Preserving the Environment

What the Demise of Car Ownership Means for the Planet 

March 21, 2014
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What the Demise of Car Ownership Means for the Planet 
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Many Americans are settling on greener and more affordable ways of getting around.

It’s an undeniable fact that Americans love the automobile. Like riding a bike or learning how to shave, getting our first car is a rite of passage. But a new poll from automobile consultancy firm, AlixPartners, found that this love affair may be cooling.

As Fast Company reports, the success of car-sharing programs such as ZipCar and Cars2go is actually causing a dip in automobile sales. In fact, a poll surveyed 10 major cities where car sharing has taken off and found that there are 500,000 fewer cars on the roads. And by 2020, that number is expected to increase substantially, with an estimated 4 million people sharing cars, resulting in 1.2 million fewer vehicles on the road.

It sounds like this trend won’t be reversing either: AlixPartners found that the 51 percent of people who have shared a car avoid buying or leasing a car, and that 45 percent never plan on having owning a car at all.

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Why is car-ownership is getting the cold shoulder? Surprisingly (and unfortunately), it’s not because the country is becoming more environmentally aware. Rather, it looks like young people and families with children are feeling the price pinch of cars and as a result, think they can simply do without one. As Fast Company points out, “Cost and convenience rated highest as reasons for sharing over owning (56 percent of people chose either of those). Only 23 percent cited the environment as a primary factor.”

But regardless of intention, car pollution is terrible for the environment. The EPA estimates that more than half of air pollution in this country is caused by automobiles. And while cars are getting greener (hybrids, electric cars, smart cars), they aren’t entirely accessible or affordable for everyone yet, so why not just share the cars we already have?

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Besides, more and more Americans are shifting towards public transportation anyway. A recent study found that we took about 10.7 billion rides on mass transit in 2013 alone, the highest number in 57 years. Let’s also not forget that more and more people are moving to cities, where public transportation is more available. Even car-loving cities like Los Angeles are improving their public transportation.

While there’s no denying our car-obsessed roots, it appears as if America is moving away from four wheels, greening up the planet in the process.

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