Nearly 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the United States are associated with Transportation. Transportation is the second largest contributor of GHG, just slightly behind electric energy production, making it a major contributor to global warming. Transportation is something that we all are involved in. Whether we’re doing the traveling ourselves, or having something sent to us, the amount and type of “transportation” affects the health (or not) of our planet. And used in this context, transportation involves many things.
Let’s start with us. The way we “get around” from place to place is a choice. I Get Around mostly by car (as most of us do) and often, I’m the only one in the car. Cars are convenient; going solo eliminates complications; and often there are few other options like public transportation. At the most basic level, my “getting around” contributes to global warming based on the efficiency of my car and the distance I go. So relative to my car, what choices can I affect?
- Which car do I use? I use the car I own (duh!) but at some point, I’ll need to replace it. So which one? Electric (very friendly to the environment, but maybe limited range); or Hybrid (highly efficient without mileage limitations); or traditional fuel (possibly more efficient than in past years); or big-old gas guzzler (maybe to haul around lots of extra stuff). Regardless of which one type I choose, there are guidelines to help me make a better informed choice. For example, each year the EPA evaluates each new car, truck, and SUV for greenhouse gas and smog on a scale against the average. Those vehicles earning a “better than average” are given “SmartWay” designations. So when I need another car, a little research can help my choice, even if I’m not ready to go all electric yet.
- How can my current car be more efficient? A few easy tips. A U. S. Department of Energy study shows that routine maintenance (i.e., tune-up) can improve miles per gallon (MPG) efficiency by an average of 4%. Keep tires properly inflated because lower tire air pressure (measured in pounds per square inch – psi) causes MPG efficiency to drop by 0.2% per psi. Underinflated tires may account for an average of a 3% efficiency loss. (An inexpensive air pressure gauge is useful in determining if your tires are under inflated.) These are modest improvements but not deal breakers. The big deal !!! in terms of improving efficiency is to not drive crazy (i.e., no hard acceleration or hard braking) and to drive the speed limit. MPG estimates on your new car’s sticker are typically based on driving at 55 MPH. At that speed, your car should deliver the advertised MPG. But according to a study from fueleconomy.gov, when you increase the speed to, say 75 MPH, the MPG drops by 23%. Even more (exponentially for you math thinkers) at higher speeds. I have found that when I drive at or slightly below the speed limit, I still get there. So bottom line: I plan to keep my car in tune and drive sensibly, especially no “need for speed”!
- How can I be a more efficient driver? Besides driving sensibly, there are several no-brainers here including car pooling (add a person, double the efficiency); and better trip planning (making multiple stops – trip chain – instead of single trips). Fewer miles means less fuel used! I’ve gotten better at this but there is always room for improvement.
- Anything else? Avoid drive-through pick-ups unless you are a parent with lots of children to harness in and out – or sick and need of a prescription – or if you have difficulty walking. To me there are valid uses for drive-throughs; being lazy is not. According to a Huffington Post article, the big fast food burger restaurants (namely McDonalds, Burger King, and Wendy’s) attribute 60-70% of sales to drive-through lanes! I’m amazed when I pass a McDonalds and see virtually no customers in the store but tons of cars in the drive through-lane(s). Some communities are banning drive-throughs in high-pedestrian zones like downtown, or banning them altogether. Stated simply, all that idling and wasted gas can’t be good, especially if it can be avoided by parking and walking in. That is what I plan to do.
- Other options to my car? Say walking, or biking. I’m doing more of this but I can do more. Public transportation as an option? When I spent time in the New York area, I mastered the trains and subways but rarely used the bus (which seemed much more complicated). Where we live now, there are no subways and only limited light rail, so, I need to learn more about using the bus. It will take some education and some practice to get the hang of it but worth the effort. Especially if I add parking costs to the equation. In general, using the bus has half the environmental impact as driving my car. Now there are valid arguments that having only a few passengers on a large bus is less efficient than cars. That’s true, but that conclusion can lead to a self-fulfilling policy that would encourage communities (and me) to not ride the bus. That’s silly. Assuming the bus is running anyway, I should use it if it can fit my other criteria for convenience and timing.
One last point (for now) about “getting around”. What about driving as compared to flying? Which mode of transportation is kinder to the environment? Turns out an efficient car (25-30 MPG) is more efficient than air travel. For example, the 300 mile trip by car between Boston and Philadelphia would generate about 104 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) – a leading greenhouse gas – while that same trip on a commercial jet would generate, on average, 184 kilograms of CO2 per person. The environmental comparison gap becomes even wider as you add additional persons to the travel mix. That is two people in a car are significantly more efficient since the extra person in the car adds virtually no more CO2.
So my takeaways from examining “getting around” is that I can be smarter when purchasing a new car; I can be more efficient in using my current car; I can explore other non-car options and use when possible; and there are valid trade-offs when considering driving vs. flying. All of these choices will make a difference to our planet. Another takeaway is that there is a lot more to talk about relative to transportation, specifically, transporting my stuff; more to follow on that.