Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Slow Down, Save the Planet

Imagine how much gasoline use—and climate-changing fumes—would be reduced if speed demons slowed down to the speed limit. "’Jack-rabbit’ starts and hard braking can increase fuel consumption by as much as 40 percent,” says Eartheasy.com. “Tests show that ‘jackrabbit’ starts and hard braking reduces travel time by only four percent, while toxic emissions were more than five times higher.”

I drove like that, when I was young and in a hurry. Now that I’m much older and more inclined to live at a slower pace, I notice how many other people still drive like maniacs. Given the growing warnings about climate change, drivers should accept a share of responsibility for the fate of the planet and not rush to put the pedal to the metal.

Slowing down is also patriotic. It can help improve what the US government calls “our national energy security,” as well as help ease the demand for gasoline that’s a factor in pushing up prices at the pump. That’s because so much of the oil used for gasoline comes from the Middle East, where we’re waging a costly war in Iraq to keep the overheated oil flow flowing to millions of homes, businesses, and drivers.

And then there’s the planetary security issue. “Increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) are trapping more of the sun's energy in the Earth's atmosphere, causing global climate change,” says the US departments of energy and environmental protection on the web site fueleconomy.gov. “Carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning fossil fuels is the most important human-made GHG. Highway vehicles account for 26% of our CO2 emissions (1.7 billion tons each year).”

What’s that mean to me? “Each gallon of gasoline you burn creates 20 pounds of CO2. The average vehicle emits around 6 to 9 tons of CO2 each year,” the EPA/DOE web site notes. The bottom line is that the way we drive, the kind of vehicles we drive and how much we drive is how this situation became a global problem too big for government to handle without a great change in people’s driving habits.

So what’s the alternative to fast driving on boring highway trips? I like to see the miles fly by as quickly as anyone. But the fuel consumption rate can zoom up as much as 20 percent higher at 75 mph than at 55 mph, according to Eartheasy’s research. I make long trips fun while doing about 55 mph by taking older scenic state roadways, instead of an interstate highway, for long stretches in the countryside.

I take older side roads in built-up areas as well where there are frequent traffic jams on crowded highways. Gas mileage and state of mind are both terrible when you’re creeping along bumper to bumper. Traffic where I live in New Jersey is often so jammed up, it’s faster to walk, bike or take a train wherever possible. Indeed, that’s what many people have been doing. And that saves a lot of gasoline.

For more information: Road test shows how driving style affects gas consumption—
MotorWeek Video (5.6 MB)Text Version

No comments: