I’ve written before about not driving to church and what this might mean for how we worship: planning a longer bike ride or walk each Sunday morning, trying out the church in our neighbourhood (even if it’s not Mennonite!). These are good ideas. But it’s time to go farther, which is why, this month, my family and I are getting ready to go car-free(er). (I have to add the suffix because we’re not willing to sell our van right now.)
This is crazy. It’s the middle of January, we have very young children, and we don’t live centrally in the city. Also, public transit in Regina is awful (having recently moved from Vancouver, I can say this with absolute certainty). But we’re working on a plan, and God willing, it’ll work.
Why such a dramatic experiment? It’s been a while coming. Over the past several years, I’ve tried to cycle more, enjoying the exercise while also saving gas. But we kept the van for summer vacations and, especially since having our second kid, for grocery trips. As we’ve decreased our vehicle use, I’ve become aware of how tightly connected driving is with consuming other goods. Not only do I often drive somewhere to buy something, but when I get in the car I always think about how many errands I can do to maximise the efficiency of each trip.
Plus, my first read of the year has me awash with conviction. David Suzuki has a new book out called Letters to my Grandchildren (Greystone, 2015). In each chapter Suzuki shares lessons he’s learned throughout his life. The third chapter, “Forgotten Lessons from the Great Depression,” is about what it was like growing up in poverty. After living in an internment camp during World War II, his family moved to Ontario. Each member of the family worked hard to make sure all of their necessities were met.
“I don’t know what your generation would consider a necessity, but for us it was food and clothes, then a stove, an icebox or a refrigerator, a bed and bedding, a radio, and cooking utensils like pots and pans. People were just beginning to think that telephones and cars were necessities too. So we were on the cusp of huge changes. In a society in which consumption is a sport, entertainment, or even our civic responsibility, it seems we work hard to fulfill our wants, not our needs. And there’s no end to what we want.”
Again, it seems crazy to argue that a car isn’t a necessity. It is for some folks, but I’m not so sure it is for me. Decarbonizing my life allows me to imagine a different way of living, a slower way, and one that acknowledges that I have enough. It’s a way to show solidarity with northern indigenous communities negatively affected by the oil industry, and to teach my children that fast and efficient isn’t the only way to be.
When I get into our van, I’m struck by the reality that I can go anywhere, do anything. After all, this old suburb and these streets were built for my benefit. But what power and what privilege, and what resources to squander for my sense of accomplishment.
“It is the hyperconsumption driven by the need of industrialized countries to keep their economies growing that is the primary cause of ecological devastation today,” Suzuki writes.
My faith compels me to do this. Jesus challenged people to do things that were impossible for them to do, right? This seems impossible, but I’m hoping it won’t be.
Katie Doke Sawatzky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.