By John Addison
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.
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© 2009 John Addison. All rights reserved.
By John Addison (5/4/10)
National Tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico
Two hundred thousand gallons of oil spill daily into the Gulf of Mexico, destroying the beaches of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas as a result of the BP oil platform explosion of April 20. News viewers witness oil explosions, fires, and destruction. Containment chemicals are dumped where fish were caught for our dinner tables. Billions of dollars of damage is done. Major ports of our nation’s commerce are threatened. We are again reminded of the damage that oil can do to our environment. United States Response to Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.
Oil addiction also hurts our economy. In 2008, oil prices dipped to $32 per barrel. Now oil prices are over $80 per barrel, on the way to being triple the 2008 low. While oil companies argue that we are not running out of oil, they should be admitting that we can no longer find cheap oil. Instead, it is now billion-dollar deep-drilling ocean platforms, the highly destructive strip mining of Canada for tar sands, and unconventional sources with high greenhouse gas emissions that brings us our incremental oil that we convert into gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and asphalt to widen roads for more cars.
And we continue sending trillions of dollars to parts of the world where people want to do us harm. With rising oil prices we are sending more money for less oil.
To the rescue, since 2005, Americans have used less oil by riding clean, riding together, and riding less. In 2005, we consumed 20,802,000 barrels per day; by 2008, 19,498,000 daily barrels (EIA Data). Consumption continues to drop.
Ten Solutions to Save at the Pump
1. Employer Commute and Flexwork Programs. Major employers are saving employees billions in travel costs. Employers sponsor ride sharing, last mile shuttles from transit, and guaranteed ride homes. Some employers have web sites and lunch-and-learns to help employees in the same zip codes match-up for car pooling. 57 million Americans work at home, at least part-time, with the help of flexwork programs. Employer programs have helped with reduced car ownership.
2. Public Transit. Americans made 11 billion trips on U.S. transit in 2008, a 50-year record. Use has dropped some due to transit operators being forced to cut some routes and remove buses as the recession drove down local sales tax revenues needed for public transit. Americans are eager for more and better transit.
3. Walk. On an average we take 4 car trips daily, compared to 2 in Europe. Sometimes 1 of those 4 trips can be a pleasant walk to market, neighbors, or school event.
4. Safe Routes. Thousands of communities across the nation are showing us how to safely walk to school, community centers, and to public transit. Route maps go on line, pot holes get fixed, sidewalks repaired, danger spots eliminated, and signs displayed. Walk to School Days are on the increase.
5. One Car Households. The average suburban U.S. household has two vehicles. Some more. The average urban U.S. household has one vehicle. More American families and roommates are going from three cars to two cars to one car.
6. Sharing the Gas Miser. Households with 2 or more vehicles increasingly share cars, putting the most miles on the fuel miser as the gas guzzler stays parked more often. My wife and I share the hybrid, when not using transit, and leave the other car parked 6 days per week.
7. Make your next Car a Fuel Miser. You now have a wide-range of car choices that get over 30 miles per gallon. There is no reason to settle for less when you buy or lease a fuel-efficient sedan, hatchback, even SUV, turbo diesel, CNG, or hybrid car. Top 10 Cars With Lowest Carbon Footprint
8. Order an Electric Car which is ideal for many who live in a city where 100-mile range is rarely an issue, and where transit, car sharing, and car rental are also available. The average U.S. suburban household has two vehicles, so the EV could be ideal as one of those two. Top 10 Electric Car Makers
9. Car Sharing. In 600 global cities, cars can be used by the hour. Car sharing is popular with individuals and fleets. At many university and colleges, students with good grades can participate at age 18. Add transit and bicycling and many students live car free.
10. Smart Apps for Smart Travel. Internet savvy people now use Google Maps, 511, car share apps, and smart phone GPS apps to compare car directions and time with public transit directions and time. With a few clicks on a social network a shared ride is arranged, or a shared car reserved. In the old millennium we got everywhere by solo driving in gridlock. In the new millennium we plan and use a mix of car driving, transit, and other modes to save time and money.
There are hundreds of ways to save at the pump, or avoid it all together. The above are a just a few as people shift from their only choice being driving a gas guzzler, to options that include ride sharing, car sharing, walking, bicycling, buses, and rail for some of their trips.
Waiting for Responsible Government
We can all make a big difference without waiting for responsible government action, but it would help. The cheapest way to end highway gridlock is to invest in public transportation. Instead government cuts funds for transit and spends billions widening highways. For oil companies, we allow them to drill off our invaluable shores, fight wars to protect their oil, and then put oil companies on welfare. As Forbes Magazine discussed on April 5, the most profitable company in the United States, Exxon, paid zero U.S. income tax in 2009.
