Everything you need to know about going car-free

Cars: We drive in them, embellish them, call them our 'babies', and display them in car shows and automobile museums. When we spend hours a day in our vehicles, they begin to feel like extensions of ourselves. Modern culture is generally referred to as car-dependent by urban planners and environmentalists, and it's easy to see why. In developed countries, short of urban metropolises, the idea of going about our daily activities on foot seems almost impossible due to the way our towns and cities are designed.

Why are cars harmful to the environment?

According to the Australian government's GreenVehicleGuide.com, single-ownership cars account for a large proportion of Australia's carbon emissions. In fact, in recent years, road transportation has spewed as much as 13.2 per cent of the country's total emissions into the air. That's a lot of carbon.

Even beyond carbon emissions, car dependency has far-reaching consequences for sustainability. Many urban planners bemoan the way cars have affected city design. Since the United States began setting the trend of suburbanisation after the end of World War II, many Western countries have followed suit in developing car-dependent towns. This increases sprawl and allows developments to migrate further from urban cores – which means more natural lands become developed and more wildlife is displaced.

Furthermore, a connection is often made between health and sustainability. In the spirit of reducing waste, many environmentalists hope to make lifestyle changes a preventative part of health care. Car dependency has been linked with Australia's rise in obesity, as sitting in a car is a wasted opportunity for exercise. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, three in five Aussies are currently overweight or obese.

How can you lighten your impact?

Unlike government programmes or large-scale changes in energy production, our transportation choices are completely in our own hands. There are a number of ways you can alter your lifestyle to make yourself less car-dependent.

Choose a high-density living environment: In his book "Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability", author David Owen posits that while cities may seem to generate more pollution and energy waste than suburban and rural environments, the opposite is actually true. City dwellers' individual carbon footprints are significantly smaller than those of their small-town counterparts, due to better efficiency, smaller living spaces and easier access to transportation.

Living in a walkable environment with narrow streets, a dense concentration of stores and businesses, and access to public transit is the first step to embracing a car-free lifestyle. If you want to check to see which communities in your area are the most walkable, check out Walkscore.com.

Start biking: Biking to work is another great way to embrace active transportation. Many communities have bike paths or lanes that allow for movement in and around the community. In fact, Ride2Work Day, which is on 15 October, encourages Aussies to ditch their cars in lieu of bicycles as they commute to their jobs.

Urban biking can be an effective, fun and healthy way to get around town. Simply store your purse, a change of clothes (if necessary) and a water bottle in a backpack and be on your way.

Consider a car share: 'The sharing economy' is also generating buzz among enviros. The term describes services that offer a rentership program for products that are conventionally owned by single consumers. A car share program, for example, allows you to use cars on an hourly basis and return them when you're not using them. If you are considering going car-free, these kinds of programs can give you peace of mind that should a situation arise in which you need a vehicle, you'll have access to a car.