Climate Connections: Slow down and help global climate crisis
The purpose of this ongoing series of articles on Climate Connections is to move beyond the arguments around our climate chaos and to find area we can agree on. You may not believe in the climate issues of today …. but you may be concerned about the use of plastics and the oceans. You may also be concerned about air and water quality. Whatever you want to call it, the planet needs our stewardship. The writers here will share their perspectives from many angles. Perhaps some or all will resonate with you, and bring to our awareness the necessary actions we can take. We will leave the arguments and differing beliefs to others.
— Marilyn Nyborg
If you’re reading this, it may be because you are worried about where the climate is heading and what you can do about it. You may have already done simple things like changing to LED light bulbs, trying to drive less, eating less meat and dairy.
Not everyone can afford or wants to buy a plug-in hybrid or electric vehicle but one thing you and everyone can do, whether you’re driving a big pickup truck or a subcompact, is waiting out on the road. I know it’s a radical idea but — SLOW DOWN. No matter how sleek and aerodynamic your vehicle is, the faster you go the more wind drag there is. Obviously, low-slung sedans start out with better mileage from body shape and weight but the rules of physics are the same.
According to figures on physics.org from a report by Argonne National Laboratory, for every 10 miles per hour faster you go from 50 to 70, your car loses 12% of its mileage and every 10 over 70 mph loses 15% mileage.
What does this mean in terms of climate? According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, use of gas and diesel every year produces 81% of transportation emissions and transport emissions are about 30% of total U.S. emissions. If we cut gasoline and diesel use by 12% that’s near a tenth of the transportation total, all by just going slower.
On top of your contribution to curbing climate warming, you get paid for it! Using the mileage penalty calculator on fueleconomy.gov you can see how much speed costs.
For a 2019 Subaru Outback with 4-cylinder engine, a popular car locally, if gas is $4.19, at 65 that gallon costs $5.14 and at 75 mph it costs $6.05.
For a 2019 Prius, at 65 that gallon of gas cost $5.40 and at 75 mph it cost $6.69. Why does the extra speed cost the Prius more than the Subaru? A Prius maximizes fuel efficiency at in-town speeds.
Of course, many of us feel like we’re in a rush all the time so maybe the extra cost is worth it. Using the calculator on timecalulator.net, I figured the time savings driving to Yuba City from Grass Valley. At 55 mph you get there in 43 minutes and at 65 you get there in 36 minutes, a total of 7 minutes faster. Besides the fact that 65 is over the speed limit for a fair portion of the drive, your extra gas cost won’t save much time.
You’re not immune to costs even if you drive a plug-in hybrid or EV. The faster you drive those, the sooner you have to recharge the battery. Unless you produce all your own energy, you have to then buy electricity from PG&E and only about half of their energy comes from renewable sources.
Other techniques for conserving fuel include using cruise control on the highway, avoiding jackrabbit starts, and speeding up to stops. The first avoids speeding up and slowing down, which uses extra energy. The second uses extra energy overcoming friction and inertia getting up to speed. The third wastes energy driving your vehicle forward when you could coast up to the stop light or sign. A fourth hidden cost is excessive idling, A test by edmunds.com, the online auto resource, found that frequent idling for more than one minute can cut your mileage by as much as 19%. So, waiting for road construction, shut off your engine as soon as you stop. No, it won’t take more gas to start up than you save. Slow moving drive-through food and beverage lines are clearly not good for mileage or emissions.
We clearly need to move away from petroleum-fueled vehicles, so buying a hybrid or electric car is a great move if you can afford it, but it won’t solve the whole climate crisis. Achieving policy changes to reduce climate heating seems so difficult in the current political atmosphere, but it’s absolutely necessary to avert disaster. We all need to keep working for something like legislation like the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act and mandates for clean energy.
What action can we take? Slow down.
Reed Hamilton has lived in Nevada County for 36 years with his wife and raised two sons here. He has been a builder and business owner, now farms 30 acres in the Valley. Reed has been involved in environmental work for the last 40 years.
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