link)

Amber Waves of Cattle Feed

In terms of overall land used, farmed animals dwarf even the space taken up by roads. Nearly half of all usable land on Earth (80% of farmland) is eaten up by the livestock industry either as grazing land or to grow animal feed. (Poore & Nemecek2018) This makes farmed animals the largest land use under human control. (link) It also makes farmed animals the largest driver of wildlife loss throughout the world.
This means though, that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75%. (link) (Eating Earth by Lisa Kemmerer) That means over a billion hectares of land could be re-wilded with trees and grasses. Doing this would absorb more carbon back into the earth then we've created over the past century. (link)

World map by land use

Based on data from UN FAO & World Bank. Licensed CC by Hannah Ritchie & Max Roser

soil
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source

The food and water supply for all the world's creatures is closely connected to healthy soil. In addition to forests, other fragile areas like peatland, mangroves, semi-desert land and mountain slopes become degraded as they are transformed into land suitable for breeding animals. Drained peatland alone contribues 10% of all GHG emissions from farms. (link) This is because peatland stores nearly 1/3 of all carbon stored in the world's soil. (link) (link)

Free range zucchini
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Futurama

The biggest consumers of land are obviously cows, which need 2-4 acres for every single animal to graze. This doesn’t include the feedlots which use less land per animal compared to ‘free range’ livestock because those animals are kept in more ‘efficient’ [crowded] stalls. (link) The more crowded confined animal operations create another little-known hazard. Giant lakes of animal waste from the hundreds of cows or pigs.

Holy cow

Just in the U.S. alone 788 mil. acres of land, or 41% of the continental U.S. are taken up by cattle and other farmed animals. (link) (link) The U.S. isn't even at the top of the list for land devoted to farmed animals. Australia actually dedicates more land to pasture then to all other uses combined. (link)

The thousands of animals bred on former wilderness causes such long term destruction that the soil never fully recovers. This is because, once land is 'cleared' the region is already fragile and by the time animals are moved off of it, desertification innevitably sets in. (meaning that the land has become so degraded that little can survive.) When farmed animals spend too much time in one place, they reduce the plant population and compact the soil which increases erosion and flooding during rainstorms. (link)

WWF erosion

image from World Wildlife Fund

Some Good News

Good news everyone

There is good news in all of this gloom and doom. The key here is to understand that knowledge is power. It’s not that we see different things then those who are unaware of these issues... But once we understand the reality on a deep level, we simply see the same things in a new light.

6 kids by bike impossible
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Photo by J. Maus
BikePortland.org

We begin to understand that the decisions to choose ‘the easy way’ or follow along with mainstream society runs counter to our deepest feelings of compassion, respect, and connection with our living world.
As our understanding of these issues grows, the idea of treating the natural world as a ‘resource to be exploited’ no longer feels like the moral thing to do. This isn’t often a feeling that people understand on the surface, but it exists within each of us on some deeper level. Eventually we come to understand that consuming beyond our means compromises our own sense of self-respect.

At this point it can’t be understated that we are still within the realm of the possible. The apathy and fatalism to which we’ve all succumbed at some point can be just as dangerous as the climate change denial of the U.S. Republicans (link)

While researching this essay, I’ve been impressed by the genius which has been showing up on the internet in reponse to climate change. People young and old, from all over the world, are coming up with awesome solutions to our current shared crisis.

School couldn't teach me
Bucket panniers
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Bike panniers from recycled buckets

The power of our mind is now demonstrating to us that we can use our creative talents for the benefit of the whole world, rather then just for the sake of making a buck. But instead of sharing news about electric cars, metal straws, or other forms of greenwashing....I’m going to share with you some REAL, innovative solutions which have the greatest potential to help us create a harmonious planet.
(and these aren’t costly items either, they’re either cheap or free).

  • William Kamkwamba was a 15 year old boy from Malawi who became famous for building a wind turbine from scrap parts to provide electricity to his village.
  • In 1979, Jadav Payeng started growing bamboo on a parched island near Bangalore. He devoted 30 years to the project and has now built a dense forest covering over 550 hectares (1300 acres). Of course most of us aren’t going to spend that much time, but groups like Friends of Trees and the National Arbor Day Foundation can help you find ways to plant trees around the neighbourhood.
  • Food not Bombs is an international group of people who take food that would otherwise be discarded, and turn it into meals that they serve to the public for free.
  • Imagine building something on the same scale as the Great Wall of China... but out of trees? That’s what Wangari Maathai and the Great Green Wall Initiative is currently developing. The goal is to halt the southward spread of the Sahara desert with trees and native plants.
  • Precycling’ is the term for choosing products with the least amount of packaging, which reduces waste and construction of landfills. Katherine Kellog, Lauren Singer, and others like them are even managing to live comfortable lives while producing no trash at all.
  • Repair cafe’s - where people get together as communities and repair, rather then replace, broken items - have been spreading to cities around the world.
  • A lot of smart people have figured out how to build their own solar panel for super cheap. Here is an instructables on how.
  • For communities where solar is not affordable, in steps GravityLight. Jim Reeves and Martin Riddiford developed the idea to use gravity as an energy source for light in communities with no electricity, thereby eliminating kerosene lamps and the pollution they cause.
  • Want to heat your house for free? No I’m not selling anything. But there is a concept, called passive solar heat. It’s actually super easy to make a solar heater out of soda cans. You can look up ‘pop can solar heater’ on youtube, but here’s the quickest way that I’ve found.
  • Composting is a great way to turn food waste into healthy soil. If you don’t have a yard or a lot of space, a worm bin is an easy way to do compost right under the kitchen sink. This woman shows you how.

Notice, these ideas don’t involve spending a week’s paycheck at the store. We're now moving towards a new era of post-consumerism, where creativity becomes the driving force rather then money.

We can influence others

Beyond taking steps like this in our own life, we can share our new-found understanding with others and be a positive influence for change throughout the community.
So many amazing people have revised their understanding of humanity’s place in nature, taking on a more humble approach in how we relate to the world. As the picture here shows, each time that one of us makes a change it influences friends, coworkers, and family to re-think their own choices and consider the benefits of healthier and more compassionate lives. The benefits soon ricochet all over the world.

