Search Results for 'Prius'

Driving A Prius In The Wild West

My job in transportation options has taken me, in a new Prius, to the high desert town of Bend, Oregon (recently named by American Cowboy magazine in its Top Ten list of wild-west towns). The Prius, mud-splattered from the Santiam Pass, is now dusted with snow as well, so it reminds me of an Appaloosa pony.

Appaloosa mare running
photo by emokidsdontcryx3

Oh, don’t I wish. Horses are cool.

So my Prius (actually my employer’s, not mine) informs me it is getting 46 miles per gallon on this trip. Excellent mileage compared to SUV’s, and of course with every gallon of gas we burn creating 20 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, I’m saving a few hundred pounds of emissions over driving an average car. Also, this hybrid handles and performs beautifully, front-wheel drive and all. The Prius is so popular in our motor-pool that I couldn’t extend my use of it to a third day.

The downside of not just the Prius, other hybrids and actually all gas and energy conservation measures is that if we don’t stay conscious of the reality of peak oil, we can easily offset our conservation measures to some degree by then driving or consuming more carelessly. The irony of our nation’s overconsumption is that it does not make us happier. Juliet Schor, the Harvard economist, shows this clearly in her body of research.

Bearing that in mind, I am parking my Appaloosa-colored Prius this afternoon and taking a vanpool with about ten colleagues over to Redmond, saving a few hundred more pounds of emissions. Kind of like taking a stagecoach in the days of the old West. I wish.

Advertisements

Our Next Car: Prius Or Honda Hybrid?

With my new, longer commute we’re going to finally replace our single car, a 1993 Nissan Sentra, with a newer car. The question is: what car makes the most sense, given both that we’re thrifty and that carbon emissions are prime drivers of global warming (no pun intended)?

We sized it up last night, now that we’ve finished doing our taxes (we’re early this year). The Prius can get 50ish miles per gallon, while a Honda Civic hybrid yields 38ish, but then the Prius costs about $4,000 more. And we’re convinced gas will be at least $4/gallon for most of the car’s lifespan.

Even so, the Prius would only save us about $300/year on gas. However, it would mean we were producing 25% less carbon emissions.

Because we’re financially solid with two good salaries, we care a lot more about our carbon footprint than saving $300. But if we saved $4,000 on the purchase price, what good things could we accomplish with that money? The jury is still out, and I’m wide open to input. What do you think is the best decision?

Finally, the elephant in the room I never see anyone addressing is: what is the carbon footprint of manufacturing all these ding-dang cars in the first place? That is to say, what is their embodied energy? My hunch is that it is enormous, and dwarfs the emissions we create by driving. Please give me a link to this information.

Possibly in the global picture, the best course is to buy no new cars at all until our current ones are literally repaired to death. I realize that course would shake up the economy — but a market transformation is what it will take, regardless, to deal effectively with global warming.

Our New Honda Hybrid

2008 Honda Civic hybrid We researched ad nauseum what fuel-efficient, low-emissions car we should buy. We finally chose the Honda Civic hybrid for its great ratings all around, plus its state AND federal tax credits. We waited and waited for it to arrive at the dealership. Last night we finally brought it home.

Not a car person by nature, I’m learning new things:

  • pzev (our Honda is one) means ‘partial zero emissions vehicle’
  • the Honda hybrid still gets the $1,050 federal tax credit while the Prius does not
  • but both Prius and Honda hybrid get the $1,500 Oregon tax credit
  • new hybrids get better mileage as you keep driving them
  • (that is no excuse to drive any more than truly necessary)
  • ‘magnetic pearl’ is near-black on paper and silver-gray on a real-life car
  • car dealerships these days feature nice, high bistro tables and free coffee
  • I advise bringing your own coffee instead

Ideally, the single car my husband and I own sits at home daily and acts as a watchdog that keeps burglars away while we take TriMet to work. But now I carpool to Salem most days. Tomorrow will be our new hybrid’s maiden voyage to Oregon’s capital. With four of us in the car, we can get about 160 miles per gallon when calculated on a per person basis. Can you beat that for fuel efficiency?

Wait a minute, yes you can. Walking and bicycling get infinite miles per gallon. And since our friend is coming for dinner tonight I have to fetch a few groceries. Definitely a bike errand. Our sleek hybrid will sit at home in the driveway in all its ‘magnetic pearl’ splendor.

Rejecting Agrofuel: What To Do

The diamond-cut life is about more joy, more integrity and less consumption as we deal with global warming. The food-as-fuel track that the U.S. is on assumes unlimited consumption (driving alone, for instance) with no particular joy or integrity.

What are practical, concrete things we can do? Here is what my household is doing to use less gas and discourage the business of agrofuel (food-as-fuel). Please write in with your ideas too (click Comments at the top of this post.)

