Part Five of my series covering Columbia Climate School's 37 Easiest Ways to Reduce Your Climate Footprint is - not surprisingly - how we get around in the world. Whether it's by car, bike, bus, train, plane, or on foot, there are ways to up your game and really walk the walk (or, ahem, drive the drive...).
• Avoid flying if possible. On shorter trips, driving may emit fewer greenhouse gases. The last time we flew was in 2019, pre-pandemic, to the southern shores of Mexico, so it has definitely been a while. While I've been saving my frequent flyer miles for over 20 years now, they've primarily related to purchases we've made rather than flights taken...and can be redeemed for things like hotels and magazines and more...not just flying (not everyone knows that!).But with some serious world travel plans in our future, we've discussed the many ways we can green our travel, whether it be taking busses or trains, bike tours, or simply ensuring the routes we take are the most direct rather than zigzagging all around the planet. We've also examined the airlines with the best environmental ratings, which includes our local Alaska Airlines, based right here in the Emerald City and who holds our frequent flyer miles.
Note: While you may not be in the actual planes, it's CRUCIAL to get educated on how incredibly wasteful the planes are used at air shows (Blue Angels: 1,200 gallons used PER HOUR by one plane in one show, not to mention 1.4M gallons altogether used by the planes in training just ONE officer to fly them), as well as in the US Military, which pollutes as much as 140 countries combined, in 2017 alone buying over 270,000 gallons of fuel per DAY and emitting 25,000+ kilotonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. There is little accountability for this in the government, as well, as the US demanded the military be exempt from emissions rules in the Kyoto Protocol back in 1997, throwing the planet under the bus yet again.
• Fly nonstop. Landings and takeoffs use more fuel.
Who wouldn't? If you live near a smaller airport, one thing to consider would be to take a shuttle or bus to the larger airport, rather than taking a 30 minute 'puddle jumper' to the town an hour or two away.
• Go economy class, which is more fuel efficient. I don't know about you but this is kind of a given based on our budget. But here's the thing: it's not less fuel efficient if you're upgraded because they've got a few empty seats at boarding time, so don't feel bad if they offer it to you. The impact is due to the space they could have crammed more people into, and the stuff that's waiting for biz & first class travelers on the ground.
• Offset the carbon emissions of your travel.
Always a nice thought, but remember, this doesn't simply make it all better. Continuing eco-unfriendly habits by justifying that you've used carbon offsets is not the key to reducing your carbon footprint. As the New York Times discussed in an analysis that poked some pretty significant holes in many of the carbon offset programs, "Part of the appeal of carbon offsets is the notion that it’s possible to meaningfully combat climate change while living our lives and structuring our society in the same way we always have. For that reason, some experts see carbon offsets as actively damaging, inasmuch as they give people cover to avoid reducing emissions at the source...For now, the best thing an individual can do remains what it has always been: Try to emit less." So, sorry CCS, but this isn't the ideal way to reduce your footprint. Donate that money when you must fly to powerful environmental groups like the NRDC, who are actively litigating to stop massive climate destruction both here in the US and around the globe.
• Drive less if possible. Walk, take public transportation, carpool, rideshare, or bike instead.
Hallelujah! In my nearly 50 years on the planet, I've owned a car for a total of 19 years, living car-free during much of my 20's in Seattle and late 30's in Portland, biking and walking everywhere, with the occasional mass-transit trip. When we moved to the farm, we ignored the naysayers who insisted we 'had' to own a truck and got a Subaru Outback. Not a hybrid but not a gas-guzzling truck either, and with that, even though my husband had a 17 mile roundtrip to work, he biked it, ultimately upgrading his traditional bike with an e-bike conversion kit (way cheaper FYI than buying a true e-bike) and kept his fitness level while keeping our CO2 footprint down, down, down. Here back in the city, his employer provides bus passes for a discount, which allows him to ride in on the particularly dodgy weather days which has been awesome. I've found cycling in Seattle incredibly difficult in our area of the city (South) as city leadership has consistently catered to the wealthier, whiter areas of the city leaving infrastructure for bicycling sorely lacking, with few dedicated bike lanes, the ones that do exist frequently suddenly end on busy streets, and dangerous road conditions due to a lack of maintenance you just don't see up north. In Portland, I felt safe as a cyclist, while here I do not. See why infrastructure matters so much to encourage cycling and get cars off the road? And I biked 24/7/365 when I was a commuter in Portland. I'm on sabbatical now, so it's less of an issue, but I miss my two wheels terribly...
• Combine errands to reduce driving. Obviously.
• Use cruise control, which can save gas. Avoid unnecessary braking and acceleration, which waste gas.Use less air conditioning while you drive.
I combined these three off the list into one bullet point as these are all related to driving techniques. One of the things I've noticed in our C-Max is that it assesses your braking since city driving is actually More fuel efficient than freeways for hybrids, which regain some of their energy while at stoplights, etc. It's helped me be more smooth with my braking whenever possible. As far as A/C goes, that's not a hard and fast rule as it depends on how fast you're going. Here's how it actually works: windows down at slower speeds, A/C when on the freeway as the drag from having windows down going that fast actually gives your A/C the edge.
• Avoid traffic jams by using apps.
Story of my life. With this city I live in surrounded by water, traffic sucks a lot of the time due to accidents and construction, so I always, even when going to places I've been frequently, check Maps to see the fastest way...which also now takes into account the type of vehicle you drive (gas, hybrid, EV) for fuel economy.
• Take care of your car to increase fuel efficiency.
This is SO important! And guess what - some of the basics you can DIY. While it's actually a better idea to have someone else change your oil (cleaner, quicker, and they recycle it as part of the cost), it's way cheaper and super easy to change your own air filter(s) - go onto YouTube and you'll find a ton of tutorials for your specific make, model and year!
PS - Did you know you can make your own wiper fluid? It's literally water with a squeeze of dish soap. That's it. Not that blue chemical shit.
• Consider purchasing a hybrid or electric vehicle if you’re shopping for a new car. When we got back to the city, we upgraded fuel economy, trading our Subaru Outback in for a Ford C-Max Hybrid, which nearly doubled our MPG. Because we converted our carport into more garden space, we don't have a designated spot to park our car and thereby connect it to electricity, so for now an EV is not realistic. But we are SO stoked to watch all the new EV models for smaller cars coming out with longer ranges and how many EV charging stations are popping up everywhere. Woo hoo!
Note: Not all hybrids and EVs are equal. "Hybrid Technology" is utter greenwashing crap. Look at the MPG, don't pat yourself on the back because of the word. As far as EVs, smaller ones are best for the planet. SUV electrics are nearly twice the weight due to their massive batteries, outweighing the benefits of their electric, using insane amounts of rare minerals and creating damage to roads, not to mention safety hazards (a Hummer EV weighs nearly 5 TONS, that's fucked up, y'all.).
And either way? Get moving...on your feet. It's the best way to see the world.