Eric Britton is an international consultant, author, and founder of The Commons, a Paris-based nonprofit organization cosponsoring Earth Car Free Day.

Monday, 19 Mar 2001

PARIS, France

On 19 Apr., Earth Car Free Day 2001 is going to take another whack at the catastrophic problems behind global warming. And this time, it is quite possible that something useful may come of it — for a change. The event is being organized in hundreds of cities and neighborhoods around the world, and there’s not a government, international conference, or treaty negotiation in sight. In fact, Earth Car Free Day has no official mandate or responsibility. It is nothing more than a simple idea that two groups — the Earth Day Network in Seattle and The Commons in Paris — have joined forces to support. Not only is it a worldwide event without an official sponsor, but also — and this may catch your interest — the whole thing is being organized through volunteer efforts. The event won’t use a drop of taxpayer money.

Bogota shoots for the stars.

Everyone knows that one of the main causes of carbon dioxide buildup and global warming is the 700 million-plus vehicles that we now have rolling around on the planet’s roads and streets. Equally evident is that no matter how many prestigious international conferences are held, great books written, talk shows talked, and treaties signed (or not signed), every year the problems get worse. Much worse.

Which is where Earth Car Free Day comes in. Despite its somewhat drastic-sounding name, the goal of the day is not to take every car off of every street on our choking planet. The target is much more modest. It is, for those who wish to participate, a day of open reflection on the problem of cars and traffic in cities. It is also a day to encourage people and communities to learn about and even try alternative ways of getting around in their own cities. We hope the day will instigate demonstrations of ways in which cities can be turned into better and safer places for all races, ages, and income groups to live and work — with a lot fewer cars.

Italy puts the car to sleep for a day.

Led by two volunteer organizations that have been around and pounding at the problems of sustainability and social justice for several decades, Earth Car Free Day hopes to spark thousands of celebratory events and demonstrations around the world. Our “Trickle-Up” approach to planning and executing the event takes the old top-down bureaucratic model and stands it on its head. The organizers are working with and supporting local groups, cities, and concerned citizens around the world to use the one common day to make a strong statement about our use and abuse of cars.

You can see the main core of the program at the Earth Car Free Day website. The site shows how volunteers from towns and cities across the planet are already taking advantage of the Internet to swap ideas and experiences. As you see what is already going on, remember that the whole effort only formally starts today.

In the coming week, I will write about some of the events planned in different places. In many cases, these events are being planned by local alternative transportation and environmental groups working on their own. In other cases, mayors are stepping forward and indicating that they are ready to listen, look, and cooperate. Places as different as Singapore, Seattle, Kyoto, Halifax, and The Hague are developing unique approaches to Earth Car Free Day.

Keep your eyes and mind open when you visit the website. You may end up agreeing with Gandhi when he wrote these lines many years ago: “We must be the change we wish to see.”