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Car-independent lifestyle of Charles and family

June 5, 2021 | Charles Lin


Living in France for a year was a pivotal experience that kick started a car-free lifestyle which continues to this day.

That was 1991, two years before the public launch of the World Wide Web; a popular movie that year was The Silence of the Lambs with Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster. With three young children in tow, my wife and I left Montreal for France for a year-long sabbatical leave. We sold our car before departing, and have not owned a car since our return to Canada in 1992. We have managed quite well with public transit, walking and occasionally renting a car. The motivation for going car-free was to reduce expense and pollution. It has been liberating.

Living in a complete community is conducive to a car-free lifestyle. In Montreal, within a 45-minute radius of our home either on foot or public transit, we had access to work, school, activities and amenities. For this lifestyle to be sustainable, one needs to be organized. We jokingly said to our friends that we got around town by BMW – bus, metro, walking.

Our car-independent lifestyle did not diminish the children’s participation in extra-curricular activities, as we took advantage of local facilities. When we took day trips outside of the city, such as skiing during the winter, we rented a car for the day.

An unanticipated co-benefit of this car-free lifestyle was the children rarely had a sick day from school, despite the harsh wintry conditions of Montreal. They always had to dress for the weather, and they walked. The children were willing participants in this way of life. The only times we would hear grumbles was when it was pouring rain.

It is now 2021. There were 4.6 billion people who used the World Wide Web in January 2021, 59% of the global population. Climate change is front and centre in the discussion of risks facing communities in Canada and around the world. On the commuting front, technological innovation and government policy have enabled the increasing adoption of electric vehicles, which is expected to play an important role in combatting climate change. In 1991, the electric vehicle option was not available when we decided to stop using a gasoline-powered car.

Our children have grown and left home years ago; two out of three maintain a car-free lifestyle and everyone remains avid walkers. My wife and I have moved to Toronto, and walking and public transit continue to be the default commuting options; we rarely use taxi or Uber service. In 2021-speak, we made a lifestyle choice to reduce our carbon footprint – 30 years ago.

A car-free lifestyle, which worked well for us, may not be for everyone. One thing is clear though: the power for change is in all our hands. Exercise it!

Charles Lin

Charles is a retired atmospheric scientist based in Toronto. He stays busy as founder and lead of ImpactNetZero, keeping healthy in mind and body, and reading stories to his two grandchildren.

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