Get On Board for the Climate: Keep Rolling with Less Emissions

Martha Walden 

California is already in climate crisis as record-breaking wildfires burn. A shaken Governor Newsom has vowed to speed up the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The first thing he set his sights on is transportation, the source of 41% of the state’s emissions. The internal combustion engine [ICE] is now destined to be a dinosaur by 2035. All new cars manufactured and sold in California after that date will emit nothing but good vibes.

Meanwhile, Covid-19, our other crisis, encourages us to stay at home more than usual (but also ended ridesharing). Staying home can be a fine option, especially if you can make a living there. Telecommuting has made it possible for many people to do just that. But there are still places to go, errands to run, and big beaches out there. How can we all do our part to decrease transportation emissions as soon as possible?

1) Ride a bike. In terms of converting energy into movement, the bicycle is the greatest invention ever, and bicyclists are a superior, vigorous breed. Less pure but still good, clean fun are E-bikes, E-scooters, Segways and such. The vast majority of car trips are less than six miles — well within the capabilities of non-motorized wheels.

2) Take the bus. One big vehicle uses much less fuel than a bunch of smaller vehicles. The more people who take the bus, the greater the advantage. Convert those buses to electricity as HTA has started doing, and the emissions outlook is rosy indeed. Especially if we can persuade people to get on them! Unfortunately, buses are too slow for most people. Humboldt County Association of Governments (HCAOG), which oversees our transportation system, is considering how to facilitate faster bus routes that run more often — but cover less ground and make fewer stops. You may well ask how that will increase ridership. HCAOG is looking at a gamut of mobility-on-demand possibilities to get people to the stops along the major routes when they need to go. These include improved bike infrastructure and bike-shares and “micro-transit” such as vans that can gather people up for less carbon cost than a fixed route bus. Ride-hailing is included in this list of possibilities, but recent studies suggest that services like Uber and Lyft actually increase emissions.

3) Drive an electric vehicle. If you feed your EV nothing but solar and wind energy you keep the luxurious autonomy of your me-mobile without any of the guilt. Even if you’re using dirty energy to charge that battery, you’re still emitting less carbon than petroleum. However, all cars contribute towards traffic congestion.

4) Be smart with your hybrid or regular ICE vehicle. The least we fossilized drivers can do is to efficiently plan and organize our trips. A little delayed gratification can decrease trips to town. Another underappreciated tactic for reducing emissions is to drive 55 m.p.h. on the highway. You emit 10 to 15% less carbon than all those other vehicles blowing by you. What’s the rush anyway?