I took a long road trip up to Tennessee over the Memorial Day weekend, and one thing that struck me was how much the Gulf oil spill has changed the way I think about cars. There's always been a tension between my love of cars (especially cars with powerful engines) and my conviction that our relationship with them will have to change if we're going to preserve the environment in its current form.
Being that I live on the Florida coast, the spill has raised that tension to the point where I can't pass a BP station without thinking about heart-wrenching images coming out of the Gulf right now. Simply put, the spill makes me want to drive less, avoid long commutes to work, cancel road trips and take a second look at the local bus system. It's sad in a way, because I'm fortunate enough to have a car I really enjoy driving, the type of vehicle I dreamed about when I was driving my first car, a 12-year-old Civic wagon.
But I can't look at the pictures coming out of the Gulf and not feel a twinge of guilt with every fill-up. It's changed my platonic ideal of the perfect vehicle; I doubt I'll ever buy that V-8 sports car I've wanted since I got my first Car and Driver subscription at 10 years old.
And I don't think I'm alone in re-examining the automobile. Jack Neff of Ad Age recently wrote a really interesting article on how Americans under 30 are less invested in the car culture, waiting much longer to get their licenses than previous generations. Many cite environmental concerns as the main reason for their lack of enthusiasm for cars, according to the article.
There might be something to that. In light of what's happened, it's hard not to wonder if the freedom and fun a car can afford us are worth the cost of having to watch clots of brown crude ravage the ecology and economy of the Gulf region and possibly the whole Eastern seaboard. It's possible the electric car will allow us to have our cake and eat it, too (you can still burn rubber on battery power), but right now it's too early to tell whether they'll catch on.
Even if they do, the electricity they're charged with will probably come from burning diesel or fuel oil in a utility generator somewhere. The answer probably lies somewhere between cutting individual consumption and technological advancement -- I doubt all of us could drive full-size SUVs or blazingly fast sports cars, even electric ones, and still reduce the country's appetite for fossil fuels.
What do you think? Has the Gulf oil spill changed the way you think about cars? Will it affect your next car purchase?