One glaring example of the hidden impacts of traffic is from a study shown here.
Appleyard and his colleagues showed how a light traffic street is able to knit communities together while a street with heavier traffic acts as a barrier between people. Streetfilms interviewed Dr. Appleyard about the study.
When cars are not given priority on the street, people feel more comfortable strolling outside, meeting neighbors and the feeling of stress is greatly reduced. (link)
Obviously people who use cars find them convenient, and this is largely because politicians give high priority to motor vehicles.
The irony here is that not only do they take up more time and money, but they also hamper people’s general satisfaction with life. So what could motivate people to put up with so much frustration?
For most people who drive, a job (which is usually far away) is the strongest force pushing folks to stay addicted to such a destructive choice.
But the hidden toll here is that, when driving to work, a person has to earn 40% more money to feel the same satisfaction with life (the happiness quotient) as someone who gets there by other means. (link) (link) (link) So the ‘success’ of having a good job and a car in the end bring the exact opposite.
But what is satisfaction? Unfortunately, the term is too vague for most of us to really describe. Is it extra time to relax? Or a sense of peace and comfort? Each of us might have a different picture of what satisfaction is, but the one thing that every driver experiences is that, like goofy, the satisfaction that people expect seems to stay constantly out of reach.
So what went wrong?
Well, the things that people most connect with driving are traffic, searching for parking, and those 'other' idiot drivers.
These are only the experiences that we notice on the surface. A much more powerful challenge is the helplessness of sitting for hours every day trapped behind other drivers who themselves feel trapped.
"Driving is emotionally challenging because unexpected things happen constantly... The rules of engagement on the road are harsh and competitive, even hostile. Most drivers find these conditions emotionally challenging and experience difficulty coping. Therefore, most people routinely drive in an emotionally impaired state."
Drivers can't communicate their outrage except through a car horn, which brings its own stress.
So instead of having an immediate release, these frustrations fester under the surface before showing up in more subtle ways down the road. For drivers, the stress from long commute times has been tied to road rage, substance abuse, rash behavior and even higher divorce rates.
One primary reason for this was touched on earlier, it’s always the other person’s fault. As humans we tend to see ourselves as more skilled than the average person without any outside proof. One study found that 673 out of 909 motorists believed that they were better than the average drivers. (link)
The driver in front of me was waiting for a pedestrian to cross, so I honked to remind him that I'm also waiting.
But obviously we can’t ALL be better than average. So what gives people such an irrational point of view? The answer turns out to be pretty complex. You can read the full study or the more abridged article here.
What I'd consider the most common and also the least recognized feeling, is that of being had. The feeling that the 'freedom' touted by commercials and movies is actually the opposite. The story that we regularly see on a screen never really comes true. Think about how often you've seen a Hollywood chase scene that ends in a traffic jam?
If you're stopped on the Turnpike I feel bad for you, son
I-95 problems but I took route 1
On a positive note, when we transition to more fulfilling choices, we find an amazing transformation in the number of people we see each day.
The details of our neighborhood become like friends. Tiny house accents become landmarks. Suddenly it becomes easy to stop and check out a beautiful garden, browse at a yardsale, or take a new route just for kicks.
Years ago I was cycling out to a park. Three times in the course of 20 minutes I saw one of my roommates and got a chance to say a quick hello. Thanks to our independent travel we were able to brighten each others' day. At least half the time that I venture out for an errand or shopping I end up having a conversation with someone. These are the experiences which make everyday life more enjoyable and uplifting.
Some researchers are even looking at the dependency on cars in the same light as other addictive habits.
The consulting firm Steer Davies Gleave is using a method called ‘Motivational Interviewing’ to help people re-examine transportation choices. (link) Meanwhile, Chris Bruntlett and others are proposing warning labels for cars similar to the labels posted on cigarettes. (link)
The idea that using a car should be seen in the same light as smoking has a lot of merit.
It provides a short term reward, it feels more comfortable then the alternatives while in fact causing long term damage, and there’s enormous resistance to try anything different. (link) (link) (link) The challenge with addressing driving as an addiction is that, because it's so pervasive, most people become experts at self-justifying the need. Much like a fish can't see the water that's all around, people in car-dependant culture literally can't see the traffic or that there's an alternative.
On a similar note, journalist Kathy Freston writes here about helping people let go of their addiction to animal products.
Replacing harmful ways of life with more healthy ones helps people to be more emotionally healthy as well as more physically so.
