Sara Rubin here, welcoming the nearly 100,000 visitors expected to arrive in Monterey County for Car Week. For those visitors (and many locals), there is a dazzling allure to the hundreds of cars shown at dozens of events. There are century-old machines that still run, race cars made famous for incomprehensible speed, futuristic cars that give a glimpse of the next big thing. This is car culture in all its glory, in some ways synonymous with American culture (see our cover story in this week’s print edition of the Weekly, out on newsstands tomorrow).
But it’s past time we relegate car culture to museums and occasional car shows. We need to get gas-powered cars off our roads. While the Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law yesterday, will help incentivize a transition from gas to electric, it’s not enough. While local agencies are mapping out more EV charging infrastructure and offer incentives to help transition our fleet to electric, it’s not enough. We are facing an existential threat and our society, which over the past century has been shaped by the automobile, needs to envision a new way of being. We need to let go of our obsession with cars, electric or hydrogen-powered or otherwise.
This is not some anti-tech nostalgia argument. This is about taking meaningful steps to address the climate crisis—and also creating communities that are nice to live in. For a story about electric vehicles also in tomorrow’s print edition, I spoke to Piet Canin from the nonprofit Ecology Action. “The big picture is to have a system where people live closer to where they work and shop so they are less reliant on cars, whether they be electric or gas,” he says. “That’s the ultimate goal, to create a more sustainable, resilient community.”
Imagine most things in daily life within walking or biking (or e-biking) radius. But then there’s reality, as Canin acknowledges: “Monterey Bay is a rural/suburban community and things aren’t built that way.”
That’s where our car culture bleeds into policy decisions about where and how we build, at least in our relatively dense cities. Sometimes, the connection is painfully obvious. Monterey City Council voted 3-2 on July 19 to sink a proposal for an affordable apartment building, up to six stories and 64 units, downtown on Adams Street. One reason opponents gave was lack of parking. Councilmember Alan Haffa, who cast a dissenting vote (he supported the project), spoke to that lazy, uncreative reasoning: “When are we going to stop fetishizing cars? Everything is about cars and parking,” he said. “What about people, and places for people to live?”
There is in fact a plan for the city of Monterey with a proposal to rethink how and where we build. In 2016, the city adopted a climate action plan, aiming to achieve an 80-percent reduction in emissions by 2050. It’s ambitious, but Mayor Clyde Roberson reached out to LandWatch Monterey County asking for help with crafting a more aggressive plan.
LandWatch joined up with the group EcoDataLab, a consortium of universities using data science to scale up climate and sustainability solutions. And EcoDataLab’s Ben Gould prepared a strategy for Monterey to get to net-zero by 2045.
Part of his draft plan is about transitioning to EVs and improving charging infrastructure. Part of it is about building denser, more concentrated communities: “As a result of Monterey’s zoning decisions, tens of thousands of residents and employees are forced into cars, choking local streets, dirtying the air, and polluting the Monterey Bay with tire-derived microplastics, while thousands more simply cannot find a home they can afford,” according to the draft report. “These tragedies are entirely preventable.”
I asked Gould about whether we will (and should) expect a widespread transition to EVs in the coming years, and he offers a solid yes. “That buys us a lot of time on climate change. We are not ‘the perfect is the enemy of the good’ here,” he says. “Anyone who drives a gas car (and has the means) has an ethical duty to switch to an EV.”
Before you fear that environmentalists are coming for your cars and your garages and your driveways, Gould offers a different framing—think of the safe bike routes, the practical bus routes, the fast trains. It’s a future of more choices, not less: “The dream we are describing is that you are free to choose how to get wherever you are going.”
More choices, especially choices that are easier on our planet, are a good thing for all of us.