Jan Gerdes was a dairy farmer in Northern Germany and recounts how horrible he felt in causing so much suffering to farmed animals. He and his wife have since given up animal products and turned their farm into an animal sanctuary where he now has a healthy relationship with the cows.

Vegan farmer

Chris Mills worked on a dairy farm for over 20 years. He shares that the pivotal moment for him came when he found a truckload of pigs halted in traffic. The temperature was -34C and he could clearly recognize the suffering of those animals. Since then he and his family have enjoyed animal-free meals for life.

Christine Mariani Egidio started raising sheep for meat in 2009. “It wasn’t long before she came to understand the reality. “Even though I learned that sheep all have individual personalities, are SMART, and definitely form bonds with one another, show joy, fear, friendship –every human emotion, I still did not make the connection.... that farm animals are no different in their desire and right to live... I was haunted by [the recognition] that the animals don’t want to die." (link)

cook WITH chicken

As we begin to learn and understand the truth behind the curtain, we feel more empowered to choose differently. Popular films like ‘Speciesism,’ ‘Forks over Knives,’ ‘What the Health,’ and ‘Cowspiracy’ are wonderful tools to help us raise awareness for animal-free diets. At the same time, influential public figures like sports heroes, politicians, Hollywood stars, and activists are embracing plant-based meals and using their positions to be positive role-models in our culture. We can be inspired to recognize that we all have the power to embrace compassion and to help our loved ones to enjoy the same.

Weekend warrior cyclist

When I was younger, most people viewed cycling as just a ‘weekend warrior’ fringe. Advertisements reinforced this idea by promoting ‘Lance Armstrong’ stereotypes and hunched over bike styles. But now brilliant people all over the world are showing how to move human-powered transportation into the realm of everyday trips. Not only just for lightweight errands, but even larger grocery trips and urban adventures.

Close Jeff the Cyclist

© Stephan Pastis Pearls Before Swine

The more that we embrace sensible transportation the more city governments will support it, and vice-versa.

benefits of biking
Close benefits of biking

Johnstonhawke @pedalmeapp

By redesigning our cities to improve the safety of regular people; bus riders, bike riders, and pedestrians; we begin to transform the culture to one in which children, grandparents, the disabled, and everyone else can feel included.

A great many people are working hard to encourage and promote humane cities which can be navigated by regular people just as easily as delivery trucks.

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr. & Streetfilms have created a huge library of videos showing the value of healthy public spaces
  • Adam Conover has created a show called 'Adam Ruins Everything' in which he clears up many mistaken beliefs around "jaywalking" and electric cars.
  • Ciclovias or Sunday Parkways, inspired by former mayor Enrique Penalosa, have helped people experience how wonderfully peaceful carfree places can be, and more recently Paris convinced the whole city center to go carfree for one day.
  • Seville, Spain used to be a standard European town with auto congestion and pollution until Manuel Calvo was given the green light to help rebuild the network, resulting in a 150% increase in bike traffic.
  • Hundreds of brilliant people are making bikes that don’t just carry people, but groceries, pets, refrigerators, or even a bicycle powered mobile building

Cost

Whether the country that you live in is wealthy or not, the choice to embrace a harmful way of life includes a wide range of expenses people regularly overlook.

Moo money, moo problems

Beyond just the dangers from pollution, both farmed animals and driving cause an incredible drain on all of our wallets. These costs are downplayed or ignored by the industry and instead show up only when tragedy strikes. It’s a great irony that the 'cheap' and 'easy' lifestyle brings an external debt that runs in the hundreds of billions (USD).

For driving, the costs include:

  • Car payments, fuel, and repairs
  • Cost of parking
  • Tickets
  • Insurance
  • Congestion
  • Cost of car crashes
  • Theft
  • Building and repairing roads, bridges, & tunnels
  • Tax subsidies to the oil industry
  • Cost of sprawl
  • Medical care

Car full of money

Sadly, while the known costs of owning, maintaining, and fueling a car are considered unavoidable for people, these payouts are only pennies on the dollar.
In the U.S. driving is usually tagged at 56 cents per mile in 'predictable costs.' (link) But when we look at the various unexpected costs that go with a daily driving addiction, we realize that the picture is much bigger then people realize.

Road cost per mode

Travel cost per mile, from ‘VTPI’

Netherlands bikepath

A similar study out of Copenhagen finds that the cost of cycling is six times lower then that of driving even when the slower speed of the bike is taken into account.

The full cost of driving is a massive elephant in the room that typically doesn’t become clear until someone is in an 'accident' or gets hurt. Even before looking at tax subsidies, the personal cost dwarfs any other travel option (except maybe a personal helicopter).

Oil subsidies
Close Oil subsidies

U.S. oil subsidies - Fuelfreedom.org

On top of the regular cost that goes directly to cars and roads, are the enormous amount of money distributed to oil companies.
Estimates for the U.S. government subsidies range from $10 billion to $15 billion (USD). This doesn't include the cost of the wars fought to secure this oil (more on that later). But the U.S. isn't the only country 'makin it rain.'

Plane lands for cheap gas

Nations around the world collectively spend $400 billion dollars subsidizing drilling and shipping that 'black gold' from the wells to the gas stations.
Sadly, these are only the direct subsidies for drilling, shipping, and paying for equipment. Other damage like pollution of the air, water, and soil are left out. Along with regular handouts, these bump up the estimated cost to $5.3 trillion. So when a person tells you that gas prices are falling, don't fall for it.

