According to the Department of Transportation the U.S. public drove more than 3 trillion miles in 2007. That is enough to drive to Mars and back over 32,000 times. This means that the potential for reducing carbon emissions is massive. It is understandable that individuals in rural areas where businesses are spaced far apart and public transportation is non-existent would have to drive a lot. However 2 out of every 3 miles driven are done so by a resident of an urban area as defined by the DOT. I don't know what kind of urban area they live in, but in my personal experience cars simply aren't necessary items in most urban areas even the smaller ones with 100,000 people or less.
Don't get me wrong - they do come in handy when moving or taking the kids and the rest of their soccer team to a game. Which is why a family having one car makes sense, but currently the average American family has two or more cars. According to the Federal Highway Administrations "Our Nation's Highways 2008" there are 1.2 cars for every licensed American motorist or 2.4 for every household of 4. Sounds to me that on any given day one of the two adults in the house is needlessly driving a car to and from work.
A cheaper, greener, and healthier alternative to that extra car is a bike! In gridlocked D.C. I've found that I can even get some places faster on my bike then in a car. Bikes can get you where you need to go fast, with no emissions and no gas costs, and you get a good workout to boot. However getting the general population to switch over to bikes is a difficult proposition. Side note, Critical Mass is an event that takes place on the last Friday of every month and is a good opportunity for anyone interested in pushing for more bikes, to get involved. Very few employers have any kind of bike facilities or showers. This leaves the eco-conscious biker a somewhat sweaty smelly mess at their desk, particularly on those hot muggy summer days. With the obesity epidemic in full swing many of us are also too out of shape to undergo the several mile bike ride to and from work every day. The solution......?
Electric bicycles! It combines the best of both worlds. Dating all the way back to 1890 the motorized bicycle has long been the awkward cousin of the bicycle. Initially propelled by inefficient two stroke engines or behemoth sized lead acid batteries, the billions poured into battery research for electric cars has paid off in the form of sleek sexy new electric powered bikes that look like a normal bike and have greater ranges of travel than their predecessors. If one is feeling tired or the sweat starts pouring out as you huff it up a big hill then just turn on the battery for a little boost. At the same time if you want to get in the exercise because you were "too busy" to go to the gym then you can just turn the pedal assist off and put it under your own power. The new lightweight lithium polymer batteries means the battery and motor combined only add about ten pounds to the bike and so won't add too much weight if you find yourself with a dead battery and a long way from home.
There have always been two major problems with electric bicycles. Traditionally they have not only been expensive but also decidedly awkward looking. Schwinn has a set of new, and if I may say - sexy, looking bikes. They have a range of 25-30 miles per charge making them perfect for the daily commute. With a charge time of less than three hours even the people with the longest commutes should be able to bike to work, charge up the battery and then have a full charge for the ride home. At anywhere from $1,000 - $4,000 they're not cheap and occupy the dreaded no man's land between a normal bike and a serviceable used car. In the land of bigger is always better, why not just pay a little more and get that used Corrolla?
Well for starters AAA's annual car expense report puts the cost of having a car, including maintenance, insurance etc at $9,369. Theoretically this means that you could drive the most expensive electric bike off a cliff once a year and still come out ahead by over $1,000. Over the average 7 year lifespan of an automobile that would save you $65,583. If you give up the car when your child is born then this will save you enough that by the time they turn eighteen you'll be able to pay tuition for a four year private college.
Oh and that environment thing. According to the EPA the transportation sector already accounts for 1/3 of carbon emissions and is the fastest growing sector of new emissions. Using their average of 5.5 tons of greenhouse gas per passenger vehicle per year it is easy to see how quickly the amount of greenhouse gas saved can add up quickly. As of the 2000 census there were 105.5 million households in the U.S. If only half of those households gave up one car that would be the equivalent of over half a trillion tons of greenhouse gas, or weight of 34 million blue whales.
So yea, keep that car and keep pumping out carbon dioxide or give it up and send your kid to an Ivy League school and help save the planet. The choice is yours.
If you are in the market to replace the family car then check out the EPA's Green Guide, which is a great comprehensive guide with MPG and average carbon emissions for almost every type of vehicle on the road.
If you're not convinced to totally give up the car and just want to buy a hybrid instead, New Dream's Responsible Purchasing Network has a calculator that compares the lifetime cost and greenhouse emissions output of hybrid models v. standard models.
If you are already convinced and want to start taking vacations by bicycle, check out the Bicycle Adventures page on our Conscious Consumer Marketplace.