Meet the Americans who live in their vans, buses and cars in pursuit of a simpler life using less energy. Seen here is Bob Wells (a central figure in the 2020 Best Picture “Nomadland”) and Ma Terry Storzieri, a character study for Frances McDormand’s role as “Fern.“
During the Covid‑19 pandemic, the hashtag #vanlife surged on Instagram. More than 14 million posts celebrated the movement, which extols life on the road. At the same time, the US Census Bureau reported that 3.3 million Americans were displaced by natural disasters in 2022.
“Climate change is inevitably disruptive and will send more people permanently or temporarily to living in their vehicles,” says Sabrina Safrin, a professor at Rutgers Law School who studies vehicle dwellers and their rights. “This group are pioneers, and they have a lot to teach us on mobile living—how to exist using significantly less energy and water, and how to still find community and meaning.”
For now, however, the biggest motivator for the climate nomads is not disruption but an older, more established worldview: anti-consumerism. The degrowth movement, which argues that economies should focus on securing the minimal basic needs of their populations instead of relentlessly increasing consumption, was founded 50 years ago.