Parking

stacked-parking

Another of the many hidden costs of driving is the cost of storing the vehicle when it’s not being used. According to researcher Donald Shoup, the cost of parking spaces ranges from $4000 for a curbside spot to $40,000 per space in a parking structure. He further wages that the total cost of parking in the U.S. exceeds the value of all the country’s vehicles and perhaps the roads as well (link).

free parking

Think about it this way, when you go to the store, there is no cost for parking. Yet the store owners had to pay for that lot to be built, and the land doesn't get used for anything else (the same goes for apartments). We don’t pay for this land directly. Instead the cost of parking is slipped in to every item that we buy (link) (link). And the cost is diluted among each of us, in every city; whether you drive a car daily, monthly or not at all. So a ‘free’ parking spot isn't just a burden to you alone, but a drain on every single one of us.

God can't help w/ parking

Remember when we discussed the huge amount of space devoted to roads? Well as with space consumed, drivers experience massive time drain and cause inconvenience to everyone through traffic delays. Depending on the city, drivers can spend 38 to upwards of 90 hours every year just searching for that ellusive parking space. (link) (link) All that driving around in search of a spot also makes traffic worse for everyone else in cars who want to keep moving.

Pay for parking or transit

This is yet one more way that transit, walking, and cycling bring us all incredible savings. Buses and trains don't need parking at a market or library. They just keep providing service the rest of the day. As for bikes, the parking takes up 1/12 as much space as what a car needs. (link)

Close 12 bikes or 1 car

Source

Congestion

Tissue for congestion

There's another cost to driving that takes up even more time then getting a place to park. That's traffic. If there's one thing that everyone in the world can relate to (except me), it's sitting in traffic. In the U.S. this cost ranges from $124 billion) to as much as $305 billion every year, and it continues to grow.
A report by AAA estimates the national cost of traffic congestion at roughly $800 per year for every person in the U.S. (although the more recent Citylab estimate raises that to $2000/person)

Missed turn, lost a day

In every city around the world, people trapped inside their cars grumble at the frustration of sitting behind a creeping line of people in the same rut as them. It seems to have no cause, no ringleader, and no clear sign of relief.
Traffic costs each of us through reduced productivity as tired and frustrated workers struggle to shake off the morning commute, through increased health insurance from traffic-related stress and injuries, by more expensive convenience food bought on the go, and by pushing up the price of the things we buy since truckers are also sitting in the same traffic. (link)

Traffic-cost
Close Traffic-cost

Cost of Traffic - The Economist

Congestion costs us all not only in lost fuel and time. It also makes travel times uncertain, causes loads of pollution, and adds stress to everyone's lives. (link)

India traffic

The issue has become so severe recently that many companies are actually asking their employees to find other ways of getting to work besides driving. (link) (link) (link)

Traffic jam hammock

But strangely enough, there are also some benefits to traffic. The main advantage being reduced speeds which leads to crashes being less severe.
We'll see in the next section how vehicle speed is a huge factor in how likely you are to survive a crash or cause harm to someone else.

Highway Level of Service (LOS) Rates

LOS Description Speed kmh (mph) Flow
D Typical city peak driving. 74-87 (46-54) 1,550-1,850
E Traffic becomes irregular 48-74 (30-46) 1,850-2,200
VTPI quoting Wikipedia

As you can see here, when the number of cars per lane goes from 1600 to 1900, the traffic speed goes down by 25%. That small reduction can mean the difference between getting injured in a crash and going to the emergency room. (link)

Minion traffic

'Accidents'

ironic underpass

All of this expense is dwarfed by the monstrous cost of fixing the constant damage from car crashes (usually called ‘accidents’).
According to the Federal Highway Administration, a single fatal car crash carries a $6,000,000 price tag. Total costs each year range from $300 billion to almost $1 trillion. (link) (link) (link)

Take steps to avoid crashing
Close Take steps to avoid crashing

The steps I take to avoid crashing

As with oil subsidies, this crushing burden isn't paid for only by the drivers, it's weight falls on every one of us. Insurance companies pay about half the costs. Crash victims pay about one-quarter, while third parties and health care providers pay about 14%. Overall, those not directly involved pay for nearly three-quarters of all crash costs - mainly through insurance and delays. (link)

bus clear of traffic

On top of these costs to you personally are the costs to the planet which only deepens the carbon cost of driving. A single car crash can result in between 7 and 50 tons of climate warming emissions. So despite the massive number of signs, traffic signals, and enforcement intended to limit the damage, road vehicles still weigh heavily on our collective purse-strings.

Whoa signs

Speaking of all the signs and traffic lights (which all have their own cost), it’s interesting to realize that when people ride bicycles or walk, there is almost no need for all that clutter. The slower speeds of human powered travel allows plenty of time to prepare for anything unexpected. This adds to the spectacular cost savings of traveling without a motor.

Close Cost of road infrastructure

Discourse Media

Pavement

Money road

As with parking lots, roads are another service that most people don't think about paying for. The 7 billion of miles of roads in the U.S. requires a whopping $181 billion dollars each year to build and maintain. This whopping cost is heavily tilted in favor of car use. In fact, the U.S. government provides larger subsidies for car infrastructure then all other options combined. The subsidies are estimated at $1,100 per household even beyond the known cost of owning a car. (link) It turns out that despite the oft-repeated myth that ‘drivers pay for the roads,’ the few costs that drivers are aware of don't even provide half the cost of construction and maintenance for roads in North America. (link)

bike road damage
Taking the train

On the other hand, when cities improve spending on bicycle, bus, and light-rail, then not only does ridership go up, but all of the problems brought up earlier become less of a burden. In the end each and every one of us stands to save thousands of dollars per year by embracing simpler and more efficient transportation.

Not Seeing the Forest for the Street

Cyclist easily becomes customer

So with all of these costs and consequences, why do we keep seeing more parking lots and wider roads?
That's a complicated question that we'll touch on here. The simplest way to see this is to understand that politicians and bureaucrats, the people who have the most influence on city planning are not the people who use bikes or buses. These public servants are heavily influenced not only by their own way of seeing things, but also by business owners who suffer a surprising disconnect regarding how their customers arrive.

