Electric cars drive me nuts!
The development of cars which run exclusively on electricity sounds like a promising solution to our dependence on petroleum, but it is totally impractical for the forseeable or even the distant future. What prompted me to think about this was the comment that President Busch made during a recent news conference implying that electric cars were a viable possibility. What good would that do? The best have a range of 200 miles with a half-ton battery. It would only be usable for light, short commutes, local errands and…hurry home to plug it in. It would still be drawing upon a power grid fueled by fossil sources contributing to the growing cycle of expense and environmental concerns we suffer from now. Then...what will we do with millions of tons of batteries when they wear out? I’m surprised that the discussions of energy problems we see in the press never mention cycling as a practical alternative.
While cycling is used as a middle class means of transportation in many other societies (Europe being the best example), the Americans insist on spending a fortune developing new ways to sit on their butts. Europeans have for years been paying 4-6 dollars a gallon for gas and I think it no accident they choose to bicycle for short daily errands or commutes. I think Americans should look forward to the same. In Amsterdam, for instance, there are approximately 700,000 people and 600,000 bicycles. The idea of getting in the car to drive 10 blocks to the store is a ridiculous notion to them. I myself have been cycling for over 35 years as an adult and very rarely have time to ride. I started because I had an evening office job as a college student and, having been a good athlete all my life, I couldn’t stand to sit around all day. It wasn’t a matter of money, I just didn’t like to sit around. So every day the weather permitted I would choose my bike rather than my car.
As the years have passed, I continued cycling despite the demands of a business career and family. I have very little time to ride for pleasure and most of the 2-3 thousand miles I ride each year are recorded on local errands. For example, last week I went to the store 4 times for a few items at a time, the Post Office once and to a Scout meeting. That week I rode 60 miles. That amounts to $15 in gas that I didn’t burn and 2500 calories I did. None of those trips were long, difficult or uncomfortable, it was quite nice to be outside enjoying the weather, and I felt better for it. This doesn’t sound like a whole lot until you look at an entire season. Doing this I average 300 miles a month, during an eight month season it amounts to 2400 miles. Since, realistically, the cost of driving a car is approaching 50 cents a mile, I probably save around $1200 dollars a year. Not much, but twice the one time “economic stimulus” payment we are receiving from the government this year. Now consider the effect if half the 300 million Americans learned to do the same. The savings would amount to more than 180 billion dollars every year we could spend on things beyond the petrochemical clutch we’ve chosen in the past. Whether it is spent on dresses, steaks or new placemats, our economy would be continually diversified, new industries and jobs would be created, and more local businesses would be patronized.
There are two major obstacles to this possibility. The first is ego; we have grown to identify our autos as a means of social acceptance and can’t separate ourselves from the symbol of our accomplishment. My experience has proven that adults in the USA classify bicycles in three categories: children’s toys, exotic machines for fitness fanatics, and transportation of last resort for the poverty stricken and disadvantaged. Most people are not fitness fanatics, but they are afraid of what other people might think and would be humiliated if they were seen riding their bike to the store, post office, bank or office even though it just makes sense. The second problem is greater—people are just plain lazy. Americans would rather sit down and eat than do anything else (gas stations don’t sell chili dogs by accident). If you don’t believe me, look at the epidemic proportions of obesity and diabetes in this country. Oh yeah, remember the 2500 calories I burned last week? If you extend that through the season at 300 miles per month you will find I use nearly 30 pounds of fat to fuel my local transportation.
I’ll have a beer and a clean conscience with that chili dog, hold the electric car, thank you!