This article was originally printed in the Portland Radicle volume #8.
The Earth is dying and our societal sense of self along with it. We have an ever growing human population and ever diminishing resources. We don’t need smart growth, we need smart decline. We don’t need the pursuit of wealth, we need an economy of well-being.
The burning of fossil fuels for energy and transportation is increasing the levels of carbon and methane in Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. This accumulation is causing the planet to heat, ice caps to melt, desertification of farmland, and ocean acidification, which in turn kills phytoplankton, the very basis of the entire food chain. Quite literally, the Earth is dying.
And all the energy efficient light bulbs and hybrid cars and short showers aren’t going to do a damn thing. We scream holy Hell about the corruption on Wall Street, but seem ignorant of the fact that 8 of the 10 richest corporations on Earth drill for oil or destroy mountains for coal. This is capitalism; a terminal system of raping the planet in pursuit of profit. And they’re at no loss for profits because our energy use is continually increasing alongside exponential expansion of the world’s human populations. The oil cartels and auto-manufacturers know they have us addicted.
Or do they?
It’s no accident that car culture drained our cities into soul-deadening suburbs lined with chain restaurants, dealerships, strip malls, and un-walkable 6-lane surface highways. We were sold a lie that the American dream was about ownership of private property, that we needed to buy the land, buy a house, buy a car. We needed to project an image of corporately defined success, and that image manifested into the nightmare sprawl we have now: segregated cul-de-sacs where public transportation simply doesn’t exist, where people no longer know their neighbors, where the ideas of communal living and collectivism are a joke. And the real estate tycoons who lobbied politicians for the highways and freeways that made Sprawlburbia possible knew they’d make billions buying and selling cheap farmland for development. A new way of life for America’s greatest generation.
It’s estimated that car ownership costs between $6,000 to $10,000 annually for gas, maintenance, insurance, payments and such. Today, tens of millions of Americans can barely afford housing, let alone a vehicle. It’s a simple recipe for oppression: build communities and roads so that the only way to get around is by car, make the only career opportunities available minimum wage drive-thru McJobs, then make owning a car so expensive your entire work force is enslaved just to afford their means to get to work. The automobile is the greatest weapon of class war the 1% ever devised. Petroleum is killing our planet and car culture is killing our souls. This capitalist circle of death has imprisoned us, and it’s time to liberate ourselves. In an age when the automobile is literally destroying our way of life, simply riding your bicycle becomes a revolutionary act of resistance.
More and more, young people are moving closer to urban areas where cars are obsolete, connecting with one another in positive social ways, creating and sharing ideas in the kinds of public spaces that simply don’t exist where the automobile reigns. And overwhelmingly, they’re choosing bicycles and public transportation as their method of movement within these spaces. A new culture is taking form via events like Critical Mass and ciclovia-style Sunday Parkways events and via groups centered around actions involving bicycles like Food Not Bombs, Portland and London’s respective Bike Swarm brigades, Seattle’s bike bloc, the San Francisco Bike Calvary; all are signs that bicycles are fundamentally changing the way we think about activism and living our daily lives.
And it has never been easier to get on a bike. I can guarantee you know several people with old bikes in their garage that could be road-worthy with less than 50 bucks maintenance. The diversity and range of different types of bikes accommodates a wide range of body types and physical abilities. You’ve probably seen legendary Portland activist Brian Wilson riding around town on his hand-crank bike, as his legs were lost while he blocked a train carrying military weapons headed for South America. If you are concerned about finding the right sized frame, or have what you consider to be a physical barrier to riding, there are a wealth of people in your community ready to help you out of your car and onto a bike.
Recent studies have shown that new car ownership among the prized consumer demographic of 16 to 34 year olds has decreased over the last ten years by a jaw-dropping TWENTY-FIVE percent! That’s real money we’re talking about, and the collective marketing genius of the auto-industry and Wall Street are scrambling to rebrand this massive youth revolt as merely a passing phase. Recently, Ford Motor Company chief sales analyst Erich Merkle made a comically desperate prediction to CNN: “They might be able to hold off for a period of time, but at some point they will have families, move to the suburbs, and they are going to purchase many, many new cars.” What generation does this guy think he’s talking about?
This isn’t a phase, this isn’t a market trend, it’s a radical shift away from the oppression of the land and our lives that the petroleum paradigm has wrought. As Portland’s own Community Cycling Center’s motto so perfectly articulates: ‘The bicycle is a tool of empowerment and a vehicle for social change.’
Remember that the next time you choose to drive a car in the city. Remember where the profits for filling up at the gas station are going, and remember the damage to the Earth your pollution and carbon are causing. And the next time you choose to ride your bicycle, remember whose profits you’re cutting into, and rejoice at the positive changes you are generating socially and ecologically. It may seem like a small, simple action, but commuting via bicycle is most certainly making a serious fucking difference.
See you in the streets.