My post about all of us being responsible for the oil spill generated quite a bit of discussion over the last few days. Any time this issue comes up (on my site and every other one I’ve visited), there are always people who are quick to point out why their particular situation makes it impossible to drive less. Cars are so much a part of the American way of life that it makes sense that people will become defensive if they have to start questioning their dependence on cars. But rather than dwell on the situations where being car-free is impossible, I much prefer to focus on solutions. Cortney pointed out that cities aren’t going to start creating ways to make alternative transportation safer and more convenient unless they see a genuine need. If your area isn’t safe for biking or walking, are you going to every town meeting, writing letters to council members, canvassing the neighborhood to find like-minded people who can stand with you in asking for better bike lanes, sidewalks, etc.? The things that we complain about are things we could be changing… In addition, we should be focusing on what we CAN do to lessen our dependence on oil (and our overall ecological impact) rather than the things we CAN’T do. If you can’t give up your car, you can slow down on the highway in order to improve your gas mileage. You can commit to giving up disposable items in favor of reusable ones (diapers, napkins, food storage containers, cleaning rags, even personal hygiene products). You can slowly start eliminating meat and dairy from your diet. Even if you have to drive to work everyday, you can focus on making your weekends car-free and based around activities that lessen your impact on the earth (planting a little garden to reduce your need for trucked-in food, for example) rather than going to the mall to buy more stuff. The point I’m making is that we can all make a difference. We don’t all have to follow the same path to make a difference, but we have to be aware that we need to make a difference before we will start making changes.
I mentioned driving slower as a way to conserve gasoline, and I want to expand on that just a bit in case you’re curious. Basically, gas mileage drops off significantly once you go faster than about 55 mph. I drive about 60 mph on the interstate, and I try to avoid rapid speed changes in town (coasting slowly to a stop at traffic lights, and accelerating slowly from a stop). I also do some mental math every time I fill up my gas tank, and my average mpg is always in the 32 – 35 range (for the entire tank, including both city and highway). That’s not bad for a 19 year old station wagon. It helps that my car is a 4 cylinder stick shift, but if I were to go 80 mph on the interstate and not be as conscious of avoiding rapid speed changes in town, I’m sure my mileage would drop into the mid 20s. I recognize that there are valid reasons for needing to drive sometimes, but there’s no valid reason why we can’t all slow down a bit and focus on getting as many miles as we can from a tank of gas. Don’t leave your car running when you’re parked (that’s zero mpg), don’t keep your foot on the gas right up until you have to hit the brakes at a red light, don’t try to get everywhere as fast as you can. And start calculating your actual gas mileage every time you fill up your tank (zero out the trip meter when you fill up, and then see what it’s at the next time you fill up. Divide that number by the number of gallons it takes to fill your tank and you’ll have the average mpg you got from the last tank). Make it a game to see if you can beat your last average – trust me, it becomes fun, and it will help you to remember to drive with maximum gas mileage in mind.
About 1000 people are reading this blog everyday. And if I can inspire ten or twenty or a hundred of you to start making some small changes to conserve resources, I’ll feel successful. An added bonus is that most of the things you can can do to conserve resources will also help you to save money, which is probably the reason you’re interested in my blog in the first place. So I challenge you to think of something you can do today to reduce your use of oil, water, paper products, disposable items, etc. If you come up with an idea that you think other people could do too, share it here or in whatever forum you choose to get the message out. Most importantly, have fun with it! And thank you for taking the time to think about it.