Easier to shop & visit while biking
Personal spending by mode
Close Personal spending by mode

Based on data from Transportation Alternatives
New York City

A group of 12 studies from around the world prove that the group which spends the most at local businesses are people who travel by bicycle. This flies in the face of the beliefs held by business owners, city mayors, and state leaders.
According to this study for Travel Oregon, bicycle tourists contributed $400 million to their state’s economy. Meanwhile the EU has determined that cycling contributes €500 billion to the European economy.
There are so many planners and business owners who fail to recognize the numerous opportunities that they miss out on by using this model. (link) (link)

The High Cost of a Poor Diet

include cost of externalities like gov't subsidies 2 livestock & environmental damage

I have not found studies focusing only on the cost of a western diet and the variety of food choices is very large. So I share with you the cost of the most common diseases associated with a meat-heavy western diet - heart disease, osteoporosis, and cancer. It is my personal belief that a number of other diseases are caused or made worse by eating foods made from animals. There’s more on that in the next section, but the impact isn't as clear as it is for the ‘big three.’

Diet pays for doctor's vacation

Heart disease in the U.S. has an estimated cost of $320 - $444 billion and accounts for 1/6 of all spending on medical care (link) (link). A single heart bypass procedure can cost $100,000 (USD) Cancer risk is more evenly spread around the globe and affects western and non-western countries alike. Estimates for the cost of cancer around the world range from $895 billion to over $1 trillion in a single year. (link) (link)

Osteoporosis, which is closely tied to the nutrition imbalances of dairy can actually have a higher economic impact then most types of cancer. For the regions where information is available, I found that the cost of osteoporosis on us directly or to society is €37 billion in Europe and $19 billion in the U.S. Heart disease, does most heavily affect smokers and/or people who eat meat, and osteoporosis is closely linked to diet as well. Cancer, on the other hand, is linked not only to diet but to pollution, and toxic elements like asbestos, and aluminium (more on this in the next section).

eroded house

On top of all this, the cost of our increasingly destructive weather related to climate change has barely been addressed. In the beginning we saw that each ton of CO2 equivalent causes $220 in economic damage. This affects the cost of living, the cost of goods, and even the cost of repairing the damage from worsening storms and floods. (link) (link)

So if you think that ‘hippy food’ is too expensive, or that cities shouldn’t spend tax dollars on bike lanes, consider how much worse off we would be if more people decided to embrace harmful lifestyles.

Health

Are cheeseburgers worth it?

While the expense of medical care for harmful lifestyles creates a huge burden, they pale in comparison to the ultimate cost - life itself. Knowing that these deadly diseases are completely preventable makes the situation all the more heartbreaking.

No money in curing disease

Despite the common belief that the diseases common to western culture are 'genetic' the question you should ask yourself is... why do they seem concentrated not in people with similar genetics, but similar lifestyles? Hundreds of scientific studies around the world link unhealthy lifestyle choices like consumption of animal products with a whole host of diseases. (link) (link) (link) Yet strangely, doctors and medical experts rarely tell us about healthy nutrition. This is because, like carfree lifestyles, there is less profit in preventing sickness. We’ve all heard commercials telling us to ‘ask your doctor if ‘X’ drug is right for you.’ How many of us though, have heard a commercial telling us how great lentils are for our digestion?

It’s unfortunate that the medical experts who so many people trust to learn about health, actually have next to zero required coursework in good nutrition. (link) Because of that, it's up to us to learn how our food affects us, with the help of people like Dr. Michael Greger.

Food equals health

Dr. Kamaljit Singh M.D. (AM) PhD

Heart Attack

Being vegan is good for the heart

A huge number of the most harmful diseases are linked with animal foods. The most well known of course is heart attacks. This scourge is the leading cause of death in developing countries for people middle-aged and up. According to the World Health Organization, roughly 17 million people around the world are killed each year. (link)

Despite enormous time and research spent studying the disease, most people in the medical field ignore the connection to lifestyle and assume that these diseases are genetic. If genes really were the cause and it was just a roll of the dice, then we would see it affecting similar numbers of people around the world.

But that’s not actually what happens. What researchers find is that people in Russia and eastern Europe suffer far higher numbers of deaths then Japan and France. In every culture that's been studied, higher amounts of meat and dairy are directly related to heart disease.

Put that axe down

Another proof of this connection is people who make the move to another country.
When people immigrate from areas with healthy diets to areas where more meat-centric foods are common, they end up suffering through the same diseases. This is called dietary acculturation. In time these people end up with lethargy, swelling, and pain as their diet becomes filled with sugar, meat, and cholesterol.

Cancer

Austin Powers live dangerously

The second disease connected with lifestyle choices is cancer. There is by now a very clear link between many types of cancer and a person’s diet. (link) According to the World Cancer Research Fund, “about a third of the most common cancers can be prevented through diet, maintaining a healthy weight and regular physical activity.” Researchers have linked lifestyle and diet with prostate, breast, stomach and colon, colorectal, and pancreatic cancer. (link)

On the other hand, it’s important to remember that the single most deadly form of cancer is lung cancer which is most often caused by industrial pollution, cigarettes, and burning fossil fuels. (link)

Bike past traffic

To add another layer, several studies have linked traffic noise and stress with heart attacks, and circulatory disease. Researchers are finding evidence linking the pollution from traffic-filled roads with cancer in both children and adults. This brings up one of the main reasons for building this site. While some of you might eat a vegan diet, and others might be car-light or (hopefully) car-free, only a very small number are both. I hope that what is shared here will help you to see how deeply valuable both choices are.

Other Diseases

Dark side of the moo

Beyond the most common lifestyle diseases, there are also a host of other diseases such as Stroke, Crohn’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Diabetes, Arthritis, Parkinsons Disease, and Alzheimer’s Disease which have different amounts of evidence connecting them with diet. Vegetarians too, should be wary of the data coming in on animal products. Many of the same health problems can be caused (to a lesser degree) by eggs and dairy.

How dare you cheese

People are always told to drink milk for healthy bones. Ironically though, there is evidence that it actually increases the risk of osteoporosis (the evidence on this is not certain though). Meanwhile, activist Emily Barwick created an in-depth video describing the shocking health consequences of the egg industry. Going one step further, this article offers an unbiased view on how dairy affects our health.

