Friday, December 11, 2015

‘Environmental Justice’ campaign must emphasize personal choices

A cartoon version of Cynthia M. Parkhill, created with the Bitstrips app, stands waving behind a departing bus. She says, "Thanks, driver! Have a great day!" The cartoon panel's caption reads, "Part of the transportation revolution: A growing number of people rely on public transportation."

In correspondence to an organization planning an “Environmental Justice” campaign, I urged that it consider the role of individual choices made by organization members.

In a groundbreaking ruling, Judge Hollis R. Hill in King County, Wash. Superior Court declared that the state has a constitutional obligation to “stem the tide of global warming.” And in August, 21 youths filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon.

But if “the state” has a constitutional obligation, then surely so do its residents through their choices each and every day: Simple actions like commuting by bicycle instead of driving a car. Using $30-plus spent at the pump each week to buy a public transit system pass that is good for the entire month.

Since June 2014, my family has been part of the 12 percent of U.S. households that do not own a car. (The statistic comes from the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, citing a 2009 National Household Travel Survey.)

During the last 12 months, I saved $477 in gasoline consumption and saved 64 gallons of gas. By not driving 1,416 miles, I prevented 1,256 pounds of CO2 emissions (figures calculated by Drive Less Connect ride-reporting database).

A “climate crisis” organization declared that “Most of us cannot immediately give up our cars,” and sadly this is true. The bike and public-transit infrastructure simply isn’t yet there, especially in isolated rural communities.

But it shouldn’t be allowed to become an excuse for not even attempting a change.

I urge this organization’s “Environmental Justice teams” to be part of committed sustaining action to build public transit and bicycle infrastructure, to encourage a shift one car-trip at a time by considering another option and to promote safe co-existence of autos and bicycles upon our roadways.

You cannot simultaneously demand “Environmental Justice” while ignoring individual impacts. Personal actions need to be the centerpiece of any “Environmental Justice” campaign, even while pursuing fairer policies and wider societal shifts.


  1. All of this is commendable. But for those of us living in places where public transit is inaccessible, and are either Old or Infirm and cannot ride a bicycle, then a car is the only alternative as a life sustaining device. There's another issue: The automobile has always provided the freedom to move about one's territory and country at will; public transit in its current state does not allow such travel and certainly no one expects anyone to go from California to New York on a bicycle on a business trip.
    States are paralyzed by money and politics, similar to the Federal Government.
    Therefore it's unrealistic to expect the State to take responsibility or take a leadership role in environmental issues. And it's not the State's problem. It is as Cynthia points out, an individual responsibility. And frankly, the whole enviornment issue should of been addressed at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in this Country. Now, it's too late.

  2. It's true that we have a long way to go. Another "climate crisis" organization declared that "Most of us cannot immediately give up our cars," and sadly this is true especially in rural communities.

    The bike and public-transit infrastructure simply aren't yet there. But that reality shouldn't become an excuse for not even attempting a change.

    We need public transit and bicycle infrastructure, and we need to build it now. No one should be stranded if they are unable to drive a car, and driving a car should not be the only available option.