carfree conversation

Sept. 22 was World Carfree day, a day meant to urge people to travel via bike, bus, train or on foot, just so they saw how they could get around without using their cars. Transportation accounts for 28 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, so people can have a big impact on reducing that number if they reduce their driving.

But of course, there are the pro-car-industry types that want to ridicule this day. Competitive Enterprise Institute, a public interest group dedicated to “free enterprise and limited government” thinks that World Carfree day is dumb — one of my co-workers ended up on their mailing list (definitely by accident) and they said this about the day:

Tuesday is World Car-Free Day.  That means you’re supposed to walk, or bicycle, or take a bus, to make some sort of anti-car, anti-prosperity statement.  Good luck getting to and from the grocery store.  Even more fun if it rains (and can you imagine if this day were scheduled in the dead of winter?).  The fact is, the automobile plays a major role in making our lives happen – it empowers all of us to get where we need to go (not to mention respond to emergencies).

At first, I was just incensed because of the sheer ignorance: the claim that you can’t get from point A to point B without a car. And with rain? Sheesh, I always jump in my car when it’s raining and I’ve got to get the mail. But when my friend commented that she felt smug on carfree day because she didn’t have a car and was always carfree, I realized she wasn’t the smug one — CEI was.

About one in 10 people doesn’t have a car, and the mocking tone in CEI’s assessment of people not driving is a slap in the face to people who choose not to or can’t afford a personal car. By associating not having a car with being “anti-prosperity,” CEI is claiming that the path to prosperity lies in the ability to own a car. Although for some this is true — people who don’t own cars are limited in job choice because they must rely on walking, biking, or whatever public transit is in their city — are these people at CEI going to assume that the carless are against bettering themselves?

The CEI e-mail leaves out those people who can’t afford a car — they claim a car is empowering, it gets us where we need to go; well, at least 10 percent of the American population is left to wonder if they should feel bad about themselves and disillusioned because they don’t own a car. Carfree day for some is an attempt to try out life without a car, but the reality is that many people don’t have a car and survive just fine.

Should they feel like they’ll never amount to anything without a car? Of course not. A car is not the devil, but it’s also not the end-all, be-all of transportation. You can go to the grocery store, walk or bike around in *gasp* weather that isn’t 72 degrees and sunny, and be a hard-working individual without a car. For many people, its carfree day every day, and the CEI is quite ignorant to claim that someone who doesn’t drive is someone who doesn’t want to prosper — although many people don’t drive because it’s a political statement, many people don’t drive because they don’t have the economic bandwidth to finance it.

When you mock the “liberals” (it’s obvious to me that an interest group that is limited government probably is assuming carfree day is a liberal event) who attempt to live carfree for one day, you’re mocking the people who live carfree everyday — whether by choice or not.

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