Apple burger

There’s some disagreement in the research on whether animal products are the main cause or just a contributing factor in serious diseases. This depends on which disease, how much of someone's food comes from meat/dairy, and the amount of exercise a person gets. What IS clear, is that ever increasing numbers of health professionals are speaking out about the benefits of a meat-free diet as part of a longer and more healthy life.

Close Dr Gregor - healthiest foods

Whole, unprocessed plant-based foods provide the most nutrition per calorie - Nutritionfacts.org

CARnage

Fake traffic crash

In addition to the damage caused by meat, car transportation takes it’s toll as well. Worldwide roughly 1.3 million people are killed in car crashes per year, and in the United States over 37,000 people are killed, making it the highest cause of death for people aged 35 and under (by contrast guns killed 33,600). The World Health Organization states that internationally, “tens of millions of people are injured or disabled on the roads each year.” checklink

Driver seriously injured

Imagine 12 wide-body airplanes crashing every single day and you get a sense of how gigantic a problem this is. The sheer scale of the destruction is almost as vast as the global warming emissions we talked about earlier. In just one San Francisco hospital, fully half all trauma injuries are caused by cars.

Oregon winter crash

There are also more subtle effects to people’s bodies which don't show up right away. “A Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which surveyed Americans about daily commutes and their effects... found that the longer the commute, the higher the levels of one’s obesity, cholesterol, pain, fatigue and anxiety.” (link) It’s with wondrous irony then, to hear people regularly talk about using their car because other modes are ‘too dangerous.’ This mistaken belief has more to do with social pressure, misunderstood risk, and poorly designed road systems.
So why is it that so few people take steps to reduce this horrific carnage? Well the answer to that is quite simple - it’s always the other person’s fault.

Gabrielle Douglas no txting
Close Gabrielle Douglas no txting

Olympic athlete Gabrielle Douglas

To put it simply, there’s no global definition for a ‘good driver.’ Some think that being able to balance a phone call while driving makes them ‘good’ while others might conveniently forget their own speeding only to focus on someone else’s.
It would no doubt surprise you then to learn that, of the people who I’ve spoken with, the minority who are most aware of the huge weight of responsibility are those who regularly walk or travel by bicycle. In my own experience, the vulnerability of traveling without a reinforced steel safety cage teaches us to be more attentive and avoid distractions. (link) (link) (link)

child biking on the road Articulated bus
Collision matrix

So how can all of us travel around without the risk of going to the hospital? Well, traveling by bicycle or by bus are both actually safer then protection that people think a car provides. Bus travel, for example is actually 10 times safer per mile then auto travel. There’s also less harmful fumes that a person gets exposed to since the vehicles are larger (and sometimes electric).

Oats and biking 4 health

Meanwhile, this study from the university of Copenhagen found that the exercise associated with bicycle transportation reduces a person’s chance of death by 40% with similar results for the UK. At the same time, Minnasota found that increased bicycle commuting saved their state 12-61 lives per year.

Other Risks

John Oliver -fracking
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John Oliver Last Week Tonight

Beyond the direct health costs involved in driving every day, are the enormous costs borne by the people who get the raw material in the first place.

Conditions at oil rigs in the Midwest of the U.S. have recently exposed a long-running human-rights disaster within the oil industry.

BP billboard

The blatant disregard for safety and ecological risk is nothing new, as activists and residents of poor countries have long known. (link) (link) What IS new, is that people in industrialized nations are starting to see pictures and video of the atrocities.

Skeptical pipeline

As with confined feedlots, the more that all of us learn about this exploitation the more we recognize the huge value in taking away the profit from companies who focus on quarterly reports over quality of life.

Nature's speedbump

In the vegan community I hear a strong outcry not only against farmed animals, but to the many other ways in which animal are harmed.
Each year scientists kill an estimated 100 million lab animals for 'research' and hunters kill an estimated 200 million game animals. However even I was surprised to learn that drivers kill nearly 400 million animals per year on the road. (link)
So, while it’s clear that the meat industry is the highest cause of intentional harm to animals, America’s motorists are the largest cause of unintended destruction.

Emotional Health

Goofy in motormania

Emotional frustration is another sadly unpredicted outgrowth of the harmful lifestyles we address here. Just like damage to our bodies, emotional stress is closely linked with the damaging habits that supress our empathy.
Auto use is the heavy hitter in this arena given that it causes massive stress not only to the people using them but to everyone who finds themselves nearby. (link) They carve away community, discourage local shopping, cause social isolation, and isolate us from nature.

Close Traffic stifles socializing

From ‘Livable Streets’ by Appleyard, Gerson, & Lintell

Historic cargo bike laugh

Obviously people who use cars find them convenient, and this is largely because politicans give high priority to motor vehicles. The irony here is that not only do they take up more time and money, but they also hamper people’s general satisfaction with life. So what could motivate people to put up with so much unhappiness?

Successful / unsuccessful
Close Successful / unsuccessful

© Andy Singer

For most people who drive, a job (which is usually far away) is the strongest force pushing folks to stay addicted to such a destructive choice. But the hidden toll here is that, when driving to work, a person has to earn 40% more money to feel the same satisfaction with life as someone who gets there by other means. (link) (link) So the ‘success’ of having a good job and a car in the end bring the exact opposite.

But what is satisfaction? Unfortunately, the term is too vague for most of us really describe. Is it extra time to relax? Or a sense of peace and comfort? Each of us might have a different picture of what satisfaction is, but the one thing that every driver experiences is that, like goofy, the satisfaction that people expect seems to stay constantly out of reach.
So what went wrong?

Trapped

Well, the things that people most connect with driving are traffic, searching for parking, and those 'other' idiot drivers. These are only the experiences that we notice on the surface. A much more powerful challenge is the helplessness of sitting for hours every day trapped behind other drivers who themselves feel trapped.

