Numerous studies are showing that Americans are driving less. Younger people no longer see buying their first car as an eagerly anticipated rite of passage. Fewer own cars for reasons ranging from cost—they're paying off student loans, not making major purchases—to the fact that many are moving back to cities where a car is not only not a necessity but a costly nuisance. The number of miles driven by the population as a whole has been declining for years for many reasons, not just the cost of gas. So the trend is unlikely to reverse, despite the drop in gas prices. And that's good news in more ways than you might think.
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1. It's good for your bank account. Between payments, upkeep, insurance and gas, owning a car can take a major bite out of a household budget. While a post-World War II culture had a fetish for cars and saw them as a form of entertainment, today they're more like a utility that fills a need. If that need is filled by walking, bicycling or public transportation, personal costs drop steeply. That frees up income to use in other more enjoyable ways than getting your brakes fixed.
2. It's good for local businesses. Because it eliminates that major drain on people's budgets, a critical mass of carless people has more money to spend on activities like eating out, patronizing entertainment options or giving to worthy causes. Walkable urban cores attract carless younger people, which fuels everything from entrepreneurship to active nightlife. On the other end of the spectrum, it also attracts retirees and empty-nesters who want to give up their cars now that they no longer have to drive kids to soccer practice and music lessons. They're likely to patronize a city's cultural offerings, restaurants and stores.
3. It's good for infrastructure efficiency. Growth in denser urban cores rather than far-flung suburbs is more sustainable. Suburbs with their malls, shopping strips and business parks grew up around freeway exits as car-dependency increased in the ’50s and ’60s, starting a vicious cycle of infrastructure attracting population and population requiring infrastructure. Whether it was roads, schools or water systems, that infrastructure was duplicative and costly as it served a more geographically spread-out population. It also often meant abandonment of existing infrastructure—see: Detroit—creating an incalculable amount of waste. Giving up cars has helped fuel the recycling and reuse of that older infrastructure.
4. It's good for diversity. Living in more densely populated urban areas puts people in constant contact with those of different races, cultures, socio-economic classes and ideas. Entrepreneurial immigrants are more likely to settle in urban areas to start businesses, offering residents the chance to become familiar with customs and cultures from around the world. Interacting with people who aren't mirror reflections of yourself tends to raise awareness of and sensitivity to the interests and needs of others.
5. It's good for your personal health. Not having a car means that you tend to walk more. If you take public transit, chances are you'll walk at least a short distance at both ends of your trip. More people are turning to bicycles too, with infrastructure like bike racks, bike "boxes" which lock up your bike and keep it safe from the elements and bike-sharing programs growing. Regular, moderate physical activity is an essential component in maintaining a healthy weight, keeping the heart and lungs in shape, building muscle and bone strength, and staving off a whole host of chronic diseases.
6. It's good for public health. Less obesity and fewer chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure mean a healthier populace overall. That decreases the strain on the health care system and in turn leads to lower health care costs for everyone.
7. It's good for the air we breath. Despite reductions in harmful emissions from auto exhaust in the last several decades, cars are still a major source of carbon pollution, spewing a variety of harmful chemicals into the air. Fewer cars on on the road means cleaner air for everyone to breath and a reduction in many chronic conditions, especially respiratory diseases such as asthma.
8. It's good for the planet. Transportation is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions which fuel climate change. Electric cars are a small-scale solution and very expensive, unlikely to lure many people who have given u their cars back to car ownership. Fewer cars on the road means slowing the rate of climate change-driven global warming. And that's not just beneficial—it's critical for the Earth's survival.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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