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Another Voice: Our reliance on cars accelerates global warming

By Elizabeth Giles

My family watched a lot of nature programs on TV when I was a child, and although they weren’t my favorite, I remember one in particular about Venus' flytraps. What grabbed my attention was some impressive close-up footage of a fly caught inside a plant’s “mouth,” greedily continuing to lap up the sweet nectar that was used to bait it even as it was slipping slowly toward the plant’s “throat” to its death.

What a metaphor for our times. Even as we in the industrialized world witness the increasingly horrific effects of global warming – including the specter of people incinerated in their cars trying to escape the recent California fires – we collectively refuse to do what it takes to stop the climate change that is destroying our planet (and life as we know it) because we won’t tolerate solutions that require substantial public investment or cause us personal inconvenience.

What the UN Climate Change Conference recently concluded in Poland was disappointing, largely because the United States, despite our cutting-edge technology and economic influence, refuses to lead the way by example to a sustainable, zero-carbon future.

As citizens, what can we do?

The largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Western New York (at 40 percent) comes from transportation, more than four times the percentage emitted by heavy industry. Maybe we have a hard time comprehending this fact because the exhaust from tens of thousands of cars is harder to see and smell than what comes out of factory smokestacks.

As a public transportation advocate, I sold my car over a decade ago and pledged to get around by alternative modes of transportation. I have managed to walk, bike and take Metro Rail and Metro Bus for most of my routine needs.

Adopting this lifestyle has entailed changes in how I organize my time, but surprisingly, I have found that it’s not all hardship and sacrifice. The time I would have wasted behind the wheel every day is now spent reading or working on my smartphone on the bus; it may take a little longer to get where I’m going, but by the time I arrive, I’m way ahead on my to-do list. My only complaint about transit is that there isn’t more of it.

We’re on the cusp of many exciting changes in Buffalo Niagara. Let’s make them farsighted changes by building on the infrastructure we already have, expanding our bus and bike networks and our potentially zero-carbon rapid transit (powered by clean Niagara Falls hydroelectricity).

Let us soul-search at the New Year. Can we act boldly to alter our destructive routines, or will we be like that hedonistic fly, consuming our luxury goodies as we drown?

Elizabeth Giles, of Buffalo, is an executive board member of Citizens for Regional Transit.

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