Honk for anger

Drivers can't communicate their outrage except through a car horn, which brings it's own stress. So instead of having an immediate release, these frustrations fester under the surface before showing up in more subtle ways down the road. For drivers, the stress from long commute times has been tied to road rage, substance abuse, and even higher divorce rates. One primary reason for this was touched on earlier, it’s always the other person’s fault. As humans we tend to see ourselves as more skilled then the average person without any outside proof. One study found that 673 out of 909 motorists believed that they were better than the average driver. (link)
But obviously we can’t ALL be better then average. So what gives people such an irrational point of view? The answer turns out to be pretty complex. You can read the full study or the more abridged article here.

What I'd consider the most important and also the least recognized feeling, is that of being had. The feeling that the 'freedom' tauted by commercials and movies is actually the opposite. The story told in car advertisements, movies, and so many stories never really comes true. Think about how often you've seen a getaway chace ending in a traffic jam?

Dutch traffic jam

On a positive note, when we transition to more fulfilling choices, we find an amazing transformation in the number of people we see each day, and the details of our neighborhood that we become conscious of. Suddenly it becomes easy to stop and check out a beautiful garden, browse at a yardsale, or take a new route just for kicks.

Years ago I was cycling through downtown when I happened to see my then girlfriend on the sidewalk. Thanks to our independant travel we were able to have a wonderful unplanned meeting that would never have been possible if one of us had been inside a vehicle. At least half the time that I venture out for an errand or shopping I end up having a conversation with someone. These are the experiences which make everyday life more enjoyable and uplifting.

Addiction

Addicted to driving

Some researchers are even looking at the dependency on cars in the same light as other addictive habits. The consulting firm Steer Davies Gleave is using a method called ‘Motivational Interviewing’ to help people re-examine transportation choices (link) Meanwhile, Chris Bruntlett and others are proposing warning labels for cars similar to the labels posted on cigarettes. (link)

From my cold hands

The idea that using a car should be seen in the same light as smoking has a lot of merit. It provides a short term reward, it feels more comfortable then the alternatives while in fact causing long term damage, and there’s enormous resistance to try anything different. (link) (link)

Cows say eat more tofu

On a similar note, journalist Kathy Freston writes here about helping people let go of their addiction to animal products and to replace harmful ways of life with more healthy ones. According to Dr. Neal Barnard, ‘our taste cells turn over about every three weeks....in less then a month we forget the attraction to animal products.” (link)
Working through withdrawels might not be easy. It takes hard work and dedication (I’ve been through it a few times). But once we come out the other side, we always feel better about ourselves. Ask anyone who’s quit smoking.

Noise

4 seasons of noise

Noise pollution is a highly overlooked frustration that impacts the health of both humans and animals. (link) (link) (link) (link) Noise pollution exists all over the world, affecting everyone that happens to be nearby. (link) (link) The impact of cars and trucks is so extensive that it can be felt as far as 1/2 a kilometer away. (link)

For many people, there is nowhere to escape the constant onslaught. This is deeply ironic, since it was the noise and pollution of the inner cities that caused people to flee and to create suburbs in the first place. A report by the World Health Organization says that noise pollution from roadways are second only to air pollution in it’s harm to human health. The harm is especially evident in children where regular noise can lead to apathy and depression. (link) As a result, most of us try to tune out city noise with earbuds or other devices causing people to lose connection with their surroundings.

Quiet streets
Audio player

Imagine if your daily commute sounded like this Amsterdam street?

Paddlin for speeding

Interestingly enough, the same solution which can be the most effective at cutting traffic noise is also the solution to reducing the number of people struck by vehicles.

Reduce ... traffic ... speed.

Despite what most people think, it’s rarely car horns and motorcycles which cause the most common noise. It’s actually the rolling of tires over pavement at higher speed. (link) This is why the idea that electric cars will reduce road noise is completely false.
As the speed goes up, so does the noise. Not surprisingly, folks tend to be completely unaware of these issues because the cabin of a car is heavily insulated against noise. (link) (link) In fact, it’s been found that a person outside of a vehicle listening to headphones actually has better ability to hear their environment then someone driving a car. (link)
I still remember a bike ride, years ago, when a car behind me at a light honked for me to get moving when the light turned green. I hadn’t moved because I heard a siren approaching. Only two seconds later the person stopped honking because the ambulance then came in sight.

Active Learning

Kids range of travel
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FreeRangeKids.com

Aside from noise, car travel and pollution have a striking effect on the developing minds of children. The children growing up today have a very different relationship to their neighborhoods then those living in progressive 21st century cities. Where this is most obvious is that they have a restrained level of independance until that magical day when they reach driving age. Until that point they are dependant on an adult to get anywhere at all. (This also causes no small amount of stress on the chauffers, I mean parents.

Child in car

One study found that children who are driven to school have a more difficult time understanding their neighbourhood and have a poor sense of direction. Another found that children who walk or cycle to school have better concentration and advance more easily in school. (link) (link).

LeBron biking opportunities

In my own life, I consider myself incredibly lucky that I was given the independance to travel around by bike from an early age. Before starting high school, I understood my neighborhood and how to get to the places that I needed to reach.

Biking with multiple kids

Treacherous Crossing

Pedestrian cartoon
Close Pedestrian cartoon

image by Karl Jilg

One example of the emotional conflict that I personally see every day, is the obvious culture of fear that exists between sidewalks. Most of us every day see pedestrians jogging or running across the street (even if there are no cars nearby). This is considered normal for our culture.
What most drivers fail to notice (as they speed past) is that the person tends to go back to walking once they reach the bike lane or sidewalk. There is a very clear sense that the road is a dangerous place that we need to escape from, while the sidewalk is safe.

Loving Dogs and Eating Pigs

Dr Melanie Joy

Dr. Melanie Joy

The emotional effects connected to a meat-based diet are more subconscious. As children growing up, our natural tendency is to care for animals and to develop emotional bonds with human as well as non-human creatures. Because of this, people have to be subjected to hundreds of messages to in order to convince us that it’s only acceptable to experience these emotions with dogs and cats, and not for dozens of other creatures.
Dr. Melanie Joy expresses these points with great success in her book and the TED talk which I’ve linked to here.

