America Doesn’t Fit in a Tesla (or a Prius)

The transportation sector accounts for almost a third of our nation’s total carbon emissions, and most of those emissions come from “light-duty vehicles,” i.e. the cars most of us use to get around almost everyday to almost everything. As a result, one of the EPA’s main recommendations for reducing transportation’s carbon footprint is for Americans to buy more fuel efficient vehicles (see their handy fact-sheet here). 

But just like with the climate crisis as a whole, the problem with our transportation sector runs deeper than convincing individuals to buy greener personal vehicles: It’s a systemic issue rooted in historic and present racial and economic inequalities, and it shows up in our lackluster public transportation systems and in the ways our cities are constructed with cars as the central actors, not to mention the public health issues from tailpipe pollution which disproportionately impact communities of color. Though driving an electric or hybrid vehicle is a great step towards lowering one’s personal emissions, it’s not a feasible option for many Americans, and we need change to happen at a much larger scale.

These changes could look like more stringent emissions rules from the EPA, or more federal incentives for building and buying electric cars, but city and state commitments to building larger, more dynamic, and just better public bus or train systems could have the greatest impact. Nimbyism and huge price tags are big barriers to such projects, but the rewards would be huge as well, as iImproving our nation’s transportation system would have a much greater impact than just lowering carbon emissions. We have the opportunity to save lives through improved air quality, and greater physical mobility would spur upwards economic and social mobility. As Aaron Gordon writes in a Vice article about American public transportation, 

“Allowing people to move about their cities cheaply, efficiently, and quickly makes cities more productive and better places to live and has numerous knock-on public health, environmental, social, and economic effects… It ought to be as natural a government service as trash collection.”

Transportation is just another example of how climate intersects with all sorts of other social issues, and though demanding a greener, more accessible transportation system may seem intimidating, it is certainly worthwhile. And with that, I’ve got some transportation-themed, movement-building actions for you all to take a look at this week:

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