Why Auto Travel is part of a greener future

I recently drove a crew of 6 people to Portland, and several hours east of it, and back again. The trip in total was about 1350km, and even with six people and all their luggage on board, and a ridiculously un-aerodynamic roof bin, the car averaged 9.4L/100km. The total cost of fuel was such that the fare was only 30 dollars per person – leagues below what bus fare would cost. Furthermore, we were able to drive exactly to our destinations, and were mobile in the cities we visited (and yes, that city fuel economy is included in the overall figure).

But some people will be unimpressed by the fact driving can still be an exceedingly cheap and convenient way of traveling. Some will not even be convinced by the inherent joy of road trips, the songs heard and made up along the way. No, there are some who are purely concerned with how much the trip poisons the planet. So, I’ll consider that now.

First, the car recently passed air care, and produces about the same carbon monoxide and NOx as it did when new. This is because the car has always been in proper tune, and therefore the catalytic converter has never had a chance to wear out. However, these may be beside the point with the advent of global warming – what we are really concerned with is carbon.

In a sense, I have already given the carbon production – it is exactly the same as the fuel economy (9.4L/100km). However, people seem to like to express it as a static figure. Ok, 126 liters of fuel. No, not good enough? I see, although that is directly proportional to the carbon dioxide produced, it is not actually the mass of the carbon dioxide in tonnes. Alright, multiply by 2.32 and we get 292kg of carbon, or, 0.292 tonnes. Further, divide by six people and we get 48.7kg each. Let’s compare this with other travel options.

If we’d traveled by inter-city bus, according to http://www.treecanada.ca , the 1350km trip would have produced 76kg each, or 456kg between the six of us. Rail travel (and there is an Amtrack line to Portland from Vancouver) is worse, 140kg each – 840kg total (almost three times as much!). In fact, to equal the train, I would have had to average only 27L/100km. That’s 8 miles per gallon. Or, put otherwise, to beat the train I would have needed only 2 people in the car, not 6.

So, take that you people who think the personal automobile can’t be part of a sustainable future. If you’re right, then neither can buses or trains.

Advertisements

10 thoughts on “Why Auto Travel is part of a greener future

  1. Put enough people in a car, for purposes of travelling between places not conveniently linked by public transport, and it can indeed be the greenest option.

    The aim is not to eliminate the automobile. I would say the ideal is to do the following:

    1) Make public transport the most appealing urban and inter-urban option.

    2) Effectively eliminate the use of fossil fuel burning cars for short trips.

    3) Ideally, challenge the dominant role of cars in urban planning and design. Make most streets the domain of pedestrians and cyclists again.

  2. I am reading a book you may find interesting:

    Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City
    by Peter D. Norton

    It talks a lot about the decline of streetcars, but also about other important elements of the transition to ‘motordom’ – such as changing the public understanding of road safety such that children struck by cars were seen as at least partially at fault.

  3. “The aim is not to eliminate the automobile. I would say the ideal is to do the following:

    1) Make public transport the most appealing urban and inter-urban option.”

    Why would you make this the aim, if it produces more greenhouse gases than driving?

  4. What you seem to fail to get is that these places even if they are conveniently linked by public transport, are more greenly traveled between by car.

  5. Why would you make this the aim, if it produces more greenhouse gases than driving?

    Firstly, we need better public transport. Eventually, it will all need to be run on biomass or renewably generated electricity.

    Secondly, it is not only tailpipe emissions that could for driving. There is road-building, oil refining, etc. Granted, some of that applies to fossil-powered public transport as well.

  6. What you seem to fail to get is that these places even if they are conveniently linked by public transport, are more greenly traveled between by car.

    More greenly is not always enough. The future may well involve a lot less travel, all told.

  7. Of course, we can make cars – even those intended for long-distance travel – a lot greener as well, particularly if we can combine efficient drive systems with carbon-neutral fuels.

  8. I disagree that the emphasis should be on carbon neutral fuels – rather on less carbon intensive transportation. For example, we already have the technology to build cars that can move four people at highway speeds at 1L/100km. Would this reduction not be enough? The idea of zero carbon emissions seems a bit naive considering the massive amount of carbon being released by the forest currently. We can’t allow the false ethics of universalizability place “no violence” at the top of the alter if that prevents the real sweeping changes which must occur. Any ethics based on perfection inevitably becomes Catholicized – perfection with endless exception.

  9. The order in which we cut emissions will be determined by politics and economics, but deep cuts will eventually be required everywhere.

    Exactly how they are achieved may be unimportant, though different solutions involve different non-climate costs.

  10. Also, you are quite right to highlight deforestation. Unless it is brought under control, all our other efforts will be nullified.

    Even in Canada, beetle kill now represents a significant share of our total emissions. Apparently, the bugs have now established themselves in Alberta, as well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s