Whatever the name—global warming, climate change—it’s not a hoax, and excessive carbon dioxide (CO2) is a prime cause. In Vermont, transportation, predominantly from driving cars and trucks, is the largest human source of CO2 emissions, more than all electricity generation and residential, commercial and industrial fuel use combined.
Your driving habits are critical because each gallon of gas you burn creates 19 pounds of CO2, the primary greenhouse gas causing climate change. (Exploration, extraction, refining and transportation of oil and gas add another five pounds of CO2 per gallon.)
Your CO2 generation rate is the direct result of how you drive, what you drive and how much you drive. Perhaps you can’t easily change how far you drive to get to work, pick up the kids and get groceries, nor simply go out and buy a hybrid or electric car. But you can do something immediately about how you drive. Simply by slowing down your rate of acceleration and your cruising speed you will burn less gas and create less CO2.
The fuel efficiency of motor vehicles declines significantly at speeds over 55 mph. Drive faster and your vehicle’s aerodynamic drag causes fuel consumption to go up dramatically, right along with your CO2 generation. A Car and Driver magazine test found that driving at 65 mph consumes nearly 15 percent more fuel than at 55 mph and at 75 mph consumes 27 percent more fuel! Data from other sources show similar results. The takeaway? Slow down and you’ll create less CO2, helping to slow the rate of climate change.
Not only that, you’ll go farther on a gallon of gas, getting another gallon or two of gas for every 10 gallons you burn. The only “sacrifice” is that it may take you a few minutes longer to get where you’re going.
Will it make a difference? Absolutely! According to the October 2015 Vermont Transportation Energy Profile report, vehicles registered in Vermont traveled more than 7 billion miles in 2013 (the latest year for which figures are available). Vehicles registered in Vermont that year (averaging 24.8 miles per gallon highway mileage) burned more than 285,000,000 gallons of gas driving those 7 billion plus miles. At 19 pounds of CO2 per gallon, that’s more than 2,725,000 tons of CO2 generated from Vermont vehicles alone!
Reducing the CO2 emissions from one car is a drop in the bucket compared with what’s needed to slow climate change, but the cumulative impact of many drivers slowing down is both significant and essential. A modest 10 percent reduction of CO2 from motor vehicles would have kept more than 274,000 tons of it out of the atmosphere in 2013. Think of what slowing down can do as it spreads beyond Vermont.
We in Vermont may be spared the worst of what climate change will bring. More blue-green algae, more deer ticks, less ice fishing and fewer skiing days pale by comparison with flooded island nations and coastal areas and increasingly extreme weather everywhere.
The tsunami of greenhouse gases is the result of countless miles driven, homes heated and lights lit by fossil fuels over decades. We created it one pound at a time, and it needs to be fought one pound at a time with daily acts of conservation, reducing the generation of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Reversing or even slowing the pace of climate change requires a multi-pronged effort. Use of non-fossil fuels, technological advancements, legislative action and conservation are all essential components of the fight. We can’t afford to wait for technological silver bullets or for businesses, legislators and regulators to do what’s necessary. The conservation efforts, by everyone, are needed now.
Think about it next time you’re tempted to exceed the speed limit or to step on it as soon as the light turns green. We’re all causing climate change—and we all need to be part of the solution. With climate change deniers soon to be in charge at the federal level, it’s even more critical that we do all we can to slow it down. Changing how you drive by slowing down begins with your next car trip.
Robert McKearin, Burlington