By Kirsten Bokenkamp
According to the Environmental Defense Fund, driving leads to more than 330 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year in the United States alone. This amounts to more than 20% of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions! In an effort to cut down on greenhouse gases, the Obama administration’s new fuel efficiency standards require that passenger cars and light trucks cars get a minimum of 35.5 mpg by 2016. The environmental impact of these new standards is similar to taking 177 million cars off the road.
While this is a positive change in policy, it does not rid us of our personal duty to decrease our own impact. This is a tough one, because so many of us depend on our car for basically everything. I am certain, though, that there are actions that we can all take. Some of us may be able to walk or bike more, or take advantage of public transportation, while others might choose to buy a more efficient car or drive smarter. And we all can ask our legislators to spend more time and resources on energy efficient city planning and transportation.
Nobody has said that reversing global warming will be convenient or easy, politically or personally. Sometimes, however, walking, biking, or taking public transportation to work or to run errands is much more enjoyable than driving. Sure, it usually takes a bit more time, but you are also getting some exercise, enjoying the freedom from road rage, and getting to know your neighborhood better. You will save loads of money on gas, and perhaps you will find yourself in a better mood by the end of the day. Walking or biking will not only help save the earth, but will also lower the health care costs associated with obesity. It has been shown that countries with the highest levels of active transportation have the lowest rates of obesity. Have you ever checked out the website Walk Score? It is pretty neat – you put in your address, and using a 100 point score it tells you how walkable your neighborhood is, and provides a map showing you how close you are to grocery stores, restaurants, coffee shops, bars, movie theaters, parks, drug stores, and the like.
Maybe walking or biking is not an option for you, but the bus is. Public transportation in the US saves about 37 million tons of carbon dioxide every year, and more than 11 million gallons of gas every day! While it may take a bit longer than driving, you have the freedom of reading a book or the paper, or simply sipping on your coffee and looking out the window. It may sound crazy, but for every gallon of gas that you spare, you keep 19.4 pounds of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere – who says individuals can’t make a difference?
About half the people in the US don’t have access to public transportation. If this is you, there are other ways to reduce your impact from driving. If you are in the market for a new car, put fuel efficiency as a top priority. A hybrid car can save 16,000 pounds of carbon dioxide and $3,750 per year. Shop around for the most fuel-efficient car that suits your needs on websites like FuelEconomy or GreenCar. If you don’t really need a big car, then don’t buy one. Another huge thing you can do is to keep your tires properly inflated. This saves you about 250 lbs of carbon dioxide and $840 per year per vehicle! Other tips include: don’t use your car as a storage unit, the more stuff it is carrying around, the harder it needs to work; drive more smoothly, try to limit stopping and starting; shift to a higher gear a little bit earlier; and turn off the car instead of idling. Of course, car-pooling when you can makes a huge difference as well.
Depending on our living situation, we all have different abilities to lessen our impact on the planet from driving. One thing, however, that we can all do is urge our leaders to invest more in public transportation and cities and towns that are walker and biker friendly. It is easy, and will only take a minute of your time. Sign a petition here. In the meantime, do whatever you can to walk more and drive less. While you are doing your part, you might be surprised at just how rejuvenating slowing down can be.