It’s no secret that the more fossil fuels you consume, the more likely you are to be weak and obese. If you live a typical western lifestyle, you need to make a concerted effort to exercise and many people simply don’t have the time, what with working long hours to afford those cars and airline tickets. Sedentary lifestyles are proven to make you unhappy anyway, and the state of modern aviation and road transportation can’t help much. So we take prozac in an attempt to correct what industrial capitalist social norms have taken away from us.
From personal experience, I am much happier since I sold my car in 1999, and I can’t say that in the last four years I’ve missed flying at all. Bigger and faster isn’t always better as it turns out.
This culture tells us that using human energy for practical ends is regressive, outdated, even laughable. It’s what poor, unsuccessful, or indigenous and uncivilized people do. A whole host of devices are now available to allow you to avoid any physical exertion whatsoever- think electric can openers- ridiculous for all but the physically challenged.
The thing is- fossil fuels also make us psychologically weak. When you become accustomed to high speed travel, the use of any other method seems impossibly difficult and strenuous. The next time (god forbid) that you find yourself in a car or a plane, think about making the trip by a slower means. If you’re in a car driving a couple of miles, think about walking or cycling that same distance. Sitting still in the shell of metal and glass, your muscles cold- it can seem as difficult as climbing Mt. Everest. No wonder it takes quite a bit to encourage people to take up cycling.
Of course the reality of physical activity is quite different- once you warm up your muscles and get going, the endorphins flood through your system, rewarding your brain centers for doing what our bodies evolved to do (and to require). It feels wonderful and you can cover distances you never thought achievable.
The sensation of being propelled through space while you just sit there somehow makes any other mode seem not just slower but a lot slower. For example, most people I’ve spoken with massively overestimate the time it takes to cross the Atlantic by ship, sometimes guessing several months. In fact, it can take as short as five days.
When I took a cargo ship across the Atlantic in 2006, I was expecting to experience how incredibly vast the planet was, compared to my past experiences in a jumbo jet. But somehow the planet seemed smaller, distances more achievable, the scale of Earth comprehensible in a way that British Airways never allowed.
The truth is that cheap, long distance travel has eroded the diversity of human cultures and species on the planet. It has also made us weak and dependent, eroding the strength we were all born with. It’s time to kick the habit. It’s time to take the power back.