According to Dr. Neal Barnard, ‘our taste cells turn over about every three weeks... in less then a month we forget the attraction to animal products.” (link)
Working through withdrawals might not be easy. It takes hard work and dedication (I’ve been through it a few times). But once we come out the other side, we always feel better about ourselves. Ask anyone who’s quit smoking.
Music of commute:
Sonata for horn and brakes
eat your heart out Brahms
It’s linked to not only heart attacks and hypertension, but also higher stress levels as well as dementia and cognitive decline. It’s even been linked to a reduction in empathy. (link) (link) Noise pollution exists all over the world, affecting everyone that happens to be nearby. (link) The impact of cars and trucks is so extensive that it can be felt more than 1/3 of a kilometer away. (link)
"It’s only in the past decade or two that we’ve begun to… show that the impact of noise on public health can be as severe as that of air pollution.”
For many people, there is nowhere to escape the constant onslaught. This is deeply ironic, since it was the noise and pollution of the inner cities that caused many rich people to flee and to create suburbs in the first place. A report by the World Health Organization says that noise pollution from roadways are second only to air pollution in it’s harm to human health. The harm is especially evident in children where regular noise can lead to apathy and depression. (link) As a result, most of us try to tune out city noise with earbuds or other devices causing people to lose connection with their surroundings. However, when traffic is limited, the noise disappears as well. It’s amazing how such a simple change can bring such a huge reward. (link)
eyes ears become opened to the contrast here, we begin to understand that it's not cities themselves that are loud, it's the cars traffic that makes them loud.
Interestingly enough, the same solution which can be the most effective at cutting traffic noise is also the solution to reducing the number of people struck by vehicles.
Reduce traffic speed
In fact, it’s been found that a person outside of a vehicle listening to headphones actually has better ability to hear their environment then someone driving a car. (link)
I still remember a bike ride, years ago, when a car behind me at a light honked for me to get moving when the light turned green. I hadn’t moved because I heard a siren approaching. Only two seconds later the person stopped honking because the ambulance came into view.
Aside from noise, car travel and pollution have a striking effect on the developing minds of children.
The children growing up today have a very different relationship to their neighborhoods then those living in progressive 21st century cities. (link) (link)
Where this is most obvious is that they have a restrained level of independence until that magical day when they reach driving age. Until that point they are dependent on an adult to get anywhere at all. (This also causes no small amount of stress on the chauffeurs, I mean parents.)
Can you guess which of these 'mental maps' were drawn by a child in a walkable neighborhood and which was drawn by a child in a car-centric area? (link)
To a risk-averse cyclist, a child for example, the city would feel like a hundred small islands with what might as well be oceans between them.
'Cycle Space: Architecture and Urban Design in the Age of the Bicycle'
One study found that children who are driven to school have a more difficult time understanding their neighbourhood and have a poor sense of direction.
Another found that children who walk or cycle to school have better concentration and advance more easily in school. (link) (link)
In my own life, I consider myself incredibly lucky that I was given the independance to travel around by bike from an early age.
Before starting high school, I understood my neighborhood and how to get to the places that I needed to without any help.
One example of the emotional conflict that I personally see every day, is the obvious culture of fear that exists between sidewalks.
Most of us every day see pedestrians jogging or running across the street (even if there are no cars nearby). This is considered normal for our culture. What most drivers fail to notice (as they speed past) is that the person tends to go back to walking once they reach the bike lane or sidewalk. There is a very clear sense that the road is a dangerous place that we need to escape from, while the sidewalk is safe.
Business interests at the time had a well documented role in demonizing the use of the road by people who weren’t traveling in a car. It's not quite as simple as the movie 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' frames it, but the end result is clear regardless.
The emotional effects connected to a meat-based diet are more subconscious. As children growing up, our natural tendency is to care for animals and to develop emotional bonds with human as well as non-human creatures.
Because of this, people have to be subjected to hundreds of messages in order to convince us that it’s only acceptable to experience these emotions with dogs and cats, and not for dozens of other creatures.
Dr. Melanie Joy expresses these points with great success in her book and the TED talk which I’ve linked to here.
Riane Eisler further explains that the culture we live in is built around domination of animals and ‘resources.’ It requires people to deaden ‘soft emotions’ like compassion which would interfere with acts such as confinement and branding.
What you might find surprisingly missing from this site (and if you’re vegan already, then you’ve surely noticed), are the horrific images of mutilated cows and pigs, or baby chicks being ground up.
My belief is that you can find that if you want to. But many people have learned the hard way, that shock images tend to create barriers rather than break them down.
I ask you simply to consider this:
"If it’s not good enough for your eyes, why is it good enough for your stomach?”
