“Which of us is crazy?” I ask myself every morning as I walk my kids to their school and kindergarten in Jerusalem.
I am pushing a buggy, carrying my laptop over my shoulder and sometimes also a child’s violin or sports bag. They are snarled up in traffic all the way up narrow Ein Gedi Street.
We walk past scores of stationary cars belching exhaust, with edgy drivers tapping on their steering wheels, checking phones or staring lugubriously at the logjam ahead. Who is nuts here? Me for choosing a 20 minute walk to school carrying all this stuff, or them for sitting still for 20 minutes in a gas spewing, $30,000 hunk of metal?
We haven’t owned a car since moving back to Jerusalem a decade ago. First it was about saving money, then it was an environmental thing and now it simply seems mad to have one.
I walk almost everywhere – even to the center of Jerusalem, since the beautiful jogging and cycle path along the old train tracks was opened. Supermarkets deliver to your door and we do more and more shopping online; we can take taxis whenever needed and still save thousands of shekels a month on gas, road tax, insurance, traffic tickets and repairs and I feel fitter and less tense than when I used to drive a car in England.
Sometimes people look at you like not having a car is on a par with living without running water, electricity or underarm deodorant; in fact it’s surprisingly doable.
I do not mean to suggest, heaven forbid, that anyone who drives a car is clinically insane. I realize that most of you who drive feel that there is no rational option not to and probably most people really don’t have a choice. Lousy public transportation and the way our cities and suburbs are designed make owning a car a virtual necessity. Things didn’t get or stay this way by accident. You don’t have to be a paranoid conspiracy nut to realize that with multi-trillion dollar industries at stake there are powerful interests involved in keeping things just how they are. (See for example and also.)
I do mean though, that we are systemically, civilizationally crazy. Think about it: in almost a century since the mass commercialization of the motor vehicle we have invented computers, the internet and smartphones, landed men on the moon, sent space probes to Mars, invented penicillin and created tiny camera pills that take pictures of your insides.
Yet the basic technology of personal transportation, the petroleum-powered internal combustion engine-driven car has remained, (with a few tweaks and refinements), essentially the same: you sit encased in 1-2 tons of steel or aluminium and burn petrol, 90-95% of which is dissipated either in thermal energy or in moving the mass of the car, and only 5-10% is actually used for transporting you.
For God’s sake, human race, is this really the best we can come up with?
And if all that’s not bad enough, this ingenious way of getting us around clogs up cities, emits pollutants that cause lethal childhood asthma and lung cancer, and according to most scientists contributes to dangerous climate change. Moreover, it kills or cripples millions of people every year through accidents, wiping out whole families in an instant of inattention.
Oh yes, and cars put hundreds of billions of dollars every year in the pockets of some of the most hateful, corrupt and oppressive regimes on the planet, including one that frequently reaffirms its intention to wipe the State of Israel off the face of the earth and is vigorously pursuing the means to do so.
If you can live without a car, I urge you to try it. If you are in the North of Israel, the suburbs of Tel Aviv or the English country side, you probably can’t. If you’re in the South West of the United States, forget about it. But if you’re not too far from the center of Jerusalem, New York, Chicago, or most major Western European cities, then there’s a decent chance that you can.
There are occasional inconveniences, but on the whole, you’ll be happier, healthier, richer and safer. You will no longer be bank-rolling people who want us dead, and you’ll greatly reduce your chances of killing or being killing as you go about your daily routine.
And when we collectively figure out a cleaner, saner way of moving from A to B, you’ll have the small satisfaction of knowing that you stopped being part of the problem early and became a little piece of a smarter, more humane future.