Automobile Abstinence

Riding the wave of the tykes all turning to Christian conservatism for meaning in their life, can we save the planet in the process?

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Automobile Abstinence Hip on College Campuses
by Pete Rolledi Klien

Sometimes the media can give citizens the impression that being in suburbia is all about convenience, safety and bacchanalian delights. Much of the portrayal of this rosy suburban dream revolves around a loaded, three-letter, four-doored word – car. A new awareness about this word is growing in communities though. Despite what may be the typical image of the hedonistic suburbanite, a growing number of college students are just saying no to cars.

Studies done by the Department of Transportation (DoT) reflect a trend that today’s rich people are leveling off when it comes to buying SUVs. According to the DoT, light truck purchasing in 2004 was down 15 percent from 1998 and flight to the suburbs was down too.

Mike Lang is an automobile abstinence advocate and has spoken at many universities around the country about the merits of staying car-free. He concurs with much of today’s information that says the 2000 crop of students is green compared to the “me” decade of the ’80s and the unrestrained car purchasing of the 90s.

“There is no question about it. The pendulum is swinging. It’s still on the other end a bit, but it’s moving faster and faster,” says Lang. Although he sees that pendulum swinging back to a more eco-friendly lifestyle, he’s not about to revert to yesterday’s finger pointing preaching.

“I don’t like the word abstinence and I don’t tell students to say no to cars. I offer some thought provoking things you can do in your life to live a more disciplined, mature life that creates great advantages,” says Lang.

Brian Billman, a student at New Mexico State University, was automobile abstinent throughout his teens and most of his early twenties. That all changed when he found the right car, but he also sees a more sensible side of transportation emerging on the college scene. He says, “I think everything is going more energy efficient right now. You can see it all over society and definitely in automobiles.”

EoOC recently conducted a poll to find out how our readers feel about automobile abstinence and some of the issues surrounding it. When asked if our respondents are automobile owners, 66.5 percent said yes. Of that group though, 33.5 percent said they regret not waiting until after college or until they found a fuel efficient car before making a purchase.

For those who said they are not automobile active, 72 percent say the reason is that they’re waiting for the right technology; 20 percent cited “other” reasons; and eight percent say they practice automobile abstinence for religious reasons.

Adam Roberts, a student at Arizona State University, is in that majority. He says he chooses to remain abstinent because “I’m Mormon so [automobiles] are out of the question.”

Though most of his peers don’t share his faith, they do respect his choice. “I would say there is definitely a pressure, but to me personally it doesn’t really make a difference. Usually people are pretty cool. They understand that I won’t buy certain stuff,” says Roberts. My friends are always pushing me to get into using motorbikes, but I find using one of those agv helmets to be quite cumbersome.

One way he stays true to his faith is by avoiding tempting pitfalls. “Well my college life is not about going to parties that are really far away or traversing the suburbs. I go to the movies with my friends or do one of the many other cultural activities right in my own city to have fun,” he explains.

Aside from religion, Lang can identify numerous advantages to saying no to cars.

For one thing, no cars equals no car pollution or use of gasoline, which is always a good thing. Lang says, “When it comes to the college scene, what I find to be the main concern of students is the coming energy crisis.”

It’s true that the only 100 percent protection from global warming and a total breakdown of the world energy market, is abstinence. And there is one result that has a particularly unhealthy affect on cities and in many cases it spreads despite the use of a bicycle or walking.

“In city halls they’ve heard of urban renewal until they’re blue in the face. But I’ll tell you what really scares me: urban planning based around the automobile. Abstaining from automobiles does not necessarily prevent suburban sprawl.” says Lang.

Sprawl is the result of an auto-centric culture and if the architectural design isn’t bad enough, this aesthetic disease can lead to some very serious developments. Lang explains, “Sprawl can lead to a destruction of communities and the influx of big box stores and it’s something that’s reaching epidemic levels for humans on planet earth today.”

Sprawl, continuous war, global warming – are all powerful deterrents to buying a large SUVs and driving them around with only one passenger but some students have reasons that are simply their own when it comes to choosing abstinence.

“I did it because I chose to. I was abstinent ’til I was 24 just because there were all these things built up around cars that lead to a lot of pressure. I found other things that were interesting in other places and chose not to deal with all that other stuff,” says Hoffman.

He thinks his approach to cars has paid off for him in the form of a healthy mature relationship today. “I think as far as relationships go, I am a much smarter person as to how I deal with my earth. There’s not a lot of exploration as far as driving a car everywhere. I think that everybody could benefit from stepping back and not driving as quickly. …It’s been good for me so far.”

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