When trends converge: Boycotts, bicycles and a car culture in decline?

In recent days, I’ve heard a lot about boycotting BP to punish it for the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Boycotts against companies have in many ways become the default American reaction against behavior we don’t like. Perhaps we have become resigned to idea that our main role in our economy and society is to consume. American consumers (formerly known as American citizens) vote with our wallets. And, we are told, we should vote against BP by withholding our business. Seems straight forward enough.

The problem is our dependence on oil is bigger than the Gulf of Mexico and bigger than BP. Deepwater Horizon is arguably the largest and most publicized example of our tragic addiction to oil, but it is no way the first. Our national failure to consider more sustainable ways to live, work and get from place to place will continue to cause us increasingly severe and eventually debilitating environmental, military, political, financial and human rights headaches. And as we move on down the right hand side of the Peak Oil curve, these problems will become more numerous and difficult to solve.

Boycotting BP, then, is kind of like switching from Marlboros to Camels to spite Phillip Morris, while continuing to smoke two packs a day. We might feel vindicated in the short term and RJ Reynolds will be happy to take our money, but we’ll suffer the same terrible consequences in the end.

While our addiction to oil has shown up only at the margins of the national debate of how to best punish BP, some interesting things are happening in the background. As summarized by Richard Florida in The Great Car Reset: “Younger people today – in fact, people of all ages – no longer see the car as a necessary expense or a source of personal freedom.” If fewer young people falling in love with automobile culture, for whom are we continuing to build automobile infrastructure? In a cruel twist of fate, we may be creating it for people now (including our families and ourselves), who will become imprisoned by it later. The question is how much more money and effort we will devote to building an automobile-centric transportation system that future generations will not need and that will work against the interests of the people who are currently demanding it? How many more disasters will we tolerate to feed our demand for oil?

A local trend of note was reported yesterday by the Savannah Bicycle Campaign. A recently completed bicycle census finds that bicycle use in Savannah has increased dramatically, or at least was seriously underestimated in the past. Either way, there is more excellent news about who is riding in Savannah. As described here, “Women are considered an ‘indicator species’ for bike-friendly cities”:

“If you want to know if an urban environment supports cycling, you can forget about all the detailed ‘bikeability indexes’—just measure the proportion of cyclists who are female,” says Jan Garrard, a senior lecturer at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, and author of several studies on biking and gender differences.

Savannah saw a 33 percent increase in the proportion of women cyclists over the 2009 census number. That’s even more reason to provide additional bicycle infrastructure. It also offers cause to pause before spending mountains of money on road projects that will keep us hooked on driving in the short term.

This entry was posted in Advocacy, Climate Change, Conservation, Economics, Health, Land Use, Transportation on by .

About John Bennett

Transportation, land use, local farming and green building are all potential topics for Sustainable Savannah. The goal is to aggregate content about local events and projects, so there will be a central place to review everything that’s happening. The site is aimed at encouraging collaboration and information sharing between groups and individuals currently engaged in sustainability efforts. The site can also provide a snapshot of Savannah for green-minded people who are considering visiting or moving to the area.

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