At a time when the average U.S. tax payer is hurting, we need to end oil tax loopholes and ensure that the 4 million vehicles in government fleets are gas misers or electric. While a minority in Congress block all attempts at progress, local communities are taking action across the nation by making cities vibrant, with work, services, and play close at hand. Portland, Oregon, is a role model in creating urban density and great public transportation. California with SB375 is requiring regional plans that integrate development, transportation, and greenhouse gas reduction.
In the United States, we embarrassingly have more vehicles than people with driver’s licenses. We have 246 million vehicles. AAA estimates that it costs $8,000 per year for each car owned, which creates a financial burden on cash-strapped Americans. You can help your pocketbook and help the nation by riding clean, riding together, and riding less.
A growing number of people want to live, work, and enjoy life in the San Francisco Bay Area, now home to 7 million. With the population growth, emissions have grown from cars, buses, trucks, and a variety of on-road vehicles.
By 2020 on-road vehicular greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can be less than in 1990. By 2035, emissions can be 61 percent less and 80 percent less by 2050 due to a variety of strategies discussed in this scenario, which outlines a reduction from over 28 million tons of CO2e this year to only 5.2 million tons by 2050. There are five major drivers in lowering emissions and improving our lives:
1. Focused Growth Enabling Reduced Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT)
2. Connected Transit
3. Electric Vehicles
4. Efficient Fleets using Low Carbon Fuels
5. Employer and Community Programs
Currently the Bay Area is being asked to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent by 2035. Some argue that this will be difficult because we will add 1.5 million people. Yet average emissions of gasoline cars are falling. New CAFÉ standards are mandatory. This scenario shows that average car emissions are likely to fall from 438 CO2 g/m today to 194 CO2 g/m, a number that is still less than today’s Prius. Over the next 25 years we can do better in reducing emissions and we will with the focused growth being planned, better transit, electric vehicles that cost less to run than today’s gas guzzlers, employer and community programs.
All of these strategies are discussed in this paper. Early Bay Area success stories are shared. In theory, just one of these strategies would accomplish our goal of GHG reduction. Most likely, it will be a combination such as the one described in this scenario paper. Throughout the Bay Area, different communities and programs will emphasize different strategies.
The California Energy Commission forecasts over 1.5 million electric vehicles for California by 2020. By 2020, electric cars are likely to be less expensive to buy and are already less expensive to fuel than current gasoline models. Off-peak smart charging, renewable energy, and hybrid cars to hybrid heavy vehicles using low carbon fuels will further contribute to shrinking emissions.
VMT peaked in the SF Bay Area in 2005 at 57.8 billion VMT and has already declined by over one billion miles due to a range of factors including record urban density, growth of transit use, and flexwork requiring less travel. Some planners now argue that we should assume the return of VMT growth and widen highways, encouraging urban sprawl. Instead we can reduce GHG by implementing the focused growth facilitated by SB375 and encourage more transit-oriented development.
By 2050, this scenario envisions 3.9 million vehicles in the SF Bay Area; lower than today’s 4.6 million, even though population will grow by over 2 million people. There will be fewer cars, but more rail, buses, car sharing, and hybrid trucks with low carbon fuels. This summarizes SF Bay’s transportation future (numbers are tons of CO2e):
Even though this scenario envisions a better life for people in the Bay Area, it may not happen because it requires investing in public transportation, cleaner vehicles, and focused growth. Eighty percent by 2050 will happen if people ride clean, ride together, and ride less. The report on the following pages outlines alternative strategies to achieve each 2050 goal:
1. Passenger vehicle GHG emissions will dropping to one-third of today’s average, reduced vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and due to a modest reduction in the number of vehicles. VMT will result from focused growth, better transit, and safe routes for increased walking and bicycling.
2. Heavy-duty vehicle GHG emissions will drop 2 percent annually until 2020, then 3 percent annually until 2050. Delivery fleets are buying hybrid and electric vans.
3. Bus GHG emissions will increase slowly even though ridership may triple by 2050. Transit operators like Muni are using electric buses, and AC Transit hydrogen fuel cell buses. Light-rail, BRT, and connected systems will make transit more efficient.
This scenario only covers on-road vehicle emissions. This scenario does call for political leadership and market signals so that people will want to increasingly ride clean, ride together, and ride less.
Climate Action Bay Area Transportation Paper (PDF)