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Excuse or Goal?

2009 March 25
by Julie Clawson

The other day I saw a car with a bumper sticker that said “I’m Saving for a Hybrid.” My first reaction was to smile and think “I so totally agree.” (not that I’m actually saving for one since that’s way out of our getting through seminary budget, but I wish I were). But I resonated with the idea – I wish I could be driving a more eco-friendly car.

Then I had to wonder at the need to advertise one’s justification for not driving a hybrid. Are people so worried that they are being judged that they need to apologize for what they are not doing? I personally get this a lot. My friends and family are starting to realize my commitment to sustainable living and ethical consumption. So much so that they now apologize to me for actions like serving non-fair trade coffee or using paper plates. It reminds me of the tendency for people to apologize to conservative Christians when they say a curse word.

But then I asked myself if that is really such a bad thing (and yes, it’s quite common for me to argue with myself – I’m weird, I know). I’m not a fan of guilt as a motivation, but is it really such a bad thing to admit that there is a better way even if you are not there yet? I personally find more hope in hearing people say they are working towards a sustainable future than in some of the recent SUV commercials I’ve heard (i.e. ‘now that gas prices are down, it’s the perfect time to buy a luxury SUV”). I think it goes beyond guilt to the reality of attainable solutions. This statement doesn’t have to be an excuse or a justification, but a goal. It is someone talking about the basic things they are doing to help change the world.

At least, that’s how I like to see it.


8 Responses leave one →
  1. March 25, 2009

    Thanks for this. My wife and I find ourselves in the place of needing a new (i.e., new to us, which is to say, used) car after hers gave up the ghost a couple of weeks ago. The balancing act of what we should do vs. what we feel able to do is stressful in and of itself….

  2. March 25, 2009

    Good thoughts. I’ve always thought that guilt that leads to repentance is good and guilt that leads to shame is destructive. If my feelings of guilt are leading me to change the way I drive/shop/etc. then that’s a good thing. If my feelings of guilt are leading me to feel bad as I continue to drive/shop/etc. the way I always have then what’s the point?

  3. Don permalink
    March 25, 2009

    I’d like to be saving for just about anything other than a car, hybrid or not.

    Americans’ lives are so car-dependent, and have been for so long, that almost nobody remembers what it was like before there were cars cluttering up our streets and polluting our neighborhoods with exhaust and intolerable noise. Only those Americans who have had the pleasures of living for a time in European cities where cars are unnecessary, where one can walk to buy bread or a newspaper, and where one can take a train or streetcar just about anywhere one wants to go (and the trains are fast, too!) have any idea what a huge social, economic, and cultural–as well as ecological–burden America’s car culture has become, not to mention the blighted urban/suburban environment it has helped create.

    And our new Administration, once again, is putting billions of dollars to fix up the aging highway infrastructure, while only committing a relatively small amount to public transit and rail. Of course, at least they’re putting SOME money into those things; that’s a positive change in itself.

    Our car culture is unsustainable and it is bankrupting us. While I applaud the desire to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles (we own two Corollas ourselves), it’s time to “think outside the box” about transportation options.

    Any ideas what we can do to begin the change?

  4. March 25, 2009

    I say bring back the horse and buggy.

    At least I’d have a rationalization for owning a horse as a necessity instead of an expensive hay burner…

  5. March 25, 2009

    Kester – good distinction

    Don – I personally don’t think we will ever move past personal transportation – we are too used to it. I think the answers lie in alternative fuels like algae based biodiesels… at least until they perfect transporter technology :)

  6. March 25, 2009

    Good points Don. I’d love it if our country and cities would invest a lot more in public transportation. I’d take a train a lot more myself if it were an option. In fact, I’m really excited about the new commuter rail line opening here in Austin next week. Now if they can just get a passenger rail line between Austin and Waco before I have to start commuting up there. :)

  7. Don permalink
    March 26, 2009

    Julie wrote:
    “I personally don’t think we will ever move past personal transportation – we are too used to it. I think the answers lie in alternative fuels like algae based biodiesels… at least until they perfect transporter technology.”

    Beam me up, Julie. :-)

    More seriously, personal transportation isn’t going away, nor should it. Even Europeans have their own cars, after all.

    But the problem is that we’re running up against the affordability question. Yes, even here in America, with our supposed limitless wealth. We’ve already seen the crash caused by Peak Credit. Peak Oil isn’t running very far behind, if it hasn’t already occurred. And alternative fuels have yet to prove themselves in a truly viable way. Maybe someday we’ll be running cars, trucks, and buses on gin or cow manure (or maybe banana peels, like Back to the Future), but it’s not viable for now. Electric cars might be the most viable alternative right now, but the most practical electric cars (in terms of driving range) are plug-in hybrids, and that means they also have gasoline engines.

    Gasoline isn’t going to remain cheap. We witnessed a little taste of the future last summer. High prices are coming back, and they’re likely to go even higher. And we’re getting to the point that we can no longer afford the tremendous costs of highway maintenance. There’s no political will to increase gasoline taxes (the most viable way to pay for road maintenance), and the alternative–taxing motorists on a per-mile-driven basis–has Big Brother overtones attached.

    Finally, Americans aren’t even beginning to count the tremendous social costs of our auto-only transportation monoculture. Isolation, destruction of community, impoverishment of small towns and rural areas, segregation of people according to economic status, etc.; these are all tangible costs associated with our car culture, though it’s impossible to put a monetary cost on them.

    These are things, I believe, that Christians should be concerned with, because one purpose for the Christian church, of course, is building community. How can we build community when we spend so much of our time isolated from one another in our sealed mobile capsules?

  8. Don permalink
    March 27, 2009

    Mike Clawson wrote:

    “Now if they can just get a passenger rail line between Austin and Waco before I have to start commuting up there.”

    Are you going to be attending seminary at Baylor, Mike?

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