Sustainable Living: How’s My Driving? Call 1-800-Burning-The-Planet

Sustainable Living: How’s My Driving? Call 1-800-Burning-The-Planet

February 4, 2019 0 By Dave Gardner

What do you think about when you’re behind the wheel of your car, navigating a sea of lights, signs, pedestrians, bicycles and other cars? Do you sing along with the radio or Spotify? Contemplate what you’ll fix for dinner? Meditate on the sad state of politics?

Do you ever think about how your drive will impact the breakdown of our fragile climate? I hope you’ve already given that some consideration – by consolidating trips and avoiding unnecessary miles, and even avoiding some automobile trips altogether (by walking, biking or hopping on public transportation). But there is something else you can be doing. Judging by what I observe on the roadways, VERY few of us are doing this. What could it be?

It’s surprisingly simple. Drive the speed limit. When we speed, our cars are burning extra gasoline needlessly. We get more miles per gallon on the freeway at 55 miles per hour than at 65, more miles per gallon at 65 than at 75. I think about this every time I drive. I make a conscious effort to drive at the posted speed – not just to meet my obligation in the social contract for everyone’s safety and peace of mind, but also to minimize my carbon emissions.

On city streets, where speed limits range from 20 to 45 miles per hour, I estimate perhaps 30 percent of the drivers are near the speed limit. The rest are driving 5 to 20 above the limit. On the freeway, it appears to me that no more than 5 or 10 percent of us are driving the speed limit. I’d guess 70 percent are driving 10 over, and a significant number of drivers are hauling down the road at 15 mph above the limit. They’re all in one big hurry.

What about you? Are you driving well over the speed limit? Maybe you think the limit is ridiculously and unfairly low. Or perhaps you’re always running late. I’d like to suggest you add a new thought process to your driving routine: make your tank of gas last longer. If you typically fill up once a week, how about trying to stretch that to 8 or 9 days? Can you do it? There’s just one way to find out! Slow down and smell the roses.

Of course there are other ways to stretch your gas mileage. One easy and obvious one is taking your foot off the accelerator as soon as you realize you’re going to have to stop at a red light up ahead (this requires looking ahead). If you’re doing a lot of braking, then chances are you’re doing a lot of unnecessary accelerating. Another is to turn off your engine when you’re stopped for construction or waiting at the curb for someone you’re picking up. You’d be amazed there is an art to eking maximum gas mileage out of your driving. It’s called “hypermiling,” and I plan to interview an expert on this for more tips soon on my GrowthBusters podcast about sustainable living.

Fifty staff-members at the American Automobile Association tried “eco-driving” a few years ago. The most prolific of them shaved their gasoline bill by 33%. Overall, the staff reduced their gasoline consumption (and bills) by 10%. If you’re spending less per week on gas, then you’re emitting less CO2 per week.

I thought I’d recommend these new habits because I don’t see much evidence that drivers out there are thinking about their carbon footprint. It’s not painful or even inconvenient to do low-carbon driving. It’s quite easy.

Climate scientists last October informed us we have fewer than a dozen years to change our ways if we want to avoid climate hell. Business-as-usual is not going to cut it. We need to be making dramatic changes. Sure, this means we need to be closing coal-fired power plants NOW, and natural-gas plants next. But it also means we need to stop building (and buying) mcmansions (and actual mansions). We need to cut way back on our heating and air conditioning. We need to turn off the lights when we leave the room. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Leave the car in the garage as much as possible. And it’s time for us to adopt low-carbon eco-driving.

Tell your children you’re doing it for them – so they might have a livable planet when they grow old.