Editorials

VINCE’S ANNUAL EARTH DAY RANT: DRIVING OURSELVES INTO OBLIVION

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Earth Day 2011Today is Earth Day, the once-a-year holiday on which everyone pretends they’re environmentally conscious. Last year I posted a rant with a few really easy changes everyone can make in their every day lives that can have a big impact on the environment. I highly recommend you check that out; it’s amazing how together we can make a really big difference, and how easy it is to do so.

This year’s rant will be a little different, more sardonic and pessimistic. In short, we’re fucked. The reliance of most Americans on cars to get us ANYWHERE will leave us at the mercy of oil companies forever and ever ad infinitum, and it’s our own faults. Worse, most people lack awareness of this simple fact, or even worse, deny it outright. The point of this year’s rant is to draw attention to something we all take for granted, the car, and its inherent wastefulness.

People blame the oil companies, blame politicians, blame their neighbors… blame anyone at all for the high price of gas, for oil spills, for the rising costs of everyday goods. But the real culprit is you; you’re creating the conditions that cause these problems, and you’re doing it by driving your car every single day.

Axl and I just spent 5 days in L.A. hanging out, going to the Revolver Golden Gods Awards, meeting with record labels and friends… and driving. And driving. And driving. And driving. “Big deal,” you say. Well, to us it is; we take public transportation just about everywhere in NYC, we walk to get our groceries, and a car ride always feels like a special occasion. Not so in L.A.; I feel like at least half of my week was sucked away sitting in traffic, going from place to place. I couldn’t stop thinking about the environmental ramifications of it all; so much gas, so much oil, just burnt away at the expense of a luxurious but wholly inefficient city. How many gallons of gas are used in L.A. daily? Hundreds of thousands? Millions? Billions? A fuck of a lot.

Driving gives you a lot of idle time to reflect, and I chose to do my reflecting on driving itself: America is ill-equipped to deal with any oil shortage because our very livelihood, our every day lives, is inextricably tied to oil. Everyone in this country relies on their cars and therefore relies on oil. L.A. isn’t the exception, it’s the rule: cities with good public transportation like NYC and San Francisco are rare, while rapidly expanding southern cities like Houston, Atlanta and Phoenix have traffic woes that eclipse even L.A.’s legend. Most folks live not in the city centers of these places — which are basically ghost towns clogged with cars during work hours and empty at night — but out in the suburbs or exurbs. Cars aren’t a luxury, they’re necessary for every facet of everyday life as we know it.

Here’s the thing most people don’t realize: cars are a huge luxury. The entire way of standard American life in the 2010’s — using a car to get everywhere — is incredibly luxurious. Energy resources are finite, whether we talk about drilling in the gulf, drilling in Alaska, exploring natural gas deposits, continuing mountain-top removal coal mining… all these things will eventually run out, and the rate of consumption of them is only increasing. Wind and solar power are good renewable alternatives, but I’m not sure how viable they are on the large scale needed to fuel our ever-growing population. So what the fuck are we to do, then? Reduce our reliance on oil by making serious lifestyle changes… it’s the only way. And it will not be easy.

Forget trying to reduce oil dependence by eating locally and seasonally, boycotting bottled water, not using plastic bags, etc etc; all that stuff is great but pales in comparison to the amount of oil America uses on everyday personal driving. The worst part is that it is wholly avoidable, but everyone insists on having their house in the burbs or countryside that’s isolated from anything useful within walking distance and too spread out to make public transportation a viable option.

I believe there will come a time in American history when oil is at such a shortage or so expensive that people will realize they’ll have to ditch their expensive suburban lifestyle in favor of a less oil-dependent urban one. The only time any serious change in this country happens is when there’s an economic motive, so perhaps that motive is right around the corner as gas prices inch towards $5.00/gallon… or perhaps it’s a little farther off with some kind of doomsday scenario. Can you imagine if all oil supplies were suddenly cut off? We’d all be completely fucked, unable to even get food and water.

I’m not so much advocating everyone up and ditch their suburban homes and flock to the cities right this moment as I am advocating general awareness. Awareness that living a lifestyle that requires a car to go anywhere is not a right, nor is it normal; it’s incredibly luxurious (relative to the history of the world) and it’s incredibly wasteful. All I’m asking you to do is think about it. We COULD all live in cities and be exponentially more efficient with our use of oil, but the prosperity of America such as it is and the abundance of oil (for now) allows us not to. This can and will change in the future out of necessity. I realize that for most Americans life without a car is as foreign as seeing donkey balls on a restaurant menu… but just think about it. Driving everywhere is so common right now that most people haven’t stopped to think about how wasteful it is and how our chosen lifestyles are, in fact, really fucking posh. So, think about it and reflect. That’s all I’m asking.

Happy earth day.

-VN

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