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?
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).
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.
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 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)
Based on data from UN FAO & World Bank. Licensed CC by Hannah Ritchie & Max Roser
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)
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.
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)
image from World Wildlife Fund
Some Good News
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
The more that we embrace sensible transportation the more city governments will support it, and vice-versa.
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,
refrigerators, or even
a bicycle powered mobile building
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.
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
- Cost of car crashes
- Building and repairing roads, bridges, & tunnels
- Tax subsidies to the oil industry
- Cost of sprawl
- Medical care
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.
Travel cost per mile, from ‘VTPI’
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).
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.'
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.
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).
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.
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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
||Speed kmh (mph)
||Typical city peak driving.
||Traffic becomes irregular
|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)
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)
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)
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.
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.
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)
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
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.
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.’
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).
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.
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.
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.
Dr. Kamaljit Singh M.D. (AM) PhD
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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)
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
From ‘Livable Streets’ by Appleyard, Gerson, & Lintell
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?
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?
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.
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?
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.
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)
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)
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 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.
Imagine if your daily commute sounded like this Amsterdam street?
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
This wasn’t always the case though. Before the 1920s, people saw nothing unusual in walking in or across the street wherever it was convenient. Business interests at the time had a well-documented role in demonizing the use of the road by people who weren’t using a car.
Loving Dogs and Eating Pigs
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.
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)
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:
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.
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.
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.
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)
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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.
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.
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)
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)
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.
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.
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.
Bloom County by © Berkeley Breathed