Drive Smart This Summer
This past weekend marked the beginning of the summer driving season, and we're on a pace to drive over 750 billion vehicle miles over the next few months. With gas prices now at $3.20 per gallon and rising, our passion for petroleum will cost us more than ever this summer.
The price at the pump is only a fraction of what we'll truly pay, though. All of those miles driven will release millions of tons of carbon dioxide. Those carbon emissions will hurt us down the road via global warming, but the other air pollutants will get us today. Driving releases many toxic compounds and contributes to ozone formation and smog. These are the real killers now - according to Terry Tamminen (former Secretary of the California EPA under Governer Schwarzenegger) in his book Lives Per Gallon, between 55 and 670 billion dollars are spent on the health problems caused by automobile air pollution each year in the US, and over 200,000 people die from inhaling diesel soot and smog. Pick up a copy of the book, read it on the beach, and see if you aren't inspired to make changes this summer.
Given all of this, we thought we'd take the chance to discuss alternative transportation options and the simple things we can do to reduce the impacts of our existing ways of getting around.
Environmentally Sound Automobiles
To us, the buzz around alternative fuels for automobiles sounds more like a roar. Ethanol, biodiesel, the return of electric cars, hydrogen power - every week there's news about some new development. But, what are the facts? And, we'd all love to drive a fuel cell car where the only emissions are water, but what are the best options available today?
The table below shows how we sort out a few of the key figures. We have tried to quantify the global warming impacts and provide our view on some of the other things you should consider for the existing or near-term auto technologies.
So, what is the right option? Well, there isn't one answer - it depends on your situation. Just remember that federal government rebates exist for many of the renewable fuel options (find them here), that prices for many options are comparable to normal cars and falling, and that all things are NOT equal when you're looking at renewable options (i.e., buy ethanol cars for energy independence, not necessarily to stop global warming).
Other Ways to Get From Here to There
Of course, there are other ways to get around. Each mile that you walk or bike will save 20 pounds of carbon dioxide (and may also cut some pounds from your middle). But what if you live in Dallas and it is 100 degrees with 90% humidity? Check out these newfangled IZIP bikes, popularized on the Living With Ed (Begley Jr.) show on HGTV. They're hybrids - pedal when you want, get a boost from the electric motor / battery when you need it, and plug it back in again at night.
Ways To Improve Your Existing Car
Unfortunately, we're all still a ways away from cutting our ties to petroleum unless you live in a city with good public transit and don't need to travel to those out-of-the-way places. There are a number of easy things that you can do to improve the fuel economy of your existing car by 20% or more. Try these tips on for size:
- Stick to (or near) the speed limit. Depending on your car, slowing from 75 mph to 55-60 mph can save 15-30% of your fuel bills.
- Don't drive like you are drag racing. Smooth driving and smoother stops and starts not only save 2-3 miles per gallon but also lengthen the life of your car.
- Reduce your drag. A loaded roof rack or car-top carrier can cut your mileage by several miles per gallon.
- Keep your tires inflated. Properly inflated tires can reduce fuel consumption by several percent.
- Make sure your car is well-maintained. Dirty oil increases friction in your engine, and dirty air filters force your engine to work harder. Both will save gas and expensive repairs down the road.
When All Else Fails, Offset
In the end, we'll still have some emissions from gasoline. And, many of us will travel by air this summer. A trip cross-country can generate as much as 2,500 pounds of carbon dioxide per person, and going to Europe will release almost 6,000 pounds. That's like driving a Hummer 4,000 miles, so for those of you who fly a lot airplane emissions will likely be the biggest source of carbon in your life.
You can't do much about that directly, but you can buy offsets to balance out the emissions from your travels. Through an offset, you are essentially paying another entity (company, nonprofit, etc) to fight global warming on your behalf. All offsets aren't equal, however. Check out this report that rates the offset providers. It's a few months old, and this market is changing fast, but it provides a good overview. There are many good options out there, but we like NativeEnergy offsets. They tell you what kind of renewable energy projects your funds are going to, and they also strongly support the concept of additionality. This means that your offsets help make a project financially viable, rather than just increase the profits of a project started for some other reason that just happens to reduce carbon output. These projects would happen anyway, so make sure you put your money where it will help start a new project.
That's all for this installment. We hope you have a great start to your summer travels - and that you continue to think about the summer water, gardening and cooling efficiency tips we've talked about in past newsletters.
Do you have a topic you would like us to cover? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will try to incorporate it in our newsletters over the next few months.
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