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Mindful Travelling

Second only to the livestock sector, the transportation industry is the next largest source of greenhouse gases. 13% of all greenhouse gases worldwide come for the transportation of people and goods. In the USA it is even more. Of the 6 billion tonnes of CO2 that the USA emitted into the atmosphere in 2006, 33% came from the transportation sector. A whopping 60% of that came from personal transportation, from cars and light trucks. The rest came from the moving of goods around the country, heavy-duty vehicles and from aircraft.

People's personal transportation, in the USA, account for 20% of all the CO2 released in 2006. That is big. By far, the worst of this comes from vehicles that are poorly maintained or have poor gas mileage. To give one example, again according to the Environmental Protection Agency, where the above statistics come from, a 2000 Dodge Durango with a 5.9 litre engine gets 12 miles to the gallon when driving in the city, which means that for every 500 miles driven, 360 kilograms (800 pounds) of CO2 are put into the atmosphere. Working out the math shows that for every gallon of gas consumed, 8 kilograms of CO2 are released.

The USA alone consumes 20 million barrels of oil every day: 40% of that goes into gas tanks of people's cars. If everyone tuned up their cars and got just 3 miles per gallon better mileage, or if the auto industry improved fleet gas mileage by 3 miles per gallon, the US would save 1 million barrels of oil every day. At a price of $70/barrel, that would save US drivers over $25 billion dollars a year. Who says that saving our environment has to cost us money? We can and should be saving money by living more mindfully.

Improving gas mileage can have a huge impact in the amount of greenhouse gases emitted but even more impressive reductions can be found in easy changes to the way we use our cars. The majority of trips made by car are three miles or less. 28% of all trips are one mile or less! This is a distance that is easily covered on foot or by bike. With transportation already being the second largest expense in the American household budget (more than food or health care), a nice way to save money is to find the big easy alternatives to driving.

Walk! 30 minutes a day is the Surgeon General's recommendation to maintain optimum health. In 2003 he said, "Thirty minutes a day of walking will prevent many cases of diabetes, hypertension, and other chronic diseases." Since almost 1/3rd of all our trips are 1 mile or less, the alternative of a brisk walk will not only make you healthier and save you money, it will make a big impact on our environment.

Bike! For longer trips, use the most efficient machine we have ever invented. Lester Brown (author of Plan B) estimates that he gets 10 kilometres to the potato on his bike. While biking is not that popular, yet, in North America, worldwide bikes outnumber cars 2 to 1. Fewer than 10% of the population can afford a car, but over 80% can afford to buy a bike. Unfortunately, most people want the car, but the environment cannot afford for everyone to have one. We can afford for everyone to have a bike. Like walking, biking is a lot healthier than sitting in a car.

To encourage biking, we need our local politicians to pay attention, to be mindful too. We need to ask for our city fathers to make biking easier. It can be done. It has been done. In Denmark 20% of all trips are by bike. Belgium is even better: 33% of all trips in that country are by bike. With will and planning, North American cities can also greatly increase the ability for us to use our bikes.

When the weather is bad, or bikes just aren't the answer, use transit, or car share or car pool. There are many creative ways to reduce the amount we use our vehicles. One simple idea is to combine all the trips you need to make each day into one trip. Rather than make three 1-mile journeys, combine them into one trip.

The chart to our right shows the relative effects different modes of transportation have on the environment. As you can see, travelling by car is the second worst way to get around. Buses and trains are far more efficient. The range shown for cars reflects the fact that not all cars pollute to the same degree, but all cars are worse than buses.

Notice the top row. Travelling by airplane is the worst form of getting around. Where you have a choice, go by bus or train, or even load up the car and drive, rather than flying. However, sometimes, it is not possible to travel by any other way than by air. It is difficult to take a train from Toronto to Paris. If you must fly, consider doing something to remove the carbon your flight emitted. Consider buying a carbon offset.

Offsetting our carbon emissions is controversial. To many people, it smacks of the selling of indulgences by the medieval Church. For others, however, it is a realistic way to repair the damage done by travels. A carbon offset will take out of the air the carbon you caused to be released into it, or will help other people stop releasing carbon that they would have otherwise emitted. Be cautious though, there are many scams and not all offsets are equal. Planting trees has been touted as a good way to offset our carbon emissions but tree planting has its drawbacks. How do you know that the trees will be planted? How do know if the tree will be allowed to grow for hundreds of years? What happens if there is a fire, or if someone logs the tree? What happens when the tree dies and the carbon is re-released? Trees are not a permanent store of carbon.

There are good offsets available. Look for the Gold Standard offsets. If you need help, the David Suzuki Foundation has a pamphlet you can download that explains the differences between good and bad offsets, and provides links to many gold standard offerings.

If you agree that that the mode of transportation we are choosing is having a detrimental impact on the environment, then we can make this resolution:

   Aware of the damage and suffering caused by the emissions of greenhouse
gases and pollution by transportation, I resolve to reduce the use of
cars, and to travel by the least destructive means.

  1. Have a "No Car Day" every week. If you drive a car every day, choose at least one day each week in which you will not use your car. Bike, walk, take public transit or carpool.
  2. If you already have car-free days, increase the number of these
  3. If you must use your car, combine the number of things you do during each trip
  4. When the time comes to get a new car, look into getting a gasoline-free car or a hybrid
  5. For short trips, walk. For longer trips use a bike or take transit
  6. If you must fly, buy gold-standard carbon offsets [Check www.DavidSuzuki.org for more information on Offsets]

Again, I am not suggesting that you must never use your car, but if you currently drive your car every day and commit to having one car free day a week, that is a 14% reduction in the carbon you emit by driving. Two days adds us up to a 29% reduction. Remember, in the USA, 20% of CO2 comes from cars, light trucks and SUVs: so a 29% reduction in that 20% is a 5.8% reduction overall of CO2. Add this to the 9% you are already saving in all GHG's by reducing your meat to 1/2 of what you eat now and we are creating a 14% reduction in GHG's already.

That is big! Look at the huge controversies swirling around all of our politicians as they try to figure out how to reduce GHG by only 20% by 2020. Already we have seen how we can reduce 14% without them doing a thing! We can do this all by ourselves, and we can do it today, not in 2020 when it will be too late.

And again, it is easy! It just needs a little forethought and discipline - it needs your commitment. Remember your intentions, why you are doing this. With intention, it becomes easier to pay attention, to live mindfully.

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Footnotes and References
Coming soon!

A list of sources for all the factoids above

13% of all greenhouse gases worldwide are emmited by transporting people and goods

Nearly fifty percent of all trips in metropolitan areas are three miles or less and 28 percent are one mile or less - distances easily covered by foot or bicycle. According to multiple analyses, if each day Americans substituted driving with walking or cycling for the distance recommended for daily exercise, the United States could reduce oil consumption by between 35 and 38 percent.

Car-toon by Chris Madden
The Beast That Ate The Earth