September/October 1996, p.2

Think Globally, Drive Locally

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Forty years ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the Interstate Highway System, probably the largest public works project ever. Since then, our nation's suburbs have exploded and cities have decayed. Now, President Bill Clinton has proposed doubling the size of the Interstate System, including a 16-lane mega-highway straight through the heartland from Canada to Mexico.

Enough is enough. Each year, more and more Americans drive more and more miles, burning more gasoline, emitting more noxious fumes, and paving over more land to feed our insatiable appetite for motorized transportation. Everybody knows that cars pollute the air and water, but few are willing to confront the extent to which the auto has changed the way we use our land.

It's time for the big seven national environmental groups to start taking some steps to convince Americans to change their driving ways. So far, groups like the National Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund have done little to address the creeping sprawl that is eating small towns, forests, deserts, and farms. While it is laudable that these groups oppose air and water pollution, there is no excuse for ignoring what is by far the biggest threat to the environment: national and global auto dependence.

Contrast the situation here with that in Europe. In Germany, the Green Party leads the way in calling for investment in railroads and bicycle lanes, and for limits on sprawl development. In Britain, an inspiring populist anti-roads and anti-car movement, led in part by Friends of the Earth, has halted the construction of several new roads and brought to a national audience the need for sustainable transportation. Here in the United States, however, the major environmental groups focus on recycling and air pollution. Wake up, NRDC and EDF--if we keep going the way we're going, we can recycle all the cans we want, but the country will be a strip mall.

A recent New York Times editorial found Adam C. Markham, director of the World Wildlife Fund's climate change program, justifying his use of a gas guzzling four-wheeler: "I drive a jeep Cherokee," Markham said, "but I live up a half-mile trail in the country." Apparently it's quite all right for Americans to preach about global warming while leading the league in destructive, wasteful habits. Perhaps the mainstream environmental groups are afraid of alienating the suburban donors who put little stickers on the windows of their Chevy Blazers, which they drive with pride to the local recycling center.

--Brendan Mernin