The connection between cars and hyperconsumption

When we think about cars and the environment, the issue of fossil fuels and emissions usually spring to mind first. But our cars are also costing us and the environment a massive amount through other forms of hyperconsumption.

Here’s an example. After dinner the other night, we all felt like ice cream; so someone jumped in the car, scooted off to the store and grabbed some.

Had we been living out in the boonies, this would have never happened, we would have made do with what we had in the house, or gone without. I think that may have been the case even living in the city if we didn’t have a car.

It’s not as though eating ice-cream at that point was critical to our survival, even if it seemed so at the time. I’m ashamed to say we also had ice-cream in the house, just not a particular type we had a hankering for.

The effects of our decision:

– More gas consumed
– More emissions generated
– More resources that went into making the ice-cream were used
– More wear and tear on the vehicle – short trips are a killer for engines
– We spent money we otherwise wouldn’t have
– It didn’t help our waistlines any

That ice-cream tasted darned good and I didn’t exactly sit there with tears of guilt streaming down my face, wailing and rending my garments as I bit into the choc-tipped cone; but looking at those points and what they entail, it really wasn’t worth it and thankfully it’s not a regular occurrence. 

This incident mightn’t seem like much, but remember that millions of people make these sorts of very un-green decisions each day – using their vehicles to go out and buy something on the spur of the moment they don’t really need; leaving themselves and the planet poorer for the impulse. 

I’ve often heard the argument that without these impulse buying situations, all sorts of industries would suffer. After all, people need to spend money to keep other people in jobs. 

I don’t agree with that entirely. 

If we weren’t wasting our money on these transient luxuries, we would have more money to buy better quality, more environmentally friendly products. We would buy things that have a bit more life than the fleeting pleasure of oh so smooth and creamy ice cream covered in a rich dark chocolate coating and a center of gooey thick, sweet carame…oh, getting off track a bit I guess :).

What I’m trying to say is the money would be spent, just differently. It could still support the same number of people. Commerce wouldn’t topple over.

Make a list.

I like lists, lists are good. It’s not because I’m obsessive sort of person these days, more due to the fact as I get a little older, my memory isn’t quite what it once was. Lists also act as an affirmation, making a goal or strategy just a little more real.

Make yourself a list of what and when you can and can’t use your car for dedicated trips. Put it on the back of the door or near where you keep your keys. If you have a family, a list posted up somewhere conspicuous may be the only way to keep track of the various scenarios and forewarn other family members of what you will and won’t do with your vehicle. .

The car-use police

It’s entirely up to you how strict your list is, there are no car use police – don’t be too over the top as it needs to be workable within your lifestyle otherwise it will fail and some progress is better than none. 

For example, if you’re in the habit of nipping down to the store to pick up milk almost on a daily basis, make a commitment to only do it 2 or 3 days a week, keep some stocks of UHT milk as emergency backup, or commit to getting the milk on the way back from doing something else you do on a daily basis. 

Drive to the store to get the paper on a daily basis? Perhaps have it home delivered instead – with any luck you’ll be helping a young ‘un keep a job. Better still, read your newspaper online.

Ask before you scoot

Before you head out the door to drive your 2 ton vehicle 2 miles to pick up a quart of milk, ask others in the household “Is there anything else we need? This is the only store run we’re doing today.” Heck, if you’re on friendly terms with your neighbors, ask them too – in fact you could do this in your neighborhood on a rotating basis if you’re all like-minded; perhaps even a car pool for the purpose.

Cold turkey – or no turkey at all

Sometimes the best lesson is going without something. By not giving into the perceived “need”, you’re toughening yourself against future impulses and conditioning yourself to plan better – for example, ensuring you have X,Y and Z when you do your regular shopping. Buying in bulk can save you cash as well.


Think of how many unnecessary trips you make each year for non-critical items – how many miles and dollars could you save? Each mile you don’t travel is around .59 pounds greenhouse gas emissions per passenger, per mile for a small car avoided; 1.1 pounds for a medium car and 1.57 pounds per mile for an SUV, plus other car exhaust chemicals.

Make a game of this perhaps – each time you resist the urge to jump in your car, record how many miles, how much money and the level of emissions you saved. When you reach a certain milestone, reward yourself with something nice – and green of course!

Remember, the best gas saving tip is not using your vehicle at all and if you really, really need that ice-cream, bike or walk to the store – it will also help burn off the calories :).