Well, it's been over 100 years and it looks like we're not that much closer to figuring out if cars, in the broad scope of things, have indeed helped or hurt us. They've most certainly done an insane amount for personal mobility and a person's freedom to just up and go somewhere for not that much money (excluding actually buying the car or repairs and all that). Also, in the big scheme of things, tailpipe emissions aren't that bad compared to other transportation types (e.g., air travel or container ships) or the pollution some factories do.
Still, cars do have a dark side, both environmental and personal. They enclose us in little bubbles of glass and steel, far removed from other people and the environment they dirty up. They're an integral part of modern life, and thus, the easy answer is that car both help us and hurt us.
On Earth Day, we can step back a bit to try and come up with a real answer, though. This is a day set aside, in part, by Wisconsin Democratic Senator Gaylord Nelson back in 1970, to give a voice to all the living beings who couldn't speak for themselves. He described starting the first Earth Day this way:
As we continue this celebration in 2011, it looks like it might take another few decades – when, let's dream, we'll have 100 percent recyclable and recycled vehicles that run off 100 percent renewable energy – before we can clearly figure out which of Rogers two options has come true. Luckily, this also happens to be AutoblogGreen's fifth birthday, and that's something we're more than happy to say is a purely good thing. Then again, we're slightly biased, so share your own comments with us below.
At a conference in Seattle in September 1969, I announced that in the spring of 1970 there would be a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment and invited everyone to participate. The wire services carried the story from coast to coast. The response was electric. It took off like gangbusters. Telegrams, letters, and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country. The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air - and they did so with spectacular exuberance.
[Image: bravenewtraveler – C.C. License 2.0]