How dare I…

Like many people I was transfixed by the footage of Greta Thunberg addressing the United Nations. At the risk of further angering her by praising her or using her for inspiration, she did remind me that I haven’t really addressed my purpose for starting this site – to help others who are interested in cutting or eliminating their fossil fuel usage to find creative ways to take the plunge and minimize the hassle of changing one’s lifestyle this drastically.

It’s important to note that there are a whole host of activities that impact our climate footprint, of which car usage is just one. Air travel, dietary choices, heating and cooling our homes, clothing purchases, furniture purchases, computer usage (including using cloud computing resources) all emit carbon. The climate calculator at the CoolClimate Network can give you an idea of how big a contribution your car makes to your carbon footprint and offer suggestions about how to reduce it further. Chances are good that your car makes up 20+% of your footprint if you live in a multicar household and you use your car daily. For reference, here is my household’s calculated footprint:

Note that while I don’t own a car, my wife still owns hers. She mostly takes the bus for work, but sometimes needs to take the car for medical issues or to haul equipment, and we use it for going out together, or to buy goods we can’t carry by hand or acquire within walking/biking distance.

I used the default values for goods and services, which I suspect are high for our family, but are illustrative that clothing or furniture purchases in the “average” household of our size is about as significant as driving our 12-yr old car for 5000 mi/yr or so. It’s also important to note that if you switch driving for walking or biking you will eat more food, probably several hundred calories a day worth. Modifying your diet to minimize red meat, cheese, out-of-season fruit, etc. will maximize the impact you have on climate change from changing your transportation habits.

All of those caveats aside, you’re probably here because you are interested in changing your driving habits. Using the above calculator, for a 22 MPG car, every 1000 miles less you drive reduces your CO2 emissions by about 0.5 tons per year. Some perhaps non-obvious ways to do that are to carpool or telecommute. Telecommuting two days a week reduces your carbon footprint by about 2 tons/year assuming you drive 10,000 miles per year getting to/from work. Carpooling with one other person halves your automobile footprint. Biking to work even one day a week can reduce your carbon footprint by about 1 ton/year.

If you are going to bike, I’d suggest a bit of planning before-hand. Here are some things that will make your switch to bicycling more productive, safe and pleasant:

  1. Get a bike-fitting. If, like most casual bikers, you just went to a store and picked the first bike you liked, could afford, and seemed comfortable, chances are good that it does not fit you properly. An improperly fitted bike can cause muscle or joint issues over longer periods of use, or can create safety issues in terms of visiblity, maneuverability and mounting/dismounting. Most bike shops and many physical therapists or occupational therapists will now offer bike-fitting sessions, possibly free when bundled with a bike purchase or other service.
  2. Get good, high-visibility cycling/rain gear, for safety, comfort and to save wear and tear on your work clothes (see my article here for some tips on that front).
  3. Plan your route carefully. I find MapMyRide has some of the best functionality in terms of planning rides, because it’s comprehensive and comprehensible marking of bike routes and for the elevation display. Find a route that looks reasonable in terms of path availability, car traffic, and elevation. Then try that route at a leisurely pace on a Sunday morning or afternoon when traffic is at its lowest. This will give you a good idea as to the duration of your commute, how much effort you can expect to expend, and whether there are obstacles (giant potholes, missing signage, dangerous intersections) you really do not want to be dealing with during your actual commute.
  4. Get your bike tuned-up and get tire-liners or kevlar- or run-flat tires installed on your bike. You do not want to be on the side of the road trying to figure out how to fix a flat at 8:50am before a big meeting with your boss’s boss.
  5. Give your co-workers a heads up before you actually start bike-commuting so they know why you appear a little winded or damp in the morning. Find out if you have a shower in the building, and where you can safely keep a bike for 8-9 hours a day.
  6. Stash an extra change of clothing in your desk, locker or other closet space just in case you get splashed, your bag leaks, or you otherwise ruin the clothes you planned to work in.
  7. Speaking of which, invest in a good roll-top pannier or backpack that can hold a full change of clothes and a laptop or other work necessities.

Let me know if you have any questions, or any other tips for the newly car-free. Next time, I’ll talk about how fussgänging (going carless) changes how you plan and organize your day in ways you might not expect.

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