When it Rains

The ash tree, native plants, and grass in our front yard soak up some rain, in the background our street is slick with rain

For the past couple of days we’ve been getting some much needed rain in Colorado — we’re getting quite a lot this morning. Every time I look out our front window and see the rain running down the gutters and pooling on the asphalt in the street I think, “What a waste.” So much of that water is just going to evaporate, instead of soaking into the soil to help alleviate the drought we’ve been in for decades.

This gets me thinking about how focused some people are on electrifying our vehicle fleet to combat the climate crisis instead of first reducing the number of vehicles on the road as much as possible and then electrifying whatever’s left. Sure, electrifying all of the vehicles on the road will eliminate a significant source of carbon emissions, but fuel isn’t the only source of admissions associated with cars. Asphalt, concrete, and tires are all sources of carbon emissions and waste that won’t go away just because we’re all driving electric vehicles.

But more to the point, this fixation on electric vehicles fails to consider transportation systemically and all of the problems associated with cars. Tens of thousands of people in the U.S. die every year in car crashes and millions are injured. There’s traffic congestion and grid lock. Noise pollution. Cars are expensive. Some people are unable to drive due to age or disability. And then there’s all of the space that we pave over to accommodate our car-centric culture: roads, garages, driveways, parking lots.

Which brings me back to the sadness I feel every time I look out at my street and watch the water run down the gutter instead of feeding grasses and trees. If we concentrated on eliminating vehicles from our lives as much as possible, how much land could we unpave and give back to native plants that could help sequester carbon and cool the planet? The narrower our roads, the smaller our parking lots, the more land we’d have available to soak up the rain.

I wish people could see beyond tailpipe emissions and see more of the problems caused by designing an environment around the presumption of car ownership.