Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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Sara Rubin here, bracing for the last day of Car Week-related mega-traffic today. Actually it hasn’t been that bad for me this year—I’ve mostly avoided the big event areas thanks to a nifty (and improved) county-provided map with live traffic, and thanks to riding my bike when practical, sometimes zipping by what look to be zippy cars that are basically stuck in park. 

Traffic is one of those impacts that comes with living in a place that relies on tourism, and it means that locals adapt—there’s some push and pull, accepting the crowds and the traffic and finding off-hours to enjoy our favorite places. 

But some impacts cannot be avoided, and one of those is the environmental impact of Car Week. The traffic is not just an inconvenience—it’s a sea of collector cars, many of which are exempt from California’s smog regulations, spewing out not just climate crisis-inducing carbon dioxide, but other harmful gases. 

Cars that pre-date 1976 are exempt from California’s stringent smog test standards, thanks to a 2004 law. That law marked an improvement from a previous 30-year rolling exemption for older cars—even though 1976 model-year cars, on average, emit 155 times more hydrocarbons per mile than new vehicles, according to a state legislative analysis. 

(The improvement comes from marking a line in the sand: By 2010, the Legislature reasoned, pre-1982 cars—those that would have been exempt from smog checks under the previous law—would have accounted for 22 percent of hydrocarbon and 11 percent of NOx emissions, despite representing just 2.6 percent of the total vehicles in the state, and just 1.3 percent of vehicle miles traveled.)

Yes, some Car Week events celebrate and feature new technologies like electric vehicles. But the fact remains our American obsession with cars is terrible news for the environment (and, by extension, for all of us). According to the U.S. EPA, emissions from transportation account for about 29 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, making it the largest contributor of U.S. GHG emissions. In the past 20 years, emissions from the transportation sector increased more than in any other sector. (Overall, thanks to the Clean Air Act and other regulations, our air quality has improved and continues to improve.) 

As far as I know, there’s no festival devoted to old factories in which we get to gather round and watch smokestacks spew what has long been banned. Cars occupy a unique place in American culture, but at some point we have to face reality: Cars are bad for us. I’d love to attend the post-car Car Week some day, and ride my bike or take public transportation to get there—if only our systems were good enough. Today, I can’t even ride my bike to the Concours d’Elegance—Pebble Beach, normally open (for free) to pedestrians and bicyclists per an agreement with the California Coastal Commission, closes that access during this car-centric weekend. 

Our fascination with cars may itself become a collector’s item someday, but for now, it remains a celebration for visitors from all over the world and an economic linchpin to the Peninsula’s tourism economy. You can read about that in this week’s issue of the Weekly, with a story by David Schmalz on merchants who rely on Car Week customers. You can also read about the auctions (and the biggest per-car event for Mecum) in a piece by Dave Faries; the enduring fascination with Camaros by Pam Marino; meet a photographer who makes art out of Car Week in a Q&A by Celia Jiménez; and dive into car terminology with a guide by Marielle Argueza. 

It’s a major boost for the economy and it’s a sincere celebration of automobiles which, I agree, are amazing. But I’m still eagerly waiting for a post-car world and I hope I’m here to see it. 

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