Perception

Other wonderful sources are John Robbins, author of ‘Diet for a New World,’ and Dr. Will Tuttle author of ‘The World Peace Diet.’ Riane Eisler further explains that the culture we live in is built around domination of animals and ‘resources.’ It requires people to deaden ‘soft emotions’ like compassion which would interfere with acts such as confinement and branding. (WPD-20)

Google eye breakfast
Close Google eye breakfast

cook as if your food could look you in the eye

What you might find surprisingly missing from this site (and if you’re vegan already, then you’ve surely noticed), are the horrific images of mutilated cows and pigs, or baby chicks being ground up. My belief is that you can find that if you want to. But many people have learned the hard way, that shock images tend to create barriers rather then break them down. I ask you simply to consider this:

Animal farmer turned vegan

Compassionate people (and I think that all of us have a sense of compassion) will fall back on the defence that using animal products which are ‘free range,’ ‘cage free,’ or ‘grass fed’ have no harmful consequences and that makes such products a ‘humane’ alternative. Unfortunately, my research tells a different story. The ranchers who market these alternative food sources may try their best, but the suffering for animals is much the same as for those factory farms. And the effect on the land is just as harmful.
One Green Planet describes the most important issues (some of which are also touched on below). You can read a more detailed description of cattle’s effects on the wild-lands here.

Broccoli Slaughterhouse

Grocery meat no harm

Yet another area that falls off most people’s radar, is the effects on the workers at factory farms. (link) The suffering from meat consumption is heavily concentrated on those who are actually slaughtering the animals. Concentrated is a very appropriate term as the distancing of us all from the slaughterhouse causes a very small number of people to experience the terror borne by millions of animals each day.

Pick food / slaughter food
Close Pick food / slaughter food

Greenberg & Singer

As humans, we are uncomfortable with seeing images of animal slaughter and that is a good sign. It shows that we are not predators. "Predators don’t empathize with their prey.” It shows that we are compassionate beings.
Think about it this way, which would you feel more comfortable taking a child to, a broccoli harvest, or a slaughterhouse. If you feel horrified by images of a slaughterhouse but not from images of people picking from fruit trees, then this is a powerful clue into what your body naturally wants.

Guilty Shark
Close Guilty Shark

© Jim Toomey

sLAUGHTER

Part and parcel with the stress of killing regularly are the ‘accidents’ which are way too common in slaughterhouses. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, meatpacking is the nation’s most dangerous job. (link) In 1999, more than one-quarter of U.S. meatpacking workers suffered a job-related injury or illness. The meatpacking industry not only has the highest injury rate, but also has by far the highest rate of serious injury - more than five times the national average, as measured in lost workdays. If you accept the official figures, about 40,000 meatpacking workers are injured on the job every year (the industry regularly minimizes these figures). (link)

Find a way

However this essay touches you, I ask only that you take a moment each day to consider the billions of conscious animals which are killed for the sake of the human diet, and think about whether you want to support that in your life.

What is Solastalgia

Eco rehab
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© Mike Lynch

Lastly, the issue of our current climate catastrophe itself is causing many people to feel hopeless, depressed, and apathetic. (link). The emotional pain that people feel is only recently becoming connected with lifestyle choices and climate. Over time, the effects of unstable weather, scarce resources, and other effects of climate change are weighing ever more heavily on our collective sense of security and comfort.

People are experiencing not only depression and anxiety but symptoms can worsen into PTSD or even suicide. Experts are beginning to look beyond newsworthy events like hurricanes or floods. It seems that the slower catastrophes like erosion and food shortages are being linked to this sense of ‘ecoanxiety’ in people.
But there IS some good news here. An organization called the ‘International Community for Ecopsychology’ is focusing specifically on ecoanxiety in several countries. Meanwhile researchers Helen Berry and James Williams have spent years researching depression and anxiety in Australia where climate fears have been a concern for years. Through the work of Dr. Berry and other researchers, the awareness of depression and solastalgia stemming from a more hostile climate are finally becoming more fully understood.

Biking in natural area

A key solution to this is to spend time in nature. Whatever natural areas exist, if you can find a way to get there (preferably by bike or transit), then you will reap huge benefits.
We all breathe easier in the bosom of the earth.

Desperately Seeking Space

Vancouver-island

One of the lesser known effects of destructive habits is the loss of wild areas. Once again, both livestock and automobiles contribute to this state of affairs.

Pasadena

I remember clearly as a teenager living in Los Angeles and struggling to get out to some kind of nature. I would ride my bike for most of the day (as much as 50 miles out) and still not end up leaving the ‘developed’ part of the city. Suburbia consumed nearly every square mile of land beyond the city center.

suburbia warning

As covered above, the huge stretches of land used for the sake of harmful industries these days, means that very little is left to provide for the health of wild animals and of people. The critical link between our emotional health and access to natural areas has been well proven by dozens of studies. (link) (link) This is why it’s so very important for us to protect what we have and rebuild what's we've lost.

War

Mithra bull slaughter
Close Mithra bull slaughter

Carving of Mithra slaughtering a bull

The last subject that we will explore is war. This is a controversial subject because every nation promotes a unique version of history designed to frame their innocence. (link) I will do my best to offer you, dear reader, thorough research on views which fly in the face of everything you were taught in school.

According to Dr. Will Tuttle and others, the entire origins of western culture were rooted in the control and domestication of animals. Historical documents such as the Old Testament and the epic of Gilgamesh record the transition from gatherer tribes to herding cultures over the centuries. As certain cultures became more attached to the control of animals, the relationship changed from one of honouring and worshipping life - to one of seeing animals and the gifts of nature as a form of currency. (link) These cultures became more powerful through domination of other humans and eventually came to conquer all nearby civilizations in Europe and the Mediterranean. (link)

This greed for wealth caused an evolution toward the domination of land and eventually to domination of elements consumed by humans (termed ‘resources’). The resource wars eventually came to encompass not just elements used for sustenance but to precious metals and finally to fuel sources.

