Neiman: If you won’t do it for the planet, do it for the money

A few days ago I took a call from a polling company hired by the City of Red Deer to gauge public awareness of ecological issues and council’s new master plan on the environment.

I’m happy to oblige these kinds of requests; it’s like having an extra vote that non-responders don’t get. It got me thinking about why we live the way we do.

In Canada, the majority of people say that human-assisted climate change is a real thing — and a real threat. That is opposed to the United States, where belief in climate change polls at less than 50 per cent.

But the majority of Canadians do not act significantly on the their science-based beliefs. They continue to drive big vehicles (trucks still far and away the top seller in new vehicles) and build big houses to live in. They live in neighbourhoods where you have to drive to pick up a loaf of bread or a litre of milk.

We just had Earth Hour last month. Bike to Work Day is May 11 and International Car-Free Day is Sept. 22. All of these events are OK, but they are honoured far more in the mentioning than in the participating. Who is being changed by having these days on the calendar? Hardly anyone.

I recently read an essay about how science-driven policy is a good idea for governments, even though most individuals reject that in practice for themselves.

The article put forth various theories as to why people persist in a lifestyle they know is driving calamitous climate change. It seems the end of the world as we know it does not resonate enough to cause a change in behaviour.

So I propose another angle to the issue that may persuade some people to change lifestyle. If the prospect of mass starvation for our grandchildren will not work to change our behaviour, why not settle on greed?

If we work until early June to pay our taxes, the average Canadian works almost until Car-Free Day to pay for vehicle ownership after that.

The Canadian Auto Association has a calculator to determine the full and true cost of owning a car. If you buy a mid-sized car, you’ll need $9,946 of after-tax income to own it. The average SUV needs $11,947 a year for your trips to work plus bread and milk far from your home. A pickup truck runs on money – $12,940 a year.

How many hours do you work every year to cover those costs, after taxes?

Government figures put the average after-tax net for a Canadian at $53,775, which for our discussion is very close to $25 an hour. That’s after taxes.

So how do you rank? The question is important, because though all our salaries differ, the cost of a vehicle type is rather static.

How many hours does that come to? For the average Canadian with an average mid-sized car, it’s about 10 weeks a year. Add a week to own an SUV. You’ll work 13 weeks a year to run your pickup.

That’s after Tax-Free Day, remember.

So if the thought of huge storms, prolonged droughts, destructive flooding or rising tides destroying cities doesn’t get you to thinking about leaving the car at home more often, think about the money.

Paul Tranter of the University of New South Wales wants people to think of “effective speed” when they think about transportation. That calculation includes not just the time spent on your journeys, but the time you also spend working to pay the full cost of each journey.

Long calculations made short, the bike wins by many miles, followed by walking. And the faster, more expensive the car, the slower your “effective speed.”

Sure climate change is real, but so is money, and the hours you spend to earn it.

Is having an extra $10,000 a year, tax-free, in your pocket worth the price of a bike?

I’ve always thought so, even though I don’t do Earth Hour, Car-Free Day, or Bike To Work Day.

Greg Neiman is a former Advocate editor.

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