By Dave Cohen
Perhaps you’ve heard about Paul Salopek’s slow journey. Salopek, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and contributor for National Geographic, is taking a stroll around the world “in the footsteps of our ancestors.” It’s an unhurried seven-year, 21,000 mile trek.
“As I inch from the poorer subtropical latitudes into the richer temperate zones of the planet there has been a dramatic shift in human consciousness.” Salopek continues, “Cars keep roaring into my awareness. They are inescapable. They are without a doubt the defining artifacts of our civilization. They have reshaped our minds in ways that we long ago ceased thinking about.” (The New York Times, Nov. 22, 2013)
Salopek’s insight into how car transportation has transformed the landscape of our psyche is summed up by something he calls “Car Brain.”
Within the confines of the automobile – gas, hybrid, or electric – we experience a vastly restricted sensory version of the ecological and social worlds we pass through. We come across our landscapes with great speed and power, but how we come across to the greater world around us is entirely another question. We are radically dissociated from our impacts. That’s something “Car Brain” finds exceedingly difficult to comprehend.
What’s exciting to consider is the emerging Slow Transportation Movement (STM) — a phenomenon that is naturally arising in many corners of the world. STM isn’t only about transport at lower speeds. It’s about selecting and ranking transportation modalities that, among other things, engage our bodies, maximize our sensory awareness and keep us attuned to our impacts on the world.
Here’s a basic three-tier ranking system in order of the most favored STM modes:
- 1st tier – walking, wheelchairs, etc.
- 2nd tier – bicycles, cargobikes, pedicabs, skateboards, etc.
- 3nd tier – electric-assist bikes, family or cargobikes, e-cargobikes for businesses, e-pedicabs etc.
One task of the STM is to position transportation modalities that meet its criteria in a way that helps us to draw sharper distinctions between other modes that are outside the parameters of the STM: public transit (trains, buses etc.), cars (taxis, private cars, car shares etc.) and air travel.
Many readers will find the STM intriguing, and a seemingly impossible, quixotic exercise, in a region where virtually all our planning and living decisions have been dictated by the automobile. However, most of us know that we and our children are standing at a precipice and that any future worth fighting for is going to look vastly different from our present reality. As ecopsychologist Bill Plotkin said “at this critical hour, any dream worth its salt ought to seem impossible to the mainstream elements of our own minds.”
With the car culture, we have largely abandoned our bodies as well as our sensory contact with the greater world. That has huge implications for our ability to respond to this crucial moment.
Perhaps then, the Slow Transportation Movement is not about totally abandoning the car, but more about subverting “Car Brain.”
Dave Cohen (www.davecohencounseling.com), is a psychotherapist and an ecopsychologist in Brattleboro, VT. As founder of Pedal Express, a nationally-recognized cargobike delivery service in Berkeley, CA, he continues to ride and promote bikes for everyday use. He and his family are a familiar sight on their bright orange e-cargobike in the Brattleboro area.