Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Taking responsibility for my role in the oil spill catastrophe

I've never been to coastal Louisiana, but I have spent plenty of time in Florida's Gulf waters. For instance, a childhood friend and I snorkeled in the Santa Rosa Sound for days on end during annual vacations with his family. We kept notebooks in which we logged the species of fish we'd seen. These are fond boyhood memories. Generations of children will likely be denied the chance to create similar memories of their own.

Oil could begin washing up on the beaches of Pensacola as soon as today.

There's plenty of anger to go around with blame being focused on BP, the federal government and even "Extreme Greenies." I'm angry, too. But I have no right to be. The truth is I am partially to blame for what's happening in the Gulf of Mexico. Each of us, who grasps a steering wheel when we have other means to get where we are going, has oil on our hands.

It's true that many of us must drive every single day because of job requirements or health issues. Others — by choice or circumstance — live in places where automobiles are the only way in and out of our neighborhoods. As a nation we have spent the last half century and untold fortunes reconfiguring our lifestyles, landscapes and livelihoods around cars. As a result, many of us have no choice but to keep filling up our gas tanks as the oil keeps gushing into the gulf and washing up on beaches.

Still, many of us do have a choice and we choose to keep driving. In a written statement to the House Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming last year, League of American Bicyclists president Andy Clarke presented these findings from the Department of Transportation’s National Household Travel Survey:

"In our metropolitan areas, more than 40 percent of all trips are two miles or less – a very manageable bike ride – and more than one-quarter are just one mile or less. Furthermore, the data shows that within that 28.3 percent of the trips that are one mile or less in urbanized areas, 65.7 percent are made by auto. This means that 18.6 percent of all trips in metropolitan areas are auto trips that are one mile or less."

How many daily car trips in Savannah do these statistics describe? How many of my car trips fall into this category? Too many. I helped increase the insatiable demand for oil that turned risky propositions like the Deepwater Horizon into viable (and profitable) ventures. I can feel guilty or hopeless about the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. Or I can begin to wash the oil off my hands. Bob Herbert wrote about the choice yesterday in the New York Times:

"The first thing we can do is conserve more. That’s the low-hanging fruit in any clean-energy strategy. It’s fast, cheap and easy. It’s something that all Americans, young and old, can be asked to participate in immediately. In that sense, it’s a way of combating the pervasive feelings of helplessness that have become so demoralizing and so destructive to our long-term interests."

Since I started this blog almost five years ago, transportational bicycling has become part of my daily life. So much so that it became too unremarkable to write about. I have, however, yielded to the temptation to drive more often than I like to admit. Perhaps I was pressed for time, worried about the weather or simply being lazy. Each time I've climbed behind the wheel when I really didn't have to, I increased my share of responsibility for the now unfolding environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. What's more, by choosing to drive I forfeited the health, economic and overall happiness benefits I could have enjoyed if I'd ridden my bike instead.

I'll continue to post at Sustainable Savannah, but I will again start using this blog to track my personal progress toward the goal of riding more and driving less. I hope I can inspire others to do the same. I'm not kidding myself. I know that I will have to drive for longer trips and that oil is part of almost everything I buy. It's even a part of nearly everything I eat. While I can and will take steps to reduce my consumption of oil in these areas, I can exercise greater and more immediate control over how I move around my community.

I am not helpless. I have a choice. Join me.


Heidi said...

I haven't been in the Jetta since May 30. (I think.) Can we make it a week? I'm up for the challenge.

Nicole said...

Well stated. I know plenty of people who have oil on their hands here in NYC -- even though there are so many alternate transportation options. Just last weekend I bought an unlimited fun pass metrocard but only used it twice. The weather was beautiful and my friends and I just walked. Give yourself a little extra time and bike or walk where you need to go, it's easy and fun. Try it, you'll like it!