Political and Environmental Impact of Just Getting Around

I’ve been thinking about some stuff on the way to Frankfurt. I’m listening to “When You Ride Alone, You Ride With bin Laden,” an audio book by comedian Bill Maher. I’ll wager the guy makes some serious sense to you, no matter on which side of the aisle you feel more at home in Congress. Check it out.

Here are some points he makes on the first disc that hit home with me this morning:

  • Americans since WWII treat gasoline as if it were a life-sustaining element like air or water.
  • We throw a tantrum whenever even a small price increase happens on things for whch we already have a pretty good price (compared to the rest of the world) — he names postage as an example alongside the price of a gallon of gasoline.
  • Our standards are illogical. We get upset when we have to pay $2 a gallon to go 10 miles in “the Couchmobile” but tip the valet dude $5 for him to go 10 feet.
  • Conservation is the only short-term option, but it would help a lot. Overall fuel efficiency improvements to the tune of less than 3 mpg would completely eliminate our dependency on oil from the Persian Gulf.
  • What’s up with our car culture? He attributes this to Americans, but from my perspective it’s alive and well here in Germany as well. Why must every new car model be billed “a totally new driving experience?”

    “A totally new driving experience would be a car with wings. Otherwise everything is still basically a Chevy.”

    “Wouldn’t it be great to go to a PTA meeting in a TANK?”

  • Whose agenda are we really serving?

    “Being slaves to cheap oil has corrupted our politics, threatened our environment and funded our enemies and had us doing the dirty work for a lot of royalist dirtbags in the Middle East for a long time.”

This morning before getting on the train, I realized I’ve been traveling so much lately, a frequent-rider card for me would make sense for the company as well. Below are all the trips I have or will have taken by car or train that would have been conceivable by train and taxi in basically the last four months:

October 31: Frankfurt
November 2: Frankfurt
November 8: Frankfurt
November 9: Frankfurt
November 16: Frankfurt (except that I was out that week due to my gall bladder removal)
November 27: Würzburg (overnight stay)
November 28: Frankfurt
[Not sure what travel would have been required of me if I’d not been on vacation until December 18th]
December 19: Nuremberg
January 11: Ingolstadt
January 22: Nuremberg (workshop, overnight stay)
January 23: Nuremberg
January 25: Ingolstadt
February 1: Frankfurt
February 11: Nuremberg (except it got cancelled because someone got sick)
February 15: Frankfurt
February 25: Frankfurt

To be sure, I’ve got a lot of inter-regional travel going on here. I’ve had to miss at least one meeting in Hanover, too (I think I was on vacation or perhaps out during my surgery).

There’s a lot happening via various teleconferencing solutions. Those can be tricky when you’re network-hopping — which I will be doing a lot while network infrastructure issues as a result of the sale of my company from one corporate parent to another are sorted out. And where possible members on our team carpool on business trips. But even carpooling still means someone has to drive, and after a couple of road trips to and from Frankfurt up and down the A3 on Friday afternoons, you learn quickly: driving under those conditions is neither pleasant nor productive. At the smallest level, I’m the only person on my little team in Germany, and I’m the only person related to Purchasing Systems in Regensburg, so I am often traveling by myself. And let’s not forget: the train doesn’t drop you off at the office doorstep. You still have to get from a Hauptbahnhof to the office park or local HQ from the train station somehow. That usually means taking a taxi (not exactly cheap) in addition to the cost of the train ticket (even if it’s reduced by the frequent-rider card). From what I’ve heard, public transportation (bus, subway, or tram) to/from the train station at any of these office I’ll be visiting regularly is really only viable in Regensburg.

So, I’ve decided to ask my company to spring for a BahnCard 50 or at least 25 for me. I don’t really expect the number of road trips to be sustained over the next phase of our integration into the new corporate structure, but despite carpooling and virtual conferencing, I see more travel ahead for me. Our team assistant says 6 trips to Frankfurt and back per year are required before a BahnCard 50 pays for itself. I really should have asked for one of those right up front. But I don’t expect to stop traveling to these other locations altogether over the next year. And over the past 4 years here in Regensburg, along with repeated trips back to North America just to remind me, I’ve learned something important:

View from up in the village of Saint MayI like driving for pleasure on little country roads through places like Provence or Oberammergau or Brenner, but not really very much anywhere else. Anywhere else, it’s loud, a little scary, and generally stressier than I’d like to be.

rainstorm on the waySo here’s to improved emphasis on mass-transit. I can’t honestly say I moved to Germany to get away from driving my truck (and I do miss my Dad’s truck), but I can definitely say it’s one of the factors keeping me here.