Compassionate people (and I think that all of us have a sense of compassion) will fall back on the defence that using animal products which are ‘free range,’ ‘cage free,’ or ‘grass fed’ have no harmful consequences.
Many people believe that food involving ‘humane’ slaughter are acceptable. Unfortunately, my research tells a different story. The ranchers who market these alternative food sources may try their best, but the suffering for animals is much the same as for those bred in factory farms And the effect on the land is just as harmful.
Despite the stories used by producers of 'humane' animal-based foods, the reality is that it's always about profit in the end. Breeding animals for food in the wide open spaces of the plains harms not only the animals themselves, but the environment as well. (link).
"Veganism recognizes that nonhuman animals deserve at least one very basic right - the right to not be used as property. It’s about justice. It’s nonviolent. It’s the minimum standard of decency.”
Yet another area that falls off most people’s radar, is the effects on the workers at factory farms. (link)
The suffering from meat consumption is heavily concentrated on those who are actually slaughtering the animals.
Concentrated is a very appropriate term as the distancing of us all from the slaughterhouse causes a very small number of people to experience the terror borne by millions of animals each day. It was actually the knowledge of this that first motivated me to give up meat in 2000.
"It will come as no surprise that the consequences of such emotional dissonance [in slaughterhouse workers] includes domestic violence, social withdrawal, drug and alcohol abuse, and severe anxiety. As slaughterhouse workers are increasingly being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, researchers are finally starting to systematically explore the results of killing sentient animals for a living.”
As humans, we are uncomfortable with seeing images of animal slaughter and that is a good sign. It shows that we are not predators. "Predators don’t empathize with their prey.” It shows that we are compassionate beings.
Think about it this way, which would you feel more comfortable taking a child to, a broccoli harvest, or a slaughterhouse. If you feel horrified by images of a slaughterhouse but not from images of people picking from fruit trees, then this is a powerful clue into what your body naturally wants.
Part and parcel with the stress of killing regularly are the ‘accidents’ which are way too common in slaughterhouses.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, meatpacking is the nation’s most dangerous job. (link) In 1999, more than one-quarter of U.S. meatpacking workers suffered a job-related injury or illness.
The meatpacking industry not only has the highest injury rate, but also has by far the highest rate of serious injury - more than five times the national average, as measured in lost workdays. If you accept the official figures, about 40,000 meatpacking workers are injured on the job every year (the industry regularly minimizes these figures). (link)
However this essay touches you, I ask only that you take a moment each day to consider the billions of conscious animals which are killed for the sake of the human diet, and think about whether you want to support that in your life.
The emotional pain that people feel is only recently becoming connected with lifestyle choices and climate. Over time, the effects of unstable weather, scarce resources, and other effects of climate change are weighing ever more heavily on our collective sense of security and comfort. (link)
People are experiencing not only depression and anxiety but symptoms can worsen into PTSD or even suicide.
Experts are beginning to look beyond newsworthy events like hurricanes or floods. It seems that the slower catastrophes like erosion and food shortages are being linked to this sense of ‘ecoanxiety’ in people.
But there IS some good news here.
An increasing number of mental health professionals around the world are focusing specifically on eco-anxiety. (link) (link) (link) Researchers Helen Berry and James Williams have spent years researching depression and anxiety in Australia where climate fears have long been a concern. (link) Through the work of Dr. Berry and others, the awareness of depression and solastalgia stemming from a more hostile climate are finally becoming more fully understood.
"Those battling pre-traumatic stress have accepted the truth about climate change, but rather than turning to a coping mechanism like denial, they have soldiered on, and they have paid for it with grief, sadness, and worry.”
A key solution to this is to spend time in nature.
Whatever natural areas exist, if you can find a way to get there (preferably by bike or transit), then you will reap huge benefits.
We all breathe easier in the bosom of the earth.
One of the lesser known effects of destructive habits is the loss of wild areas.
Once again, both livestock and automobiles contribute to this state of affairs.
I remember clearly as a teenager living in Los Angeles and struggling to get out to some kind of nature.
I would ride my bike for most of the day (as much as 50 miles out) and still not end up leaving the ‘developed’ part of the city. Suburbia consumed nearly every square mile of land beyond the city center.
As covered above, the huge stretches of land used for the sake of harmful industries these days, means that very little is left to provide for the health of wild animals or people.
The critical link between our emotional health and access to natural areas has been well proven by dozens of studies. (link) (link)
This is why it’s so very important for us to protect what we have and rebuild what we've lost.