Monday, August 17, 2009

Transportation

Food was my third post on needs, after air and water. This post on transportation is number thirty-three on my list of needs. Do I think food is a lot more important than transportation? Yes, and I think most people would agree, at least as long as we were talking about food for them versus their need for transportation.

But what if it was our need for transportation as opposed to the food needs of people in some far away country? This isn't an academic question. The early potential for biofuels has become an issue when it became apparent that we could either raise crops for food or for fuel, and using corn to produce ethanol may we mean that there is less cultivated land to grow food on--food that could feed starving people.

I saw a cartoon where a rich man is grabbing an ear of corn away from a poor mother with a crying child, saying "You think your baby is hungry? My SUV is starving!" It's a great example of believing that we can continue to consume as much as we want and, even if there's peak oil, high tech fixes will save us.

Of course, there is the rather clever use of waste vegetable oil as a fuel. While I think it's a trip have in a vehicle spew exhaust that smells like french fries and to the degree that it isn't going to be used for anything else I think it's good, there are problems. At one point, fast food restaurants were delighted to give the stuff away and whole buses were powered by it. But as it's becoming more popular, some restaurants are rethinking this--suddenly waste vegetable oil is becoming a valuable commodity.

But there is a need to get from one place to another. I think the best, most ecological transportation is human powered. The most sustainable method is walking. It's cheaper, healthier, and uses completely renewable resources (ie, food and muscle power). After that comes bicycles and other human powered vehicles. While they require resources for their manufacture and maintenance, they don't need any fuel (other than our bodies) to run. I live in a house where only one person (out of six) has a car. When I moved in I asked how we did large shops. It turns out that we have a bike trailer that all the cyclists (including me) use for shops and other things. It can hold more than six bags of groceries and is useful for many other things as well. I recently heard about someone gathered a small fleet of bikes with trailers and used them to move all of her belongings from her old place to her new place several blocks away.

And if you do need to use vehicles with another source of energy, it's good to share them. Public transit, ride pools, etc, all use nonrenewable energy--but they use less of it to transport more people.

Beware of phony technosolutions. A few years ago, someone I knew let me use her all electric vehicle. It was amazing to drive--it purred along. But when I thought about it, while it didn't give off toxic exhaust, it was powered by electricity that was generated somehow. Somewhere fossil fuels or nuclear power were probably being used. As with other similar 'solutions', having an electric car simply moves the problem out of sight.


Resources:
the American Public transportation Association--A US based advocacy organization supporting public transit
Bamboo Bicycle Trailer--How to build a bicycle trailer using free plans;it uses no welding or tube bending, and can be made any size and from any material
The Bicycle Riding School--They teach anyone how to ride and specialize in teaching adults; they've taught kids as young as three and adults in their 80s; note: I am not unbiased here, Susan (owner and head teacher) is a friend of mine and I've helped out there at times
Green Grease Monkey--A Boston area "company that specializes in converting diesel vehicles to run on vegetable oil"
The Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance--An organization that claims to want to "create a better world through sustainable, community-based biodiesel"; they are working directly with farmers (and groups like FarmAid) and have a list of 'Baseline Practices for Sustainability' that includes energy conservation (ie, recognizing the need to reduce consumption) as well as 'Food Security'
TrailLink.com--The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's interactive map of bike and walking trails

Quote of the Day: "There is more to life than increasing its speed." - Mohandas Gandhi

2 comments:

SoapBoxTech said...

This is why so many people hate to think...it can lead to all sorts of uncomfortable realizations. Those of us who do not have this fear, so much at least, get to deal with those realizations in addition to many of the realizations avoided by the non-thinking.

But we also get the definite benefits, and the chance to try to share them. Thank you for doing so!

MoonRaven said...

Thanks. Yeah, sometimes it's a pain to tease out all the implications for what we do--but, as you say, it has definite benefits.

I appreciate all the good thinking you have been doing on your blog. I know I haven't been around much lately, but I am trying to dig myself out of a time debt created by a new job situation. The job has calmed down but now I'm dealing with the backlash from putting my life on hold.