Put your household on a fuel or gasoline diet. For instance, how much do you intend to spend on gas each month? (average $3.65/gallon in Oregon at time of this writing). Having healthy limits is what adults do. Some ways we live happily within our fuel diets:

  • Use public transit I am using only public transit today and not touching a car. To see the fun of this, read the 200-word piece Secret Lover, Secret Watchdog. (written before I started carpooling to Salem for my new job)
  • Walk for errands of two miles and less
  • Bicycle to destinations of five miles and less
  • Post a handmade map on your refrigerator of all the cool things you can do within walk/bike distance of home. Spring and summer weather make this much easier.
  • Post a list of all the fun things you can do AT home
  • Carpool or vanpool, especially for long commutes. I have great fun with this. See Carpool Survivor

Check out Drive Less Save More as a good resource for driving less. By June 1st it plans to have a Trip Diary that we can all use to record our non-drive-alone trips. That which gets measured gets improved. I’m going to use it!

Tell your Congresspeople you don’t want food used as fuel. Say that we should be using less fuel, instead. Here’s an easy place to find their contact info.

When you have to drive, drive the most fuel-efficient car you can. But, even then, don’t use that as an excuse to drive more than necessary. Tomorrow I’ll write about the new hybrid we just bought. Is your money on the Prius or the Honda Civic hybrid?

Photo courtesy of “CaptPiper”, graphic added by Hanmi Meyer.

Stampede To Small Cars?

The New York Times has a front-page article today about Americans making a stampede to small cars due to rising gas prices.

I read it avidly since our transportation choices form such a high percentage of our national carbon footprint (and carbon emissions are the primary cause of global warming). It turned out that one in five U.S. car purchases in April were of a compact or sub-compact car, compared to one in eight a decade ago.

This is called a stampede to fuel-efficient cars? I’m underwhelmed.

I see a misguided but very human thing playing itself out around gas prices, cars, carbon emissions and global warming. Science tells us we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70-85%.  Yet, media coverage and public behavior reveal a childlike desire for our lifestyles to change very little from what we’re used to — despite full evidence and knowledge that our lifestyles need to change a lot, based as they are on cheap, abundant fossil fuels.

My post on Our Next Car: Prius Or Honda Hybrid? has gotten almost as many hits as the next two most popular posts put together. Clearly, people are hot for green-tinged cars. But why aren’t we talking about cutting our driving in half, rather than having wet dreams about cars in different flavors and sizes? Where is the front-page NY Times story on how 82% of U.S. trips of five miles or less are currently made in cars, rather than on foot or bicycle? Using our bodies for transportation addresses national health and obesity problems as well as global warming. And exercise elevates mood and makes us feel happier, too.

The time when people reported the highest level of happiness in the U.S. was a time when they walked and bicycled more and drove less. Let’s not be impressed by the current so-called stampede to small cars. The transformation needed to effectively deal with global warming calls for changes in us more than in our cars.

Sustainability Round-Up

Today’s post is a round-up of my recent mini-discoveries on important aspects of sustainability.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Our country needs more people working in sustainability. Towards that end, I just learned that Oregon State University offers a sustainability certificate online. (If I didn’t already have an advanced degree, I would seriously consider getting an online certificate in sustainability.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

People often wonder about sustainability assessment tools and the triple bottom line. Well, the triple bottom line is people, planet and profit — the idea is to hold all three important, not only profit (that’s how so many messes get made). Another way it’s often expressed is ecology, economy and equity — the basis for 3E Strategies, a great organization in Central Oregon founded and directed by Cylvia Hayes, a person I deeply respect.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sustainability in the automotive industry: Of my current 71 posts, the most-read by far is Our Next Car: Prius Or Honda Hybrid? It’s not my personal favorite since I believe cars (any cars) are best put on a diet. But in fairness to the many readers who are clearly interested, here is a link to research on sustainability in the automotive industry.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

How to shrink our carbon footprint? This is what the Diamond Cut-Life really comes down to, i.e. crafting a hihh quality of life with a low carbon footprint. Click here to calculate your current footprint and here for a series of posts providing my real-life examples of how to reduce our carbon footprint.

Carpool Survivor

I am lucky enough to be in a carpool with five great people for my two-hour round-trip commute. (I found them through Carpool Match Northwest.) We save money, save emissions and have fun. So on the morning of April Fool’s day I tossed off a prank email to them.

I wrote: “It has been such a pleasure knowing you! My new inheritance means I can now afford a new Prius. I’ll soon be driving alone to work in it with Steve Earle cranked up full blast. warmly, Alison.” I chose Prius rather than Hummer to enhance my credibility.

Still, I thought they would zing me back with: “B.S.! April Fools!” Or at least: “If we agree to play Steve Earle, won’t you stay?” But instead, I basically got a dead silence. Not good. So in the late afternoon I emailed that it had been a fraud. “Of course I’m still in the carpool. I can’t believe you believed me! I’m not a gold-digger, not with you for the money.”

It turned out that Sam had decided I was a rank poser, only having pretended all this time to care about the environment. (Have I mentioned my carpool is 67% environmental attorneys?) He was laughing by the time he debriefed with me — “This is carpool survivor!” he said, but I could see he had seriously disliked me for an entire day. Whoa. John was more vulnerable. He said that, knowing break-ups often happen for reasons other than the stated ones, he’d been convinced I’d just manufactured an excuse to dump them all. (I decided this might not be the right day to ask John about his abandonment issues.)

