There are three days on the environmental calendar each year that like to remind us about how we get around.
They remind us about distance. And while many of us would like to be able to have the convenience of having everything within walking distance, the truth is we often can’t live near to where we work or learn, close to those we love, places we enjoy or where our food and water sources are. Those three days also serve to make us think about how often we find ourselves sitting in order to get from A to B, and how this affects our fitness levels. In short, these three days are mostly there to focus our attention on how much we rely on modes of transport to help us get to where we need to go, and to address our habits and alternatives.
The three days each year I’m referring to are World Car Free Day held in September, Ride to Work (or school) Day in October and National Walk to Work (or School) Day in November, and while the immediate health benefits of walking, cycling or skateboarding to where we need to go are important, those two days are there to highlight another bigger issue that many try to ignore or others who do care may either feel powerless to control, or due to circumstances, are unable to do much about which affects our health in other ways. That big issue is climate change.
Australia being the big country that it is, with a constant urban sprawl growing to house an ever increasing population, relies on all sorts of wheels to keep it and us moving every single day. The consequence of this is that our transportation is a leading contributor to climate change. In fact, Australia produces almost 46 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per annum. The average family’s transport is estimated to generate about six tonnes of greenhouse gas each year, mostly due to car usage. On a global scale that equates to 16% of emissions from transportation alone (more than any other sector) in Australia, contributing to the world’s greenhouse gases, and it’s increasing.
So how can we improve this? Most would say, ‘Simple! We need to remove cars and rely on cleaner ways to get us to where we need to go.’ Well that’s easier said than done, but it’s only part of the solution. There are actually quite a few ideas out there coming at this from different angles.
Firstly, the obvious one and the one we hear most about is the provision of more efficient and cleaner public transport, whereby we leave our cars at home and commute en-masse, however public transport largely relies on demand based destinations and often we’ll find public transport won’t get us to where we want to go. Another solution is to make our cars greener in terms of fuel emissions, however, costs of these vehicles can still often be prohibitive and even if we could all afford more eco-friendly cars, while this may address emissions, it still doesn’t remove vehicles from the road. The real answer lies in the changing of habits, lifestyles and attitudes.
Sustainability isn’t just about reducing emissions, it’s also about the impact of lifestyle in the bigger picture. Travel also impacts our mental health and relationships. It also affects the health of the planet in other ways too. For example, the need to grow food on large areas of agricultural land outside of cities impacts the planet when that food needs to be transported to the cities. Car production and manufacture also has an impact on the planet from the burning of fossil fuels to power the manufacturing plants that either create or assemble auto components; then there is the mining of metals required, toxic wastes produced and the list goes on. The best solution I’ve come across is to ‘design cities around people and not cars’ as per urbanist Jeff Speck during this great TED Talk about The Walkable City. I can also highly recommend 2 YouTube channels for fantastic content on why this matters:
Perhaps if what Jeff says inspires you, you’ll do more than just have a car free day or walk to work.
Walking & Your Health: What 10,000 steps a day can do for you!
If you really want to understand the health benefits of walking, check out this great article by Dr. Jen Gunter on TED – “How many steps a day do we really need to take? Here are the facts.”
In the meantime, go ahead and put your best foot forward and ‘walk!’(ride, scooter or skateboard) it will do yourself and the planet good!
For more resources, events, incentives and information check out these links:
 Woodward, A, Hales,S and Hill, SE. Protecting the Planet – The motor car and public health: are we exhausting the environment. Medical Journal of Australia 2002; 177 (11/12):592-593
Feet ascending concrete stairs: Jake Hills via unsplash.com CC0
City traffic jam:Nabeel Syed via unsplash.com CC0
One Way sign: gratisography via pexels.com CC0
Bicycle with ‘work’ sign in window: Javier Calvo via unsplash.com CC0
Man walking past ‘Good’ graffiti on wall: Volkan Olmez via unsplash.com CC0
*Article updated & links re-checked August 2023