Friday, June 30, 2006

Prisoners at the pump

With the current price of gas, I sure am glad I live on a farm and don't have to drive anywhere most days. As far as cars go, there's just nowhere to go, 'cept maybe the swimming hole - and we get a government subsidy on the diesel for our tractors. Still, on the days when we do have to make the 45-mile trek into town, I remember the good old days, when gas was $0.89 a gallon, with a nostalgic sigh. Oh, 2001... it seems like a dream to me now.

The rest of the time, however, I secretly support the high gas prices. Could financial alarm force environmentally-blind Americans to reconsider the casualness with which we hop behind the wheel? Maybe people who don't care about the environment do care about their own pocketbooks. In researching our next book, I've found out that in just one year, the average driver emits about 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as well as 300 pounds of carbon monoxide, and close to 10 pounds each of hydrocarbons and NOx. That’s some heavy junk floating around in our air and our lungs! To find out how much your vehicle emits, enter your stats into the EPA’s Tailpipe Talley at www.environmentaldefense.org/TailpipeTally/.

If you didn’t like the results of that test, fortunately there are a number of approaches to changing those stats, even while driving on gasoline. Don’t get me wrong – gas is dirty, no matter how you drive. But a few small changes in your driving habits, from how you drive to when, can have great cumulative effect. If just 10% people used public transportation for their work commute only, it would save 135 million gallons of gas a year – not to mention lots of pennies at the pump. And even in your private car, how you drive makes a huge difference in your environmental impact. A few steps you can take include:

· Don’t warm up your engine before driving. The engine emits the most pollutants when cold, and it heats up faster when driving than idling.

· Combine outings. Even if you have to turn the car on and off at each parking lot, using the car for many errands at once reduces the number of cold starts.

· Drive steadily. The most fuel efficient speed is between 35 and 45 mph. It’s much more efficient to chug along steadily at 45 mph than to race to a stoplight only to slow down, idle, and accelerate again.

· Don’t idle. Leaving the car running for thirty seconds uses just as much gas as it would to restart the engine.

· Maintain your car. A faulty or poorly serviced engine can release up to 10 times the emissions of a well-maintained one. This includes all parts of the car; old tires, for example, impede the car’s movement and decrease its fuel efficiency.

· Share rides. It costs you about 25 cents a mile to drive your car, figuring in all the operating costs as well as fuel. By ridesharing on the daily commute to work, you can save as much as $3,000 a year on gas, insurance, parking, and car maintenance.

· Drive at non-peak times. This is the best way to avoid idling, stop-and-go traffic, and non-fuel-efficient speeds on the road.

If you think all this is insignificant, think again. The amount of gasoline and money wasted by inefficient driving is tremendous, adding up to 753 million gallons of gas per year, or $1,194 per driver in wasted fuel and time. Just think of the catalytic converters you could buy with all that money!

-Sara Kate

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