Archive for the 'carpooling' Category

High Energy Prices: Good

I’m sipping my coffee at 6 a.m. at Stumptown in Southeast Portland (joy). The Oregonian’s front page shows an ocean of the 72,000 faces that turned out to see Barack Obama yesterday (yes, I voted for him, too) and the lower right corner story is: “Who loves high energy prices? The environment.”

The gist is basic economics: when price goes up, demand goes down. And we have got to demand (use) less energy, because it costs the earth heavily. I’ve seen oil fields and coal mines described as war zones, and that makes sense, because we’re violently wresting fossil fuels from the earth that have been millions of years in the making (hence the term fossil). Moreover, burning them causes global warming, because the atmosphere cannot quickly absorb millions of years worth of carbon dioxide and methane. High prices help us slow all this down. In fact, slowing down is crucial all around.

The big problem with high energy prices is that they can make the poor suffer, which of itself is immoral and unethical. If you can’t afford to get to work or heat your house, then you deserve a price break or assistance. (But you also should carpool!) We need a more progressive tax system altogether, and those who have enough need to just voluntarily share more with those who don’t have enough. My household gives about 5% of our net income to philanthropy, but I think we can and should increase that.

If the earth loves high energy prices, let’s get it straight that we are part of the earth, too. Would we put a rock-bottom price on our own lives? No; our civilization is built on valuing human life. Because our fate rises and falls with the earth’s fate, we have to put a high price on energy and use it as the incredibly costly stuff that it actually is.

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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.

Carpooling Is Cool

The financial benefits of carpooling, featured in a front page story of the Oregonian today, are only one reason that carpooling is cool. I’d say its coolness is embodied in four C’s: cash, congestion reduction, carbon footprint and community.

The carpool I’m in makes my commute between Portland and Salem a joy instead of a grind. But the cash part first. The Oregonian’s simple chart states that driving alone would cost each of the six of us $12,344/year (including depreciation, etc., besides gas). Parking fees would be $756/year individually, but are just $104 as part of the group. So, by carpooling rather than driving alone, my carpool partners and I each save more than $10,500 per year.

We’re also each reducing our carbon footprint significantly by carpooling, and also our role in traffic congestion. With all that virtue, you would think we are martyrs, sighing pitifully as we make painful sacrifices. But no, the opposite is true. We joke around, take naps, share news and books, debrief from work, read, grab each others’ last-minute concert tickets, team up for Pub Quiz nights. I played a great prank on them for April Fools Day that I think they’ve forgiven me for. Carpooling can be community.

Especially if public transit isn’t available to you, you should give yourself the gift of carpooling, too. Living here in Oregon, I found mine through Carpool Match Northwest. Keep in mind that joining a carpool doesn’t mean you have to carpool every day; it can be flexible.

Coming up soon: report and pictures of the EcoProm: Oregon League of Conservation Voters Annual Dinner for the Environment that just happened last Friday night.

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.