What if Cars Ran on Bananas?

What if Cars Ran on Bananas?

One of my favorite scenes in the Back to the Future movies is when Doc Brown (played by Christopher Lloyd) uses a banana peel to power the "Mr. Fusion" motor of his flying car. Perhaps this inspired me to write in 2007 that "we don’t care if our cars run on gasoline, electricity or bananas so long as they provide safe, convenient, affordable and reliable personal transportation."

Truth is, we don’t need fossil fuels. We need the services these fuels provide, like transportation, heat, and electrical power. While our current economic system provides these services with fossil fuels, it doesn’t have to be this way.

We didn’t choose this system — we inherited it. It’s why we all have a "carbon footprint." While we must step up to avert the climate crisis that threatens our health and quality of life, how we got here is actually not our fault.

But the fossil-fuel industry wants you to think that climate change is your fault. They don’t want to be held responsible for the impact of the products they produced and promoted. Indeed, the concept of the "carbon footprint" was developed by an advertising firm working for British Petroleum. "These companies literally provided the fuel" for climate change, notes Mark Hertsgaard, and "they lied about it for decades to blunt public awareness and policy reform."

Shifting blame is a key tactic fossil-fuel companies and their allies use to subvert the conversation. If we’re convinced that this looming global catastrophe is up to us as individuals to fix, we become overwhelmed, powerless and apathetic. This keeps us from rising up and taking effective action. Guilting people into discussing and comparing their own carbon footprints distracts them from demanding clean energy. As long as the debate is about personal virtue, not the damage of climate change and the need for economic transformation, the fossil-fuel industry gets a free pass (and more profits).

And again, it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s an exciting and expanding menu of energy choices available. For the first time ever, over 70% of Americans are worried climate change. And they’re inspired to do something about it. While the next generation of cars won’t be running on bananas, consumers are already embracing EVs and other non-polluting technologies that are hitting the market.

By becoming more aware and making better choices, we are already changing. But we need to change faster. Our individual choices (diet, transportation, power sources, etc.) are important, but these will not be enough without policies to accelerate the transition. The heavy lifting needs to come from collective action among governments, corporations and citizens — all sharing the reality that fossil fuels must be phased out quickly. And we must insist that the people and corporations who produced and profited from these products bear a moral and fiscal responsibility to power the necessary change.

Our actions as consumers, voters and informed citizens are shaping the transition to a cleaner energy system. We must elect and support people who can lead us to redouble our efforts. As President Lincoln said in the 1862 State of the Union address, "As the occasion is piled high with difficulty, so we must rise to the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we will save our country."

Lincoln was referring to the country being enthralled by an economic system based on slavery. Today we are hostage to another untenable system, one based on fossil fuels.

We have transformed our society before. Previous generations emancipated slaves, supported women’s right to vote and decided to enter and win World War II. Now it’s our turn to commit. In doing so, we will create a unifying force to counter the divisiveness and hyper-partisanship that is currently gripping our nation. Nothing will build community like pursuing the common goal of our collective survival.