Just watching the news in any given day would give an alien who was just introduced to this planet an immediate understanding that environmentalism is becoming a hot issue. Most of the buzz revolves around global warming and the manmade emissions that are causing it. Unless you are in denial or willing to take risks with the only habitable planet we have, it’s obvious that something must be done. Individuals, corporations, and governments all have to do their part. Knowing what we should do is the difficult part. By virtue of being Americans, we already use much more energy per capita than probably 98% of people on the planet. And much of what we use is from driving.
Fuel economy is an important consideration even though light vehicles are responsible for less than the majority of the emissions that the U.S. emits. I’ve noticed that most vehicles are driven and occupied by only one person. Perhaps that means we should all drive one-seater vehicles such as scooters or motorcycles to work. But then these wouldn’t be safe. Where does one draw the line on environmentalism versus personal safety? Then there are people who might buy a Ford Excursion because they say they “need” it for their 4 kids. And the driver is getting 60 people-miles per gallon instead of 30 people-miles per gallon with an economy car. Well, perhaps having 4 kids is environmentally irresponsible. To be really green, you shouldn’t produce so many polluting beings. Regardless of family size, it’s not so simple. A person driving a Prius 25,000 miles a year pollutes the planet more than a person who drives a full-sized pick-up truck 5,000 miles a year. What many people don’t consider is the fact that the way you drive can have a huge impact on your fuel economy. We’re talking +/- 20%. Proper maintenance, including keeping air filters clean and tire pressures at appropriate levels, can account for 5% or so. Knowing all this makes it hard to understand who’s really doing their part. It is obvious that walking or using a bicycle is the greenest thing to do to get around.
Another seemingly insane but purely logical thing we could do is adjust our driving to help more inefficient vehicles maintain their speed so that they waste less fuel and pollute less. A more efficient vehicle having to accelerate or decelerate has less impact on the environment. By the same logic, pedestrians should consider letting vehicles go ahead of them. People don’t emit nearly as much pollution as vehicles do. What’s ironic about the whole concept of helping the user of the less environmentally sound vehicle for the greater good is that it rewards irresponsibility.
Yet, those people who buy seemingly environmentally conscious green vehicles such as a Prius or Civic hybrid are responsible for creating pollution to obtain products that reduce pollution. I have yet to see a thorough analysis on the energy it takes to develop, manufacture, and transport a new vehicle relative to the emissions reduction that occurs over the life of the vehicle relative to an older, more polluting vehicle. Of course there are limits. Cars from the 60’s pollute hundreds of times more than ones from the 90’s. And if nobody bought new cars, then there would be no efficient used cars to purchase. Automobile manufacturers would in turn have no incentive to innovate and improve efficiency. Government fuel economy standards help here, but they are inherently flawed. (That’s the topic of another blogpost on T.I.N..)
And now, with the advent of ethanol produced by corn, a new
environmental dilemma has arisen. Do we
sacrifice food crops so that we can convert them to fuel? Would this food ever get to the people who
are hungry and need it anyway? And much
of that land is inefficiently used to feed cattle who become beef. Besides, mining of coal or other petroleum
sources sacrifices land that could be used for farming. I’ve seen conflicting studies on the impact
of ethanol production on food crop production, but this is a totally new
consideration. Add to that the argument
that ethanol production may be “dirtier” than oil production?
Also, as our world has become increasingly global, we can buy almost anything from other parts of the world. Mangos are available in Canada, and most of the things we buy for cheap are shipped all the way over from China. Perhaps buying local would be more responsible, but that variety of international stuff we can buy would be hard to give up.
Being green is not simple or easy.