by Malcolm McLean and Julie Nadler
On June 1, we moved from Lachine to NDG. To a smaller, more convenient space. The plan for simplifying our lives included this move to live in a village, where we could make better transportation choices. Transportation choices that are better in many ways: for our health and emotional stability; for the planet’s survival; and for our own finances.
Like most Canadians of our era, the automobile is ingrained into our existence. Julie has had her own car since she was 23, the first being a fire-red Volkswagen she bought new for $2999 and drove for 10 years (this happened slightly before the 1990s!). As a teacher at Hudson High and then at Beaconsfield High, unless she wanted to live in those communities she needed to commute. So she has had to rely on a car for 47 years.
Malcolm could not imagine raising a family without a car, but around 2000 realized he could do without. A long period of renting, using Communauto (and sharing and borrowing from friends!) ensued, until around 2011, when a gas-guzzling old Mazda SUV came into his life unbidden. Eventually he turned that into a Prius and felt a bit better about the burden on the planet. Ultimately, however, it was the financial burden that led Julie and Malcolm to consolidate their vehicles to one.
And now there are none. Why were they “driven” to do this? Some friends and family are aghast at this choice. Others are impressed, and some are considering it themselves.
First, anyone who has to drive every day in the Montreal area (especially between Lachine and NDG via Ville St Pierre!) may get the health and emotional part. Surprisingly, however, we tend to deny the physical and emotional toll of driving every day. Road rage is a joke, and traffic cones have become an icon of modern life in Montreal. For our part, since we’ve given up the car, relying on public transit, bicycle, and walking, we can tell the difference in our bodies and our hearts. It used to be our great irony to joke about how getting to the yoga studio was the most stressful part of the day! Now, Julie reports a less stressed and more positive attitude when she arrives to teach her classes.
Second… well, we don’t believe that this is going to save the planet. It is, however, a contribution we can make. Malcolm walks around the city looking at traffic and muttering that we are doomed; worse, damned, because we’re doing it to ourselves with our personal addiction to automobiles and the way our governments, institutions and culture promote, glorify and subsidize the use of petroleum. Julie, while agreeing, will only allow Malcolm a few lines to rant about this at any given moment. She will, however, go on at equal length about how men fetishize cars, and attempt to show how cars are intrinsic to the patriarchal system.
In any case, our generation has put more burden on the planet than any other in history! Our generation may also be the first to even realize the impacts we are having on life on Earth, also the first to deny it.
Reducing carbon footprint is one thing, time to be more creatively environmentalist in other lifestyle choices. Next step: single-use plastics (as Malcolm hands Julie a plastic bottle of Perrier and grimaces: SodaStream for your next birthday, silicon and re-useables thanks Amazon)
Third, financial. We have become inured to the distortion of our transportation choices that comes from owning a car. Apart from the irrational preference once you are committed to $8-10,000 a year or more, it is hard to look at any other choice than driving your car. A trip to Ottawa is a choice between the full cost of a train ticket vs the cost of gas for the car (the price of the car, depreciation, maintenance, insurance, registration etc. are already being paid, they are sunk costs and now the car owns you). It is not an investment, it is constantly losing value. A new bicycle, a metro pass, an occasional Communauto or taxi, or other transportation options add up to far less transportation expense. And less stress.
What change are you prepared to make for the planet? Public surveys are not encouraging; most people in Canada will readily acknowledge the crisis, but grudgingly accept any financial burden, and recoil from the government imposing any change in lifestyle to do something about it. But we each answer for the future of life on earth, and we can change things in our personal spheres.
POSTSCRIPT: We are deep into winter now. We have invested in more appropriate Body and foot ware. As we watch our neighbours digging out their cars, playing parking roulette, and scrambling to organize their movements around snow and ice, we walk. We have no regrets.