A little known fact about me, which will surprise anyone who met me after college, is that I LOVE to drive. I really love it. I love driving fast, shifting gears, and racing. My first car was a lowered Honda Civic and my first two speeding tickets were for racing other lowered Civics on small roads (I have been cited with “reckless endangerment to others”). I used to try to get lost on the backroads of New Hampshire for fun just so I could drive around more.
Fast forward to 2020, and my husband and I share a Prius V with three carseats crammed in the back. Most days I don’t drive at all and, when I do drive, I rarely go over thirty miles per hour. When I am on the highway, I top out at sixty-five on a good day and it takes awhile to get to sixty with three kids, two big dogs, and any incline.
What happened?! Well, as you can imagine, studying climate change in college ruined all the fun for me. I couldn’t power shift without thinking about melting icecaps and drowning polar bears, so I switched to trail running and mountain biking for thrills and saved driving for getting (fewer) places.
Does driving make you feel guilty too (it should)? Here’s what you can do to green your ride (all facts and figures are from How Bad are Bananas by Mike Berners-Lee:
Share a ride. Yes, mileage is a big part of your vehicle’s carbon footprint, but making a car is a carbon-intensive process as well (see new car figures below). The less cars, the better. Sharing a car with a family member, spouse, friend, neighbor, or even a stranger through a ride-share is a great option. Is it sometimes annoying to share a car with my husband? Sure. But we’ve been doing it for over fifteen years and there have only been five or six times that it has been truly difficult and neighbors or family have always come through for us.
Rethink your commute. There are lots of ways to get from point A to point B. Research other options before you assume driving by yourself is the only way. Choosing public transit, ride shares, walking, or biking can decrease your commute’s carbon footprint by 40-98 percent. If driving solo is your only option, consider changing your job or moving. The reason we have always been able to share a car is because we have always worked close enough to one or both of our jobs to commute by walking or bike. This was a conscious decision.
Drive slower. Driving slower can decrease your trip’s carbon footprint by ten percent. Accelerating and decelerating gently will save another 20 percent.
Consolidate errands. Most errands people do are either a) unnecessary or b) inefficient. My husband or I go grocery shopping once a week at a location that is less than ten miles from our house. We rarely buy anything other than groceries (post on that upcoming), but when we do, we always call ahead to make sure it is available so we aren’t driving around for no reason. If there is something we need to do in another town or city, we always make sure to do any errands there at the same time.
Choose a small, efficient car. Think about your needs and choose the smallest, most efficient car that will meet those needs. For example, we are a family of five with two large dogs. We could not fit in the standard Prius, so the Prius V station wagon was our best option. Three carseats barely fit in the backseat, the dogs are able to both lie down and stand up in the trunk, and we have enough extra space for most of our daily needs when the dogs aren’t in there (groceries, small household projects, gathering 35 butternut squash from the garden…). A lot of people think they need a bigger car for kids’ sports gear or trips to the lumber yard or the like. Or they think they need a more powerful car to tow a boat or to make it up a snow-covered mountain. In case you think we just stay home all winter or never need to carry giant logs, let me assure you, we do all those things too. Many of them we do in the Prius (we have a Thule cargo carrier for the top, a bike rack for the back, and snow tires for the snow), but sometimes we borrow a truck and sometimes we rent a truck or trailer. It is WAY less expensive to rent a truck for the two times a year you need to tow your boat or bring home a load of wood, then to maintain a giant truck all year long just for that purpose.
Buy a used car and take care it. A standard new car will set your carbon footprint back 17 tonnes, according to How Bad are Bananas. Once that car has been produced and purchased, those emissions can’t be taken back, but you can discourage new car production by buying a used car. And, if you take care of your small, efficient, used car it should last a lot longer. The embodied emissions of an older car decrease over time, meaning the longer you drive it, the better (this is not true of huge gas guzzlers, FYI). We drove our last car well past 250,000 miles and would have driven it further, but we happened upon the used 2012 Prius V for sale in our neighborhood (this was 2014) and couldn’t pass it up. Now, six years later, we take very good care of the car and intend to have it as long as possible.
Talk about your choices. This is perhaps the hardest part of going green for me. I spend a lot of time researching our lifestyle choices and often think they are the best choice, but I am too shy to talk about my choices for fear I may offend someone. I know people think they need a minivan or a pickup truck for this or that reason, and I don’t want to rock the boat, but the facts are the facts and the climate is the climate and if we want our children to have snow to ski on or lakes to boat on, we’re going to have to make some sacrifices.