How should one shop for the greenest vehicle? Many car buying articles simply defer to the American Council for Energy Efficient Economy. But what criteria shall we select? Miles Per Gallon (MPG), Kilometers Per Liter (KPL)? What about embedded energy? – the sum of all the energy required to produce goods or services, considered as if that energy was incorporated or ’embodied’ in the product itself. Sustainability is not just about the fuel to power the vehicle, it’s about the entire carbon footprint from creation to end of life. With regard to automobiles, this includes acquiring the materials – in case of earth minerals, digging, transporting, smelting, construction, use during lifetime, disposal and/or recycle.
But over the years, manufacturers made cars larger, more powerful, and faster – negating any efficiency benefits whatsoever. Why is that? Auto manufacturers claim they are just meeting the needs of the people! But how much of that need was fabricated by the manufacturer’s advertising? Ultimately, greater energy efficiency translated to more miles traveled and a faster lifestyle. Does more time at the workplace as a result of traveling faster actually translate to greater productivity, or does living faster simply shorten our lifespan? Rather than live like jackrabbits, perhaps we should learn to live more like tortoises and elephants.
How best to save on human energy is clearly B&W (Bike & Walk), but if you choose a bike, which bike is best for you? For an all-purpose urban + off-road option, the Specialized mountain bike is popular. For commuters who want to use both bike and mass transit, there are foldable bikes like British made Brompton bikes, or battery powered hub motor folding bikes like Prodeco. The advantage of folding bikes are that they can be used on mass transit anytime, unlike full-sized bikes. The disadvantage of battery powered bicycles is their substantial increase in weight. Steeper hills require a more powerful motor, requiring a heavier battery. Ultimately, they cease to ride like bicycles, and handle more like a motorcycle. Another alternative is to buy full sized non-folding super-light bicycles, usually made of titanium. Although they have no motor, the energy to propel them is much easier.
Buses and trains consume a lot of oil – 2.5 million barrels per day, but overall, they dwarf the amount used by cars and light trucks – 8.6 million barrels per day. Whether trains carry more passengers doesn’t incrementally increase the amount consumed much. Again, greatest savings is not to use it at all. But if people gravitate away from cars to buses and trains, it would significantly reduce the amount of oil consumed. The key is increasing mass transit use is to make it more accessible and affordable. Major transit hubs are quite efficient, but their connector routes are sparse and infrequent, especially in the suburbs.
If we want to be Green, we can’t just buy a battery powered car and live the same way. We must revolutionize the way we live! We must demand fundamental changes from our government officials to plan and implement greater accessibility and safety for bikes and pedestrians… and have them pledge to live by it themselves! If our elected representatives claim it is too inconvenient or unsafe for themselves to bike and walk to work, what motivation will they have to change the status quo?