The natural ecosystem is a complicated, delicate, and an incredibly interdependent collection of relationships. When one part goes out of balance, it has far-reaching effects throughout many other parts.
All life on this planet is ultimately part of that ecosystem, and the choices we unthinkingly make each day effect it. The products we use, the food we eat, the way we use water and power, how we get around. I think that many people think about the environment as something “out there”. The plight of the rain forest. Polluting the ocean. The melting of the icecaps. They’re big problems, sure, but they’ve nothing to do with me. My ecosystem is my work life, social life, and my home life. My resources come from a shop. My waste goes into a bin.
Though it effects the natural ecosystem in a big way, our transportation arrangement is very much an ecosystem in it’s own right. It’s complicate. It’s interdependent. It reacts to deficiencies and surpluses. There are symbiotic and parasitic relationships.
The part we play in the transportation ecosystem is no different than in the natural one, nor is our attitude any different towards it. The problems are other people’s responsibility. “I’m just doing what I need to do, and anyway, I’m not exactly burning tyres in my back garden”. We are free to think like this because we only focus on fuel economy in terms of how it affects our pockets, car manufacturers only tell us how clean and efficient their cars are, and the negative effects of streams of traffic – the noise, pollution, heavy cost of resources, and enormous levels of injury and death – are accepted as just a normal byproduct of a normal way of life. We are for the most part completely isolated from the effect we have on it, mostly by our own choosing.
Except that we’re not actually isolated from it at all.
No, unlike the natural ecosystem, we experience the direct result of the part we play in the transportation ecosytsem. Congestion. Smog. Noise. Time. Money. Stress.
Accidents. Collisions. Injury. Death.
(Bizarrely, it’s probably the congestion, not people’s lives, that would be the biggest motivator for change. But even then…)
Much like the natural ecosystem, we are all for “fixing” it, but have no real interest in personally doing anything about it.
Unlike the natural ecosystem, we get really, really upset about the injustices we encounter each and every day. Slow cars. Cyclists. Red lights. Accidents. We rage over them. We yell and scream. Threaten people. Attack people. By “we” I don’t just mean a few nut-jobs, either. We all do this from time to time (well, not the attacking bit), so you would think that because we feel so passionately about the imbalances we perceive in our transportation ecosystem, as opposed to, I don’t know… actually destroying the Great Barrier Reef, we would be really interested in taking steps to restore that balance.
Like the natural ecosystem, we don’t like the reality of what it all means. Rather than taking a sustainable amount from our environment (for our own benefit), we insist on maintaining our lifestyles and demand that someone else just figure out how to solve the problem. Over-fishing? Just add more fish to the ocean, or something. Clogged roads? Just build more.
Like other resources, we consider using them as much as we feel inclined to as basic a necessity as breathing. We expect to drive everywhere we’d like just as much as we expect clean water to come out of our taps at all times.
The thing is, though, is that not only will balancing our transportation ecosystem do wonders for the impact it has on the natural world’s resources, but for everything else too.
There are mountains of evidence from every corner of the planet that make clear the many social and economic benefits of cities with a balanced transportation ecosystem. When people who are close enough have a comfortable place to walk to where they need to go. When people who are able can cycle to where they need to go. When people who aren’t able or inclined to do either can use efficient public transport to get where they need to go. And, where people who need to use a vehicle to get where they need to go can do so, but where those who don’t are encouraged not to through costs and policies that reflect the actual burden that motor-vehicles put on our infrastructure in terms of, among others, where-and-tear, pollution, fractured communities, public health, injury, and death.
We need to look to the symbiotic relationships that exist in the natural ecosystem and realize that, when left to their natural state, things will eventually, but inevitably, balance. For the better. As they were meant to. When there is an overpopulation of deer, for example, an increase in predators eventually follows. What we do with our transportation ecosystem, on the other hand, is essentially just artificially create more room for the deer to continue to eat more and more of the natural vegetation away, causing a harmful domino effect that reaches far and wide.
It wasn’t until I watched this again that I realized how literally we can interpret this particular relationship as being the same as the way we deal (or the effects it has when we don’t deal) with our transportation ecosystem properly.
Seriously, just watch it with the idea that Yosemite is really just your city, and it will be frightfully accurate to our urban context.
We need to reintroduce wolves to our streets and support the few that still remain. We need to re-frame the way we think about wolves, or, in our case, laws and policies, or bike lanes, or congestion charges, or street diets, or space for walking, or parking bans, or really anything that seeks to restore the balance that our transportation ecosystem has lost.
Not as scary predators that we need to push to the edges of life or eliminate altogether, but as the key to the whole system being its healthiest, most productive, most life-giving self.
Header image: source