Transportation accounts for 29% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, making it the largest contributor—even over electricity and agriculture. After decades of stalled action on fuel efficiency standards, fuel efficiency and new vehicle greenhouse gas standards are on a path to improve over the next 13 years.
In this week’s episode of Good Together, Laura Wittig speaks with Dan Becker, director of the Center for Biological Diversity‘s Safe Climate Transport Campaign, about the future of the transportation industry and its role in climate change. He also discusses how important it is for automakers to make clean cars, and how we can shape the future of the automotive industry.
“Two-thirds of the carbon emissions—the carbon dioxide that causes most of global warming, roughly 80% of the global warming problem—is attributable to carbon dioxide pollution,” says Becker. “Most of that comes from burning fossil fuels in our vehicles and our power plants.”
And after filling up a car with gasoline, the gasoline gets burned by the engine. Then, the carbon dioxide comes out of the tailpipe. While it might not seem like a lot, it adds up on both an individual and global level.
“For every gallon of gas, 25 pounds of carbon dioxide is pumped into the atmosphere. And you don’t think of gas as weighing anything. It’s the volumes of the gas that are causing the problems here,” Becker says. “So burning fewer gallons is really critical. Over the course of a year, an average car emits several tons of carbon dioxide pollution.”
Car companies have tried to make this issue more of a consumer problem, shifting the blame on us. Becker says even the term “carbon footprint” was developed by a PR firm at the behest of the major oil company, British Petroleum BP, to make us feel guilty instead of owning up and making crucial changes to prevent climate change themselves.
“The purpose of it was to make you and me feel as if we’re responsible for the pollution,” Becker says. “That way, BP and other oil companies and auto companies and coal companies and power plants aren’t blamed.”
While these companies need to step up and do the work to better our planet on a larger scale, there are still changes we can make as conscious consumers to reduce our transportation footprint. Here are Becker’s top tips.
9 Tips for Reducing Your Transportation Footprint
1. Ditch the SUVs and Trucks for Good
Becker says of the best ways to reduce your transportation footprint is ditching gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks for good.
“Please avoid SUVs. SUVs and pickup trucks are the most polluting and the most inefficient vehicles. And most of them really don’t haul much more than a Starbucks latte,” Becker says. “If you need to haul hay, sure, then get a pickup truck. But if all you’re doing is hauling your kids back and forth to school and home, maybe you don’t need one.”
Becker says consumers can make a difference by driving a more efficient vehicle rather than a gas guzzler—”a sedan instead of an SUV or pickup truck,” Becker says. Maybe that’s a hybrid vehicle that has both an electric motor and a gasoline engine. Or, maybe you go all-in with an electric vehicle.
Whatever you do, choosing an option that burns the least amount of gasoline possible is a win for the planet.
2. Invest in an Electric Vehicle When You’re Ready
Buying an electric vehicle can seem like a really big (and expensive) commitment. The good news is that in the long run, it’s not only a great option for the planet—it’s also great for your bank account.
“Remember that buying a more efficient vehicle saves you money at the gas pump. The better technology pays for itself in just a few years of driving. And then there are also tax credits for efficient vehicles,” Becker says. “Within the next few years, as the cost of electric vehicles comes down, it will be cheaper to buy an electric vehicle than to buy a gasoline-powered twin of that vehicle. The cost of batteries is falling rapidly, and the cost of gas is not.”
3. Don’t Forget About Used Options
If buying a new electric vehicle or hybrid vehicle isn’t in the cards right now, don’t forget that there are plenty of used options available at a lower price point that will still reduce your transportation footprint.
“I remember when I was newly out of college and looking for a vehicle myself. I wanted an amazing electric car and I couldn’t find one,” Wittig says. “I was able to find a hybrid that was used. And for me, that felt like a really good purchase. There’s a bunch of different ways you can get creative when you think about going out to buy that vehicle.”
4. Do Your Research
If you’re trying to find the most eco-friendly vehicle within your budget, Becker recommends using FuelEconomy.gov, which was created by the U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help consumers get side-by-side comparisons of cars.
“You can look up the fuel economy and comparisons between different vehicles that you’re considering to see how much they pollute, and how much they guzzle,” Becker says. “The number of gallons a vehicle burns is what’s critical.”
Wittig recommends coming up with your needs, then checking out the fuel efficiency of those options. Choose the best one that works for you and/or your family: “That’s something you can feel really good about,” she says.
5. Look for the EPA’s Sticker on New Vehicles
The EPA provides fuel economy data that’s shown on a Fuel Economy Label—or window sticker—you’ll notice on new cars and trucks. If you’re looking for a new car, it allows you to easily compare options to reduce your transportation footprint.
“It’s easy to tell whether a particular vehicle is clean or not, because a new vehicle is sold with a window sticker,” Becker says. “The window sticker, which is approved by the EPA, says how many miles per gallon the particular vehicle gets. And in the small print, they translate that into tons of pollution per vehicle.”
6. Shop Online
Contrary to popular belief, online shopping can be a much more eco-friendly way to get what you need than driving.
“Don’t forget the internet. One of the most polluting things people do is get in a vehicle and drive to the mall and buy something. If you can, buy it online,” Becker says. “The delivery system—the route that the delivery truck takes—is designed by computer to be the most efficient driving that’s possible. So that same product, if delivered from an online order, will get to you much more cleanly than if you go yourself and pick it up. And of course, you also save gas.”
7. Combine Your Trips
Becker says to avoid driving as much as you can. And when you do venture out, try to check everything off your list during that single outing.
“You can definitely make fewer trips or combined trips,” he says. Rather than making three separate trips, leave a little early to grab groceries, visit the bank, and go to the pharmacy. You’ll reduce your transportation footprint by hitting up everything in one swift trip as opposed to all the back-and-forth.
8. Take Advantage of Public Transportation and Bicycling
Driving isn’t our only option. “There are such things as bicycles, there are such things as feet,” Becker says. “To the extent that you use those instead of a gas-guzzling vehicle saves the planet and will also save you money.”
If public transit is available in your area, that’s always a more eco-friendly option than driving separately, too.
“I recognize that COVID is a scary thing, and many people may not want to get on a crowded bus or train at the moment,” he says. “But when the vaccination rate increases and people can safely sit next to one another, mass transit is a very clean way of getting around.”
9. Use Your Voice
We sometimes forget that our voice is our most powerful tool for change. Becker says there are many ways to reach out and try to create change in the world around us.
“We have a voice as both consumers and as citizens; our leaders are required to at least hear us. Yes, they don’t have to act on what we do, necessarily, but they do have to listen,” he says. “Write a letter to your member of Congress or your state legislators or your governor, right to the President. Write letters to the editor of a local paper, because although you may not know a lot of people who read Letters to the Editor, every member of Congress does. It’s a free poll for them that they can use to gauge the sentiment of their electors.”
Your passion is louder than you think: “Be noisy. Get out there. Tell people what you think. Their job is to listen to you, and if you tell them how much you care about global warming—that you want them to take responsible actions, you want them to require that more efficient and cleaner products, including cars, be made—they’ll at least hear it and take it into account when they vote.”
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