Machiavellian Mobility and the Path Once Traveled

"I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright. It is not indifferent to us which way we walk. There is a right way; but we are very liable from heedlessness and stupidity to take the wrong one." - Henry David Thoreau

by Robert T. Nanninga

s a child, one of my favorite films was "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." Near the end of the film, protagonist Charlie Bucket, realizing he made a mistake, tells the famed confectioner that he would like to go back. Willy Wonka's response was one that I have carried with me. His words? "You must go forward to go back." Profound does not begin to describe that statement. If humankind continues forward on it's current trajectory, it just might find itself vulnerable to the environment in unfathomable ways. Ironically, in regards to the growing environmental crisis, we must now go back if we are to go forward.

Progress is a double-edged sword. Our never ending quest for convenience requires us to work more than ever to acquire the tools of technology designed to make our lives easier. The automobile and its eternal combustion engine is such a tool. Intended to improve personal mobility, it seems ironic that American culture has been enslaved by the very thing it embraced as liberator. Adding to the tragedy is the reality of slowly driving ourselves to the brink of extinction.

This Earth Day season, you will hear a great deal about alternative fuels, renewable energy, mass transit, and sustainable technologies, remedying the precarious position in which we now find ourselves. To the contrary, it is my position that none of these will save the planetary biotic community, because they all support the anthropocentric paradigm of dominance and disconnect, denial and destruction. The future does not exist in our continued addiction to fossil fuel, but a return to the most basic modes of transportation, walking.

Bipedal self-propulsion is by far the most environmentally sustainable form of travel. Not only does it require little in the way of energy, it also promotes health and a healthy sense of place. Before the automobile, individuals were well served to experience the environment that surrounded them. In fact, it was this intimate knowledge that allowed them to survive, in spite their lack of technology. Technology creates more problems than it solves, and when all factors are figured into the equation, transportation technologies have done absolutely nothing to promote the general welfare.

Granted, cars get us from point A to point B. But then again, so does walking. Some would argue that walking is unrealistic, when distant destinations are desired, to which I would point out, for tens of thousands of years, Homo sapiens evolved, migrating across the planet, without the use of motorized transportation. In hindsight, I would say inventing the wheel was not a good thing for any species other than humans, and even that has proven itself short lived. We've superceded the natural rhythms of the earth with our need for speed, and it has been downhill ever since. Walking, on the other hand, has been with us since we came down out of the trees, and during that time it has served us well in time of feast and famine, like all the other mammals predisposed to it.

Imagine: over the course of human history, civilizations rose and fell without power steering, cruise control, and dual air conditioning. I'm sure most Americans would see that time as primitive and unenlightened, with scarcity and want being foremost in their minds. I'm also sure most of those same Americans believe recent human evolution to be the pinnacle of biological evolution. Then again, these are the same folks sitting in traffic, day after day, working long hours so that they can afford car payments, auto insurance, and the price of gas. So much for progress. So much for progress.

The energy I would like to see harnessed in the 21st century is people power. I would like to see America get out of their gas-guzzling, ozone-depleting, road-killing, earth-raping technological monsters, and reconnect with the earth and their communities. Saving the planet from a failed science experiment begins with one step. Get out of your car and walk.

Walk to work. Walk to church. Walk to the beach. Walk to the market. Walk in the woods until your spirit is reborn. But above all, just walk.

Robert T. Nanninga is an environmental writer/producer who lives in Leucadia. You can reach Robert by sending email to or by writing to the San Diego Earth Times.