Excerpt from the Prologue of Save Gas, Save the Planet: John Addison’s book about hybrid and electric cars, pathways to low carbon driving, and the future of sustainable transportation. © 2009 John Addison. All rights reserved.
Our vacation in Italy was an abundance of delicious meals, made savory because they were fresh from local farms. We enjoyed leisurely walks along flowered hillsides that extended down to the Mediterranean, cathedral bells that echoed in narrow streets, and the grace of carved marble and painted ceilings. Tuscan villages towered like castles as we hiked through fragrant vineyards shaded by green cypress and poplar. By day, children’s laughter reverberated through the piazzas. By night couples kissed in the glow of dancing fountains.
The vacation was deeply relaxing, in part, because it was car free. Instead of being insulated from people inside a vehicle, we were connected with others as we traveled by train and bus and pleasant walks.
Life has been better for my wife, Marcia, and me since we returned from that vacation. The magic of having everything nearby in a city stayed in our memories. Inspired, we moved from suburbia to the city.
We also improved our lives by deciding to be carbon neutral. Annually we take a few minutes to calculate all of our carbon emissions, and then donate to the nonprofit Carbonfund.org, which offsets our emissions by funding wind power, energy conservation, and reforestation. The simple calculation was jolting – over 80 percent of our emissions have been from burning petroleum. Yes, we have been addicted to oil.
Now, we have eliminated 90 percent of air travel, cut car use, and saved gas by following the three themes of Save Gas, Save the Planet. We ride clean, ride together, and ride less. Our two cars are no longer his and hers. We share the hybrid and keep the other parked, except when I am out of town for interviews or to teach workshops. Now we can walk two blocks and hop on a bus powered with renewable energy, or walk four blocks to shop and carry the groceries home.
We are walking more, driving less, enjoying life, and living more in touch with our values.
In writing Save Gas, Save the Planet, I have learned from the research of experts and the practical wisdom of hundreds who have shared their stories. Every month, I become a smaller part of the problem and a bigger part of the solution.
When gas prices soared and a recession hit, Americans drove 100 billion fewer miles in 2008 than in 2007. They used employer flexwork programs to get more work done at home and close to home. Many gained free hours for family and fun. Others doubled up trips. Millions joined commute and transportation programs that put them in the fast lane, not the lane that left them fuming and sucking up fumes.
When fuel prices rocket; then fuel demand tanks. People are getting clever about getting around. They are rethinking their relationship with their cars, trucks, and SUVs. When gasoline prices dropped, people continued to drive fewer miles and burn less gas due to several factors: an economic recession, an expectation that fuel prices would again ultimately soar past $4 per gallon, and the discovery that life is better with less solo driving miles.
It is not just about money. People are also changing their lifestyles because the see the warnings of a climate crisis. As glaciers disappear and deserts widen, clean water has disappeared for a billion people. Without water and rich soil, food is tragically beyond the reach of millions. As we lose forests that produce oxygen, we lose our breath of life.
Like a human body with billions of differentiated cells each responding uniquely to a cancer, billons of people are responding uniquely to the spreading climate crisis. Many are now taking a more healthy approach to transportation. Save Gas, Save the Planet captures their stories and solutions.
Whenever gasoline prices soar, United States citizens hear a tired lecture that conservation might make you feel good, but it will make little difference. We are told that decisive action (at desperate cost) is needed: convert coal into fuel, use more food crops for fuel, drill the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge, strip mine Canada for tar sand, and beg the Middle East to pump more oil. Some of these proposed responses would take years to produce results; all would accelerate a climate crisis.
Americans are joining their employers’ flexwork and commute programs. They replace city travel with public transit. Families and friends link trips together and rarely drive solo. Everyday heroes keep their gas guzzlers parked most of the time and put miles on their other car that gets 40 miles per gallon. Ordinary people are starting to make an extraordinary difference.
Conventional wisdom has been that American’s demand for petroleum is inelastic in relation to price. It now looks like the solution is Economics 101. Price goes up and demand goes down. In fact, Americans are eager for fuel-efficient vehicles, corporate commute programs, and effective public transportation. Now that we are economically stretched, demand for gasoline is suddenly elastic.
For most, it has not been one big change, but a few incremental changes that save thousands of dollars per year, reduce the nation’s addiction to oil, and reduce emissions. Many went beyond modest changes. They traded their old car for one of the new fuel-efficient wonders described in Save Gas, Save the Planet.
You will read about the Eubank family who need two vehicles to care for active children and an aging parent, and run a couple of businesses in between. They replaced one of their two SUVs with a car that gets over 50 miles per gallon. That hybrid is now their primary car; the SUV stays parked most of the time. They are eagerly anticipating the new electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and other clean vehicles that automakers will soon bring to market.
Christian and his wife convinced a car dealer to take their two SUVs as trade-in for one more fuel-efficient SUV. Living and working in a city, only one vehicle was needed because both use public transportation and carpool with friends. They now save over $5,000 per year by sharing one vehicle. You will read about Patrick Gonzalez and his wife who save over $10,000 annually by traveling almost everywhere using the high speed Metro, with some walking and bike riding covering the rest. He and his wife live car-free.
Kacey Childers did not wait for freeway-speed, zero-emission vehicles. She drives an electric vehicle everywhere in her college town. It costs only a few dollars per month for the added electricity to charge the electric vehicle and zero dollars for gasoline.
These people are demonstrating solutions to gridlock, energy security, and global warming. In the United States we create four times the greenhouse gas emissions of people living in China. We create 25 percent of all global warming. Historically, we have inspired nations with our Bill of Rights and brilliant innovations. We can now be the role models of transportation solutions. We can save gas and save the planet.
The transition to better transportation is happening just in time. The Stone Age did not end for lack of stones, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil, observed Sheikh Yamani, the oil minister of Saudi Arabia. Now we can leave behind the black skies of the industrial revolution and live a better life.
© 2009 John Addison. All rights reserved.