The recent furor over emissions standards in Vermont perfectly illustrates the hostage situation that has become our daily lives. Somewhere along the way – probably around the time US oil production peaked in 1970 – the association between “automobile” and “freedom” began to fray. And now, it’s become almost unbearably clear: We are slaves to our cars and by extension, the industries that provide those cars and the fuel they require.
It’s something of an irony that in here in rural Vermont, where so many of us lead otherwise environmentally and politically progressive lives, the car has such a stranglehold on our wellbeing. I think of my family: Smugly off-grid, virtuously raising much of our own food, conscientiously recycling and reusing. And inexorably linked to our motors, to the tune of nearly 20,000-miles per year.
Granted, some of this travel is purely recreational. I think of all my trips to Mad River and Jay Peak; my wife’s travels with the children to play dates and libraries. But much of it isn’t so frivolous. Groceries. Visits to the doctor. A load of hay for the cows.
Part of me is optimistic. Part of me wants to believe that we can bargain our way out of our predicament by rebuilding our communities and creating the localized economies that once existed throughout the US. But the realist in me knows we’ve got a ways to go. The automakers are challenging our proposed emissions law. The very fact that we’re airing their empty concerns is proof that we’ve got a long, long road ahead of us.