Green America: Growing the Green Economy for People and the Planet

Climate & Energy

Economic action to stop global warming


Living 'Car Lite'

Here are a few things you should know about the cost of your car:

  1. The cost of car ownership for most US families exceeds the amount spent on food and health care combined.
  2. The American Automobile Association (AAA) calculated in 2004 that the annual cost of owning a car, after accounting for depreciation of the car's value, is more than $8,000 a year, or 56.2 cents per mile. The AAA has tracked the cost of driving since 1950, and this year's calculation represents a 43 percent increase over the 1994 cost of 39.5 cents per mile.
  3. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) reported in December of 2003 that natural disasters linked to climate change cost the world more than $60 billion in 2003. According to the Earth Policy Institute, air pollution claims the lives of 70,000 Americans every year (nearly double those killed in car crashes).
  4. In a November 2003 study, ecologist Jeff Dukes calculated that in a single year, human beings burn an amount of fossil fuel equivalent to more than 400 times the amount of “plant matter that grows in the world in a year,” including microscopic plant life from the oceans. Then, burning those fossil fuels pollutes the air and contributes global warming gases to the atmosphere, further degrading the environment.

Taking steps now to reduce our car use translates into significant personal health and economic benefits, better community life, and a cleaner environment for us all.

Get Started!

Get Out and Walk

More than a quarter of US car trips are one mile or less, and 13.7 percent are a half-mile or less.  For most of us, these are walkable distances. Find a backpack or briefcase on wheels that can tote your work items and laptop.  For shopping trips, invest in a sturdy shopping cart or collapsible crate on wheels.

Bike it

Bicycling is an excellent way to minimize car use and get exercise at the same time. Mounting wire baskets or pannier bags to your bicycle can extend your number of destinations by allowing for greater cargo transportation.

Eventually, you may want to extend the distances you can travel by bike.  One way to go further without a car is by investing in an electric bike.  With a range of about 20 miles between charges, electric bikes can be recharged from any standard household electric socket.

Also, ‘sport utility' bikes allow you to expand your bicycle's cargo limit to the point where you can carry items as large as kayaks or luggage for a trip.  You can find electric bikes, sport utility bikes, and bike enhancement kits in the National Green Pages™

Take public transportation

Many cities that don't have extensive subways or other public transportation systems nonetheless run bus lines that often go underused by citizens used to driving their cars. Get a transit map from your local bus line and resolve to take the bus once a week to someplace you would have ordinarily driven. You'll experience your city in a new way, save energy, reduce pollutants, and perhaps even multi-task if you bring a book or a project with you.

Remember to combine car trips or carpool

Coordinate with your coworkers and neighbors to take joint trips to the office or shopping center.  In metro areas like Washington, DC, and San Francisco, innovative carpoolers have even established “slug lines”—areas where commuters can line up in suburban Virginia and catch a ride into the District of Columbia with drivers who were going there anyway. It's a free, grassroots bus line that also builds community.

Join a Car-Share Program

Another way that people can share cars, and even eliminate car ownership altogether, is to take advantage of fee-based car-share programs like Flexcar and Zipcar, in combination with bicycling and public transportation. Members of these car-sharing programs take advantage of cars placed throughout participating cities, paying by the hour in order to run errands for which biking or bus-riding might not be practical. Flexcar operates in the metro areas of Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington, DC; Zipcar operates in Boston, Chapel Hill, New York City/New Jersey, and Washington, DC.

If You Drive: Be a Responsible Car Owner

Keeping your car in proper working order can significantly increase your gas mileage, cutting down on your use of petroleum and lowering emissions. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for every five miles per gallon you increase your car's fuel economy, you can prevent 1,500 pounds of greenhouse gases from entering our atmosphere over the life of your vehicle. Here are some tips:

  1. Keep tires properly inflated and aligned. If your tires are under-inflated and soft, they will cause extra resistance with the road and make your car work harder to move, reducing gas mileage. Each two pounds tires are under-inflated increases gas consumption by one percent, according to the EPA. Be sure to maintain the recommended tire pressure listed in your owner's manual.
  2. Avoid high speeds. According to the EPA, you can improve your gas mileage about 15 percent by driving at 55 mph, rather than 65 mph.
  3. Change your air filter. Air is just as important as fuel in the combustion process that powers the engine. Drawn through the air filter, air mixes with fuel to create the small explosions that power a car. A dirty air filter prevents your car's cylinders from receiving enough air and throws off the fuel/air mix, which lowers your gas mileage as much as 10 percent.
  4. Avoid long idles. Restarting your engine burns less gas than idling, so if you expect a lengthy wait, turn it off.
  5. Use your air conditioner wisely. Your gas consumption increases by 20 percent whenever your air conditioner is running, according to the EPA. You'll save gas if you roll down the windows and enjoy the breeze in the city. On the highway, keeping your windows up will save gas by reducing drag.

Whatever strategies you choose to implement, enjoy the fact that you can always get where you want to go and still make choices that enhance your health, improve the environmental outlook for our planet, and have a positive impact on your community.