Spongebob saves Mideast

Nearly everyone in the world clearly understands that the wars between the United States and Iraq were fought in order to protect the oil supply (if you don’t see the connection, then this source from the George Bush administration should prove the point).

What is less well known is that for over a century, the most destructive wars that we’ve ever seen have been tied to oil.

Berlin Baghdad rail route

At the turn of the 20th century, both Britain and Germany were seeing the value of oil as a better fuel their ships. Both nations were vying for control of the Iraq oil fields (sound familiar?) as a rich source of oil after it was discovered there in 1908.
Britain through the Anglo-Persian oil company, and Germany through the Berlin-Baghdad railway.

Close History of Berlin Baghdad Railway

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Sykes-Picot line
Close Sykes-Picot line

Sykes-Picot agreement - Arbitrary line in the sand Wikipedia

In 1916 Britain and France signed the Sykes-Picot agreement which arbitrarily divided the Middle east and the British convinced the Arabians to overthrow the ruling party so that they could take over the oil resources there. It was this competition for oil resources which helped to set off the first ‘great war.’ (link)

In the years leading to World War Two, Hitler spent vast resources supporting Germany’s artificial oil program since the country had no natural oil fields (Britain had put a halt to Germany’s railway). It was only with the assurance of a reliable fuel source that Hitler felt confident enough to launch the first Blitzkrieg.

Meanwhile Japan decided to attack Hawaii only after the U.S. imposed an embargo on it’s oil supply. After the attack, Japan immediately moved to control Vietnam and the Indonesian oil fields. (link) Unknown to most people, oil was also the cause for the only direct control of U.S. soil by Japan during the war. (link)

Close Germany's synthetic oil program

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Wheelboot tank

After the war’s conclusion, the U.S. and Britain orchestrated an overthrow of the Iranian government in order to prevent Iran’s Prime Minister from reducing access to their oil supply. (link)

Vietnam oilfields

Then came Vietnam. Interestingly, there is information that American oil companies believed there to be vast fields of petroleum off the Vietnamese coast (as there was in Indonesia), however the local government was slow to offer lease options. (link) (link) The information on this is murky and opinions are divided, so a little uncertainty still remains.

No regrets

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, the government of Indonesia brutally invaded the small island of Timor with U.S. weapons and additional support from France, Canada, and Australia. ‘It was estimated at the time that the seabed between East Timor and Australia, the ‘Timor Gap’, contained one of the richest oil and natural gas fields in the world.’

Oil was an essential element in a horrible civil war within the democratic Congo. Offshore petroleum resources that were previously held by French companies were offered to Occidental Petroleum which offended the former colonial nation. (link)

No Blood for oil

Oil also played a role in the 30 year Angola civil war which pitted the interests of the USSR against the USA for influence and control over resources there. (link)

In 1984 the Iran/Iraq war expanded to include shipping of oil in the Persian Gulf. This threatened western supply lines and the U.S. got involved in an embarrassing political situation. (link)

Soldiers guard oil terminal
Close Soldiers guard oil terminal

Navy Mobile Security Force guards Basrah oil terminal

In the modern age, less powerful countries all over the world have suffered huge political upheavals due to this almost ubiquitous addiction to fossil fuels. (link). U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan have lost one person, killed or wounded, for every 24 fuel convoys it runs. During the U.S. war in Afghanistan, hundreds and hundreds of these convoys were needed to truck fuel – to run air-conditioners and power diesel generators – to remote bases all over Afghanistan. (link)

U.S. forces take Syria oil fields
Close U.S. forces take Syria oil fields

U.S. forces take Syria oil field The Grey Zone

The new millenium has brought little relief to the less afluent nations of the world. As one region or another becomes exhausted, conflicts over oil in extreme climates and politically unstable regions is becoming even more intense. (link) In regions as far flung as Venezuela, Sudan, Syria, and Ukraine. Wherever oil is found, and wherever a key oil delivery corridor is proposed, conflict is certain to follow.

As global warming becomes more intense, conflicts will errupt over more then just profitable energy sources.

Groceries jet fighter
Close Groceries jet fighter

Screenshot from ‘Hot Shots’ The Movie ©20th Century Fox

Recently, battles over the most essential resources such as water, food, and farmland are being fought throughout the world. However they often fall under the radar because they’re less likely to involve expensive jet fighters.
The huge disparities around both water and food distribution favour the countries with enough money and fuel to maintain military control. The enormous populations which are denied basic needs because of the resources given to animals continues to be a major factor sparking violence throughout the world.

Conclusion

Wow, you made it all the way to the end. Congratulations.

From all of these sources, it’s clear now that both a plant-based lifestyle and a carfree one are essential in order for all of us to continue enjoying our beautiful planet. Boycotting oil whenever possible has a larger effect on our health and the quality of life in cities. People can choose (to some degree) whether they live near an animal slaughtering plant or not and so most people aren’t regularly exposed to the horrors there. However there are very few places in the western world where the spectre of highway pollution (toxic gases, smog, or noise) aren’t felt. The impact on health, the level of stress and the comfort of getting around are all impacted by attachment to high-speed transportation. On the other hand, eating foods made out of animal parts has enormous consequences for our climate, the health of the land on which we live, and our ability to enjoy clean, safe water.

Too eco-friendly

Bloom County by © Berkeley Breathed

Close Too eco-friendly

Bloom County by © Berkeley Breathed

Big ending
Close Big ending

image from 'History of the World P1

There’s two ways that you, dear reader, can respond to this essay. One is to say ‘Aw hell, everything that I do is bad for the planet. I’m just gonna get drunk.’ But the other is to realize that wherever you are at, there is always an opportunity to do more. Simply deciding that you’re vegan and that’s enough or simply accepting that you’re car-free and that’s enough, is to ignore the vast potential that we all have to enjoy a happier relationship with the world. There are people who protest oil pipelines, or who grow all their own food, or build houses out of recycled materials.

Anything that you can do to reduce your impact is great, and . . . you can always do more.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this production.