6 thoughts on “Political and Environmental Impact of Just Getting Around”

  1. rositta

    I am a an of Bill Maher, generally although I have a few problems with his ideas. Yes, our dependence on oils is obscene but what are the alternatives? The sheer size of North America makes getting around easily without a car very difficult. I can’t even do my marketing without one. There isn’t a store within any kind of walking distance, unlike Germany. The train service other is also incredibly bad in comparison to Europe. Bus service in my city doesn’t cater easily to people with disabilities and then there is the matter of carrying your groceries home. What’s a girl to do… The size of our vehicles, sure they are larger than Europe but when I had to carry my disabled Mom, walkers, wheelchairs etc. every time we went out, where the heck would I put those in a little Uno for example? So what do we do? We have some of those teeny cars but ever drive one of those on a freeway beside an 18 wheeler? Our transport trucks are three times the size of the ones I saw in Europe. They have to go farther and carry more goods. You can drive from one end of Germany to the other in a day. Here in Canada you need at least 5 days. Bio fuels, sure maybe..there are parts of America growing corn just for ethanol but the warning is, we may run out of food…Sorry for the long comment. I try my hardest to be environmentally friendly to the best of my ability but as it’s -10c outside, I’ve just cranked my furnace up to 22c…ciao

  2. Cliff

    Hey, Rositta,

    It wasn’t supposed to be an attack on you personally. Your points are all valid, in my opinion (I haven’t forgotten how big my home continent is!).

    But I do definitely agree with Bill Maher on his point that conservation is the only short-term immediately applicable measure. That can mean lots of different things to different people. Despite the size of your nation, the average outdoor temperature, or disabled members of your family, there are probably ways you can help reduce Canada’s overall fossil fuel consumption.

    For example, I already

    • don’t own a car
    • rarely ride the bus to the office for work (I almost always ride my bike)
    • don’t use air conditioning in the summer
    • don’t use very much heat in the winter (our loft apartment benefits greatly from others lower than us in the building)

    I was trying to communicate my intention to contribute in my own way: taking the train more often. I bet there’s some change in your everyday life you could make to contribute as well — and that pretty much everyone could be contributing as well.

  3. rositta

    Ian, I didn’t take it as a personal attack at all, honest. I was just stating things from my viewpoint. If we want to reduce fossil fuel consumption we could start with reducing air travel, reducing consumption and buy goods only produced within 100 km radius. That would be a little difficult but doable. Of course people would have to pay more for goods wouldn’t they and over here there would be no fresh fruit and veg in winter, but hey, it might work! People generally talk big but aren’t willing to make the sacrifices that go along with. Everyone wants government to do something but aren’t willing to take some personal responsibility.. It is a good subject and will be interesting to see other viewpoints. I just found when I was in Germany most people were rather off putting to me and yet Germans travel like fiends. So we drive our cars and they fly all over the world, evens out…ciao

  4. Tammy

    I wouldn’t exactly say things are ‘evened out’ between the US and any other country as far as oil consumption. See a nice user friendly map showing the relative fuel consumption of the nations of the world here.Though China is catching up. Germany isn’t even close. As an aside, U.S. business travelers far out weigh German tourists as far as miles logged on international flights, so I think there is a bit of a flaw in that argument.

    I agree that, in many ways, Americans are helpless to change some their driving dependence just because they are victims of the community planning that are designed more or cars than for people. I remember being car-less in DC, and find that there were places that I, literally, could not get to on foot. The great thing was that the bus schedules were not printed anywhere except at one metro station, which was 30 minutes out of my way! At least they had buses and a decent subway system, which is more than I could say for most of the other places I had lived in the U.S.

  5. Mom

    You’re on target, Tammy. Poor civic planning leaves most suburban Americans no choice but to own a car or several cars. This total, community-based dependence makes thinking outside the car impossible because there is no shared experience of non-car-dependent life-style. No experience leads to no vision which recreates the heavy traffic/multiple auto ownership and seems an unavoidable facet of suburban living.

    Where we live, sidewalks and bike paths are practically innovative, instead of givens. Although I live four miles from work, there are no bikeable shoulders or paths along the route, all 35-45 mph roadways with curves and a very narrow bridge. What should be an easy bike ride is life-threatening, so I have no choice but to drive. I’m an avid walker, but there is not a single sidewalk until the last 1/8 mile of the route. There is virtually no public transportation in my township. Most of my students have never ridden any bus other than a school bus, most have never taken a train or subway, and most expect to have a car by age 16. We are already choking on the traffic congestion and suffering from the loss of green zones, and there is no plan to implement any mass transit system in the near future. The consistent response to increased traffic is to widen roadways.

  6. rositta

    Tammy, I think the difference between business travel and discretionary tourist travel is huge. Don’t we need business travel to keep the world economies humming? Isn’t this consumerist society so enamored with new everything all the time, and yesterday, what keeps business going. I’m talking about the tourists who come over to North America, rent these huge motor homes and cruise the land. Germans in particular are guilty of this, they do Africa, Australia Canada and America. They think it’s great fun yet criticize us for not using bikes. That’s what my comment meant to say. I have German relatives who have done all of the above.

What's your take on it?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.