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Real Earth Day

Though I had high hopes the United States would be blessed with the presence of the updated VW Microbus--we've been dissed!

By Novella Carpenter

I've been thinking a lot about how the Republicans have captured the hearts and minds of Americans--and why Democrats are failing to do so. One of the reasons, I think, is that the Democrats are perceived by the public as a party that doesn't seem to be for anything, they're just against Republicans. This is a dangerous pattern that progressives, liberals, whatever you want to call us, need to address.

Why not get behind an issue and work together, even though we might not agree on exact methods? I vote for--especially on this Earth Day week--the environment. When I say environment, I don't only mean some perfect untouched piece of wilderness, I mean our backyards and neighborhoods, too.

In a recent Op-Ed piece, Denis Hayes, the national coordinator of the first Earth Day in 1970, wrote, "Our collective memory is populated with white college professors, student radicals and dusty-footed flower children. Yet, thousands of events across the country were multihued and focused on a broad range of real-life issues: freeways dissecting neighborhoods; factories without pollution controls; tailpipes making our biggest cities unlivable."

The environment is simply that: our surroundings. Though some things are better now than they were in 1970 in terms of cars--we don't have leaded fuel anymore--there are still a million transportation issues to take on. For instance, children aboard diesel school buses breathe unhealthy levels of exhaust; asthma rates in poor neighborhoods where big diesel trucks roar by regularly are skyrocketing; and children don't get any exercise, because it's too dangerous to ride their bikes and walk around city streets dominated by cars.

Unfortunately, when I talk to progressives about transportation and air pollution issues, divisiveness rules the conversation. A person will say, "Well, not everyone can do biodiesel." Or "Using solar to recharge an electric car is expensive and only for rich people." Or "I drive a car that I salvaged out of the junkyard so I didn't contribute to all the making of plastics that a new car like a Toyota Prius requires." Or "I ride my bike."

At one point, I made a rough chart of the levels of alternative transportation sainthood (in memory of John Paul): bike, walk--pope; public transportation--cardinal; carpool/car share--bishop; motorcycle/scooter--priest; alternative-fuel single-passenger vehicle--deacon. But when we do things like this, fun as it is, we become victims of our own brand of elitism. Shouldn't we all simply agree that using petroleum at the rate we use it now isn't working and get together to solve the problem by employing a variety of alternatives?

We must work together--this is what the Republicans have done so well: compromising on some issues so that the main issue can be dealt with. What I'm saying is, we need to establish our own church of alternative fuel and cars, with the core values of: (1) cleaner air, (2) independence from foreign oil and (3) a variety of solutions that meet everyone's needs. Diversity will be our savior.

To end on a positive note, here are some things to be excited about. The air car (www.theaircar.com), which runs on compressed air, is being made and sold. Mexico City has signed up to buy thousands of air cars for its taxi fleets. Also, Felix Kramer, of the Prius Plus project, was featured in a New York Times article by Danny Hakim. Kramer, along with a bunch of engineer friends, has modified a Toyota Prius so that it can be plugged in, increasing its already impressive fuel mileage.

Finally, car-sharing companies, such as City CarShare in San Francisco, Zipcar in Boston and Flexcar (www.flexcar.com) in multiple U.S. cities, are catching on. Situations vary, but generally the concept is that most people only use their cars for a few hours a day; with a car-share membership, you are able to access a car almost any time and just pay a monthly fee and mileage costs; the company pays for the car, insurance and fees.

What have you done for your environment lately? Email [email protected]

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From the April 20-27, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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