It doesn’t take a background in counseling (though I happen to have one) to see that a carpool can bond and take on some family dynamics. It wasn’t that funny to threaten to leave. I had upset them.

Yesterday, a gorgeous spring afternoon, I was waiting for the gang at the Agriculture building at the Mill Creek bridge. I climbed up on the bridge embankment just for fun. As Sam and John approached, I yelled, “My carpool hates me! I’m going to jump!”

“Don’t jump!” they called. I climbed on down and all six of us got into Richard’s van. We talked, read and joked the hour back to Portland, probably happier together than many families. While driving alone isolates us from others, the game of Carpool Survivor rewards us with community and I plan to be the ‘last woman standing’ in it.

The Case For Hybrids and Sex

On March 2 I wrote about my household’s deliberations over which hybrid should be the replacement for our single car, a battered 15 year old Nissan. People have been asking me, “So what have you decided?” It’s almost like they’re wondering if a new baby will be a boy or a girl.

The answer: we don’t want this new baby (new car) until late summer. At the earliest, if then. I can name three reasons (and maybe you’d like to add some more).

1.) I don’t want to fertilize the market with a car purchase. Our nation already has way too many cars of any ilk (250 million, and that’s just the registered ones). Most of these run just fine and don’t need replacement. It takes 20 barrels of oil just to make a car, I’ve read. So, we’d have to drive a hybrid 20,000 miles to save that much oil if it got double the average car’s mileage. And why would I want a motivation to drive 20,000 miles?

2.) Babies (new cars) are very needy and therefore disruptive to sexiness. Thor is already trying to set rules about no eating or drinking in our hypothetical new car. I am already outraged: “Who’s driving things here, us or the car?” (You can tell I currently drink coffee every morning in our ratty Nissan with impunity.) This marital disagreement has not yet hampered our sex life, but you never know when a playful power struggle might escalate.

3.) Cars are not sexy, anyway. It was only when we were semi-homeless teenagers that there was a legitimate association between cars and sex. Has your sex life not improved since you were 18, moved out and got a better place to neck than a car? I rest my case.

Doing The Unthinkable

Every household has its own little culture. Within Thor’s and mine, I did the unthinkable last night: I drove (did not walk) the 3/10 mile from our house over to choir practice.

This was not even in the Prius or other hybrid we have yet to purchase, but in our 1993 Nissan Sentra. As I was stepping out the door to walk to the church, I realized there was a hard, driving rain. Changing into rain gear would make me late. I didn’t want to be either late or soaked, so I jumped into the car for the 3/10 mile journey. Normal in many households; unthinkable in mine.

How would I respond to a ‘normal’ person’s charge of being obsessively PC (politically correct)? Well, my answer is about context and about the dismissive power of labels.

The context is that Portland Oregon (where we live) wins awards for being the Most Sustainable City in the nation. We are ‘early adopters’ in that arena, with excellent public transit, bike lanes, land use and biodiesel availability. So my household makes choices in a city-state context of sustainability.

Concerning the label of PC or any other label: it’s a form of dismissal. For instance, to say that New Yorkers are rude, or Southerners ignorant, dismisses them from further thought. It also makes them lower-than, less worthy than the one labeling them. “Portlanders not wanting to drive? How PC!” — and the speaker and listener toss away the notion of driving less, without thinking about what they’ve tossed.

That thing of not thinking is how we’ve landed in the global warming mess we’re in.

My work-day today involves getting input from my statewide transportation-options group about my idea of an Oregon residential energy tax credit (RETC, rhymes with Betsy) for carpooling, and then meeting up with a leader of the state’s Drive Less, Save More publicity campaign.

And you can bet I will not be driving to those meetings — though I’ll admit to my colleagues my slip-up last night :).

The High Country Road of Walking The Talk

Since I live in the West and care about it, I recently started a subscription to High Country News. I just read a letter to the editor in it that I think cuts to the heart of dealing with climate change.

Mr. Graef, a self-described moderate conservative and environmentalist, writes that liberals are: “incapable of changing their own lifestyle to usher in the anti-oil world they desire. Have you made a major sacrifice to decrease global warming? Have you eschewed an international vacation or . . . opted out of a road trip just to reduce your ‘carbon footprint’?”

While my household does have an altered lifestyle, I agree with him that most liberals do not. (Or at least, the obligatory Prius does not scratch the surface of change needed.)

Mr. Graef states, “The liberal environmentalist appears to be more interested in being right . . . . than actually changing their own personal habits of consumption.”

I’d say liberals have merely been right — with words — about global warming, while conservatives have been in denial. But liberal words are useless by themselves. Leadership on climate change is about action, not words. I love that a conservative person is speaking this truth. My Western hat is off to Mr. Graef.

In my next post I’ll talk about my household’s sacrifices and altered lifestyle — and yours too, if you’ll write in. In the meantime, for clear, cogent measures we can all take now, look at the Empowerment Institute’s excellent Low Carbon Diet Workbook .