If you live amongst society today it’s nearly a guarantee that you are causing some amount of environmental harm via your transportation. How much is largely up to you. There is no one size fits all solution to environmental destruction caused by getting yourself around so I’ve laid out different options for you depending on where you are in life. Let this serve as a guide for you, but don’t depend on it completely. Instead, I encourage you to think critically and live a well thought out life. This guide is here to help you reduce your environmental impact from getting around.
1. I’m going to start off with a doozy here and say go car free. That’s right, get rid of your car. I know this might sound huge to you, but going car free can serve you in so many more ways than just reducing your environmental impact. It stands to make you a much healthier person, save you a lot of money, and fundamentally shift your life towards a happier way of being. For more on the benefits and practicality of this see Selling My Car… Bought My Freedom.
2. For those of you that are not willing to go car free I’ve got some suggestions for you. If you have more than one vehicle I suggest bringing it down to just one. Next I suggest driving less and opting for public transportation, cycling, and walking whenever you can. Just ask yourself if you really need a one-ton + pound machine to accomplish the simple task of moving you from place to place. Also, I suggest owning your car for a long time rather than getting a new one every couple of years. Don’t fall for the perceived obsolescence that tells you that you need a new car.
3. Join a car share program. Going car free is especially easy in areas that have car share programs. The good news is that these are popping up all over the country. I use car2go, which is an electric car share program in San Diego, and it’s like I own a car without actually having to own a car. If you get rid of your car and want to take a trip out of town you can always rent a car or borrow one from a friend. See Sharing in the USA: Sharing Economy Websites for a list of car share programs. Another option is to car pool.
4. Get a good bike. Some people will spend over $20,000 on a car, but think it’s absurd to spend $300-$500 on a quality bicycle. I actually felt that way not too long ago, but then I learned how powerful of a tool a good bicycle is. I’ve cycled across the USA twice now and if I can do that then I know most of us can at least bike to work or school. In all my journeys by bicycle I’ve been amazed by the physical diversity of people on bikes. From little kids to folks in their 70’s and 80’s and people in great shape to obese people. I’ve even met obese people and 80 year olds cycling all the way across the United States! Another option is to join a bike share program.
5. Get a rack and panniers or a trailer for your bike. Lugging a couch is one thing, but with some basic bike gear, it’s easy to run errands and go grocery shopping by bicycle.
6. Use public transportation. If you have public transportation in your area I encourage you to use it. Many systems make it easy to take your bike on with you so biking and public transportation make a great combo. If you’ll use it a lot get an unlimited pass to save yourself some money.
7. Walk. Walking is a beautiful way to get connected with your community, stay in shape, relax, and save yourself a lot of money. It’s what people have been doing for over a million years.
8. Live near work / school. To really live with the kind of happiness, health, and freedom that I practice you may have to make a lifestyle change. I know I did. I strongly suggest organizing your life so that you have to spend as little time as possible getting around. This means living near work, school, etc. Prioritizing true happiness and health over money and “success” may help you do this.
9. Long distance travel. Avoid flying when you can and take a train, bus, or boat when possible instead. This is the most difficult part for me because getting thousands of miles away is harder than just getting around the city. One suggestion we can all adapt into our life is skipping out on short distance flights. We can also all offset our carbon from flying because if we can afford to fly we can afford the small percentage more to take some responsibility for our flight. I offset my carbon 3 fold and use the highest standard of carbon offsets (all offsets are not created equally). It’s also important for me to mention that offsetting your flights should not help you to rationalize flying more, rather it should be done if you are already going to take the flight.
10. Ditch your ego and stop judging yourself and others based on material possessions.
You may have noticed that I didn’t mention electric cars or hybrid vehicles. Of course, these are far better options than gas guzzlers and I absolutely suggest ditching the guzzlers. I don’t necessarily consider these truly eco friendly choices though. Because of how resource intensive the batteries for electric vehicles are you’ve got to use the vehicle for a decade or two to make it worth it environmentally. Plus about 70% of electricity in the USA is generated by fossil fuels, so most electric cars are still bringing fossil fuels, just in a slightly cleaner manner. If a hybrid gets 35 mpg versus a car that gets 25 mpg, that’s only 70% better. Every little bit counts, and it really adds up with many people doing it, but it’s not enough for a hybrid driver to be snooty with someone who drives a gas powered car. It’s still a private vehicle burning our resources. I’m certainly supportive of these options, but I think it’s a fallacy to call these options eco-friendly. They are just less destructive but still likely more destructive than our earth can handle long term. Shared electric or hybrid cars or no car at all are far more environmentally friendly options than owning your own fuel efficient vehicle.
Many people in my generation are stuck in the rat race and a big part of that comes from the huge amount of time that they spend in their cars and the amount of time they spend working to pay for them. If you desire to live outside of this race and to pursue deeper levels of happiness, health, and freedom I strongly encourage you to take these suggestions. Start by adopting one suggestion today and make it a goal to adopt more of this into your life with each week, month, and year.