Lose That Stubborn CO2 Weight With a Low Carbon Diet!

Posted: August 17, 2012 by gavinosu in Week 4: Final Reflections
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Well, it’s been a long road, but we made it.  I successfully carpooled every workday for 4 weeks this summer!  It feels really good, and it wasn’t as hard as I thought it could have been.  Making this change didn’t involve any major investment (in fact, I saved money!), and it didn’t take up any substantial amount of time (actually, I drove less hours each week than I was before!).

Low Carbon Diet

The experience of carpooling was, by itself, not that much different from normal driving.  While some people see driving as a right, a pastime or a leisure activity, I take a more utilitarian view — I just need to get to somewhere from where I am now.  It’s very much a means to an end.  However, as our class saw during Rachel Botsman’s TED Talk, The case for collaborative consumption, our cars often simply sit in our driveway, unused, for 23 hours a day.  I like numbers, and that approaches 96% of each day.  So why do we all have our own cars?  As I mentioned in my opening blog post, I think there is a desire to want to have the freedom to go anywhere, at any time, without anybody’s approval.  This wanderlust mentality keeps people from relying only on public transportation or human-powered (bicycling, walking) methods, and I think this is a big problem.

It wasn’t really about the experience of driving with a group, it was more of what I got afterwards.  I got to spend less time driving (as we would rotate drivers every 2 days), more time reading, have more money in my pocket, subject my car to less wear and tear and produce less carbon-dioxide emissions to put into the atmosphere.


“Well I’ll be damned”

Last week, I took at look at what could happen if carpooling became ubiquitous (probably not an entirely likely scenario).  There’s simply a staggering number of solo drivers out there commuting every day, and while I felt that the change I was making was good, it wasn’t enough by itself.  The short of it is that, by my estimates, carpooling could save as much as $309 million a day on the cost of gas!  That’s about $112 billion per year, and doesn’t even begin to cover the other measurable costs resulting from less vehicle maintenance, few auto accidents and less road wear, or the abstract metrics such as less driver frustration with packed highways.

The economics aside, what would such a movement do to our energy policy?  How would it benefit our global society in the long-term?  43% of global carbon-dioxide emissions come from burning oil as gasoline and other fuels, mostly for transportation uses (e.g., driving your car) [1].  That number could be much lower if we worked together and carpooled.

Oil is a limited resource.  It’s non-renewable.  We’re using it much faster than nature prepared and saved it for us.  One gallon of gas required about 196,000 pounds of prehistoric organic plant matter [2].  This all means that our current usage rates are hopelessly unsustainable.

We have to start looking at alternatives like gas-electric hybrid cars, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (which are especially fantastic when charged from sustainable sources such as wind farms, as there is the potential for no carbon-dioxide emissions resulting from use [3]) and hydrogen powered vehicles.  The problem there is that full realization and adoption of those technologies could be years away, and we need to start yesterday.  Carpooling is a great way to help while using your existing vehicle.  It’s far from a solution, but it buys us time to implement sustainable solutions.

I’ve taken road trips down to Los Angeles every year or so.  While I’m down there, I’m always struck by the carpool lanes (which require at least 2 people).  There’s a diamond symbol on the signs and painted on the road to identify these lanes.  Being from Oregon, the first time I saw those symbols, I had no idea what they meant.  While Oregon does have some carpool (also known as “High Occupancy Vehicle,” or HOV) lanes, they are few and far between, nowhere near as prevalent as they are in southern California.  By making it less attractive to drive alone, we can encourage people to make smarter, more sustainable choices, without outright forcing them to do so.  There are also programs where governments, employers and private organizations provide incentives for carpooling [4], which helps broaden its appeal.

Carpool Lane

I would love to see more HOV lanes in Oregon (and everywhere!) esspecially in high-congestion areas of the interstate.  We’d be looking at reducing that congestion along with the all of the benefits I’ve already discussed over the past month.  It’s truly a no lose scenario.  All that one has to give us is that desire to operate (or even own) their own, personal vehicle.  That’s a small price to pay, if you ask me, and technology is making it easier than ever.  Websites like The Carpooling Network bring people who are travelling in the same direction together.  They’re only operating through most of North America, but similar sites exist all over the globe.

I hope that I’ve made a good case for carpooling throughout my project.  I learned a lot, and I feel good about what I’ve done.  Best of all, it’s a simple enough change that I can continue doing it (maybe not with 4 people all of the time, but the point remains).  There’s not a lot of space out there on the highways these days, and there certainly isn’t an infinite supply of oil left, so let’s use both resources wisely.

[1] Miller, G., Spoolman, S. (2010). Environmental Science (13th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole. p. 302.
How many pounds of carbon dioxide.  (2011).  Green University.  Retrieved from http://www.greenuniversity.net/Green_Economics/carbondioxide.htm
Hydrogen vehicle. Wikipedia. Retrieved August 16, 2012, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_vehicle
[4] Carpool Incentive Program. (2012). Commute.org.  Retrieved from http://www.commute.org/programs/carpool-incentive-program

  1. julie says:

    Awesome! HOV lanes are super cool. You took on a challenge that a lot of people wouldn’t be willing to try (I think due to the cultural factors you mentioned)… Kudos!

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