To Drive Or Not To Drive. How Will I Get To My Family?

By Amy Miller

During the holidays we drive. I personally drive to see my mother at Thanksgiving and my in-laws at Christmas. I drive to find presents for my loved ones and I tend to be on the road for movies, sibling visits and snow fun during school breaks.

Most of the time I don’t even consider the options. Like staying home, for instance. Or taking a bus or a train as a family. My loved ones await. And the convenience of door to door service is too much to give up.

But what if I were to add up the cost. In dollars, yes, but not JUST in dollars. As the new lingo goes, it would be interesting to know the embedded costs as well.

To visit my mother is 270 miles, times two. That’s 44 gallons of gas and one quart of oil. That’s $5 in tolls and, in my case, $100 in parking fees (yup, those old NYC roots popping up again.) So, let’s call it $260.

And then the environmental costs. Taking my car just that once will create the amount of carbon that 10 tree seedlings can sequester in ten years. Or a tenth of an acre of pine forest in a year.

And besides the air pollution, there is the traffic congestion to which I contribute and the use of a car that will need to be repaired and replaced a little bit sooner with each journey it makes.

The bus might have cost $250 round trip; the train $400. The environmental costs? I’d like to say nothing, since these vehicles were going anyway, but of course the more of us who travel by public transportation, the more trains and buses will be on the road. Still, with the costs divided, we will call it negligible.

So what is the numerical value of protecting the environment? What is the worth of relaxing instead of fighting traffic? How many angels fit on a pin? These numbers are elusive, but real. We are already paying to fix pollution problems we created. And we are already suffering health costs born of our ailing environment. Someday, we will be able to see those numbers in black and white, and perhaps then we can make driving decisions more responsive to reality. In the meantime, I realize I am running up the bill.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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