It was in 1913 when the Ford Motor Company’s moving assembly line first started. At the time I’m sure a personal automobile was seen as a luxury item, for the rich only. Curious as to whether there were initial Quaker reactions against automobiles, Internet searches only revealed articles about Quaker State Motor Oil, and various Quaker auto sales companies!
Think of what has happened in just the 100 years since.
How could we think it was reasonable for every family to have at least one of these massive, complicated machines? How can we justify the tons of material needed to make each car? For a machine that sits idle such a large percentage of the time?
In the 1970’s it was easy to see some of the effects of the use of millions of automobiles in the form of smog in high population areas. Although catalytic converters have since helped with the visible smog, they actually helped add even more carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere when they converted carbon monoxide (CO) to CO2. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, which means it helps trap the heat rising from the earth’s surface, preventing its escape into space. This is why we have a planet with temperatures that support life. But burning all of that gasoline and dumping TONS of CO2 into the air is resulting in higher atmospheric and ocean temperatures. The hotter air holds more water vapor, resulting in droughts and changing, more severe, weather patterns. The oceans have also absorbed a great deal of CO2, which combines with water to form carbonic acid. The more acidic water kills marine life. The hotter ocean waters add more water to the atmosphere, resulting in more intense rainfall.
The fact that CO2 is invisible has made it so easy to ignore until recently, when the resulting effects can no longer be ignored. When some of us began to question the burning all that gasoline, the fossil fuel industry invested millions of dollars to try to convince the general public otherwise, with notable success.
But the damages from this ill considered mass accumulation of personal automobiles extend far beyond the pollution of our air, land and water. Death and mortality from respiratory illnesses and cancers are widespread. And the assumption that most people have access to personal automobiles has lead to the paving of so much of the earth’s surface, parking lots and garages, and bridges.
Also, the assumption of personal transportation has created very poorly designed cities and neighborhoods, and fractured communities, which has led to violence and contributed to poverty.
The insatiable demand for oil also led to the first United States invasion of another country, and continuous war and terrorism on our part. George Fox admonished us to look for the seeds of war in our own lives. Is there any doubt about what he would say about personal automobiles? Do you really have any doubt?
Many of you know I decided it was wrong to own a personal automobile about 30 years ago, and have not owned one since. I had hoped that my example might lead others to consider their use of automobiles, but that did not happen, and I feel I should have been more assertive. I think we as Friends would have, and should have made a statement that could have had significant consequences if we had chosen to make this our witness back then.
It is now painfully obvious that we must stop burning fossil fuel now if we are to avoid the extinction of the human race. We are out of time. We have to stop using personal transportation now. We have to lead the movement to embrace mass transit now. Cars are the seeds of war. I ask you to join me in rejecting personal automobiles. I’m not really comfortable being this assertive now, but I regret not being assertive enough thirty years ago. Now is the time.