Book Review by Zinta Aistars
· Paperback: 320 pages
· Publisher: New Society Publishers, 2000
· Language: English
· ISBN-10: 0865714088
· ISBN-13: 978-0865714083
If you can find a copy, get this book. Published in 2000, copies are becoming limited, yet the book has never been more relevant than today (Note to publishers: second printing, please!). Approaching this book as someone who is very concerned about the mess we are making of our environment, yet blushingly guilty of making a horrid daily commute in my car from one city to another, I was fascinated with the story Katie Alvord related.
That Americans are deep in a love affair with the automobile is not news to me. Reading Alvord’s very readable and well researched background on how that auto affair began (we tend to think of cars as coming out of Detroit, yet they were actually invented and first driven in Europe), how it was consummated, how it is sustained and encouraged, and how it is leading us (quite purposefully by those who have something monetary to gain) into increasingly dire straits, held my attention to the very end.
Alvord, after all, doesn’t just appropriately horrify us with the damage done and being done. She also offers ways to extricate ourselves, divorce ourselves, if you will, from this toxic relationship. One after another, she takes apart every argument and point of resistance. A resident of Houghton, Michigan, in the state’s Upper Peninsula, she walks the talk and shares how that’s working out for her. It’s inspiring. Freedom really can be delightful …
In sections entitled “Love’s Been Blind: How We Ended Up Married to Cars,” “Grounds for Divorce: Why Our Automotive Marriage is on the Rocks,” and “How to Divorce Your Car: Let Me Count the Ways …,” Alvord discusses the proliferation of roads and suburbs, the role of marketing and advertising (ever notice how much of automobile marketing is about seduction and romance?), oil spills and other damage done to our environment, the real cost of cars (eye opening), the toll of car crashes and road rage, and finally moves into alternative lifestyles—walking, biking, public transportation, ride sharing, telecommunications, alternative fuels (not as grand as you might think), and breaking free of auto dominance.
If you think this might make for dry reading, I promise you it is anything but. If at first glance, I thought yikes, lot of graphs and charts! sidebars and lists! glossaries and notes! then at second glance, I was so fascinated by the story that I found myself carrying the book along as I walked, generally running into walls and forgetting to eat. Second glance took me through to the end, emerging with a newfound resolution to become “car lite” if not eventually free of those tires beneath me.
“If enough environmentally concerned North Americans responded to the finding that car driving is their most environmentally harmful activity and decided to divorce their cars, going either car-lite or car-free, we might move a long way toward ... a shift like this could make the world look quite different in 20 or 30 years. It could give us a world of compact, convivial communities, with distinct boundaries, surrounded by green space, connected more often by rail. It could contribute to a more relaxed pace of life, clean the air and water, and restore a blessed quietude that has otherwise all but disappeared behind engine noise. We would be healthier, walking and cycling down streets in the shade of trees planted where asphalt used to be. Children and the elderly would feel safer on the streets and have more independence without having to rely on others to drive them places. We’d have billions of dollars worth of infrastructure that could be reallocated to other uses … we would save money, and we would save lives.” (Pg. 241)
Freelance writer Katie Alvord is best known as the author of Divorce Your Car! Ending the Love Affair with the Automobile. Her non-fiction work has appeared in numerous publications, including the Boston Globe, E Magazine, Orion Afield, The Progressive, Utne Reader, and more. She also writes fiction and poetry. A former librarian, she has worked with non-profit groups and served on local environmental and bicycle advisory committees. In 1993, she was recognized as a San Francisco Bay Area Clean Air Champion for "making a difference" by going car-free and writing about the experience. More recently, her series on climate change in the Lake Superior basin won the 2007 Science Journalism Award for Online Reporting from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She has lectured frequently on environmental topics in the U.S. and Canada. Born and raised in northern California, she now lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.See my interview with Katie Alvord in the Fall/Winter 2011-2012 Issue of The Smoking Poet.