Sunday, September 9, 2007

My car and my conscience

This post was recently published on! I am now a Contributing Editor at this neat website on automotive advice for women.

Cars -- one of the biggest contributors of greenhouse gas emission and hence global warming. I am rather unhappy that a car is indispensable to life in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is unbelievable how many cars are constantly on the road, and how much land needs to be devoted to parking. Prior to SF, I lived for many years in Manhattan, where almost everything is within walking distance from a subway stop. Didn't have a car for 6 years -- because I didn't need it. However, like most of America, SF suburbs are typical of urban sprawl, making cars indispensable to an efficient daily life. Although I have come to like my car very much, today's automobiles simply exert too high a cost to the environment -- not to mention, an increasing burden on our wallets. So I started thinking about my driving patterns and where I can reduce my carbon footprint.

Breaking it down, here's my weekly driving needs:

  • Commute to work (40 miles/week)
  • Get lunch and coffee (20 miles/week)
  • Necessary appointments (40 miles/week)
  • Driving to friends' place (20 miles/week)
  • Other roamings (100 miles/week)

Total per week = 220 miles
Total per year = 11,400 miles (average American drives 12K miles per year)
Gasoline Per Week = 7.85 gallon (2006 Honda Civic which averages 28mpg average city)
Gasoline Cost Per Year = $1127/year ($3/gallon)

CO2 Emission = 6710 lbs per year! [Calculator]

I want to reduce my car usage... as difficult as it is in the Bay Area. So I bought a bike recently. I started cycling to work, to the farmers' market, and the library. Soon I hope to ride the train+cycle to school. My fitness has increased when I converted some of the commuting to pedal power... although there are days (60%) where my schedule and logistics simply necessitate car use (a necessary evil). On those days, my personal obsession is to use today's car technology more efficiently.

  • Buy the most gas efficient car I can afford. My 2006 Honda Civic averages 25-29 mpg across town. Wish I'd spent the extra $5K to get a hybrid, with gasoline prices now skyrocketing. It would have made me feel better about using this car too, by reducing my personal "cognitive dissonance" between what I think is right, versus what I actually do. My next car would definitely be at least a hybrid...
  • Turn off the A/C. Use the vent or open windows for outside air. Works well 80% of the time since the weather here is usually cool. Bad idea when it is 80+F or the vehicle in front emits smelly fumes. However, the resistance created by wind may negate fuel savings, thus this definitely won't work on the highway. Yep, it also means that my passengers sometimes get a little uncomfortable temperature-wise... not the greatest solution.
  • Increase gas mileage [great tips here]
  • Live closer to work: within biking / walking distance... I moved closer, though my company may relocate further away soon...
  • Car-pool to work: I used to car pool about 3x/week when I lived further away. Co-ordinating schedule requires a commitment, and some sacrifice to mobility when one doesn't have a car at the office. But the benefits are worth it -- driving time = bonding time, HOV lane, and better conscience. Plus, within your carpool group, try to use the more gas-efficient car more frequently to compound the effects of savings. This may be unfair to those with a hybrid or high-mileage car... so discuss it first.
  • Being in a small startup, there's no cafeteria. Nearest food place takes 25 minutes to walk to... So, I pack a lunch and make coffee in the office. It saves time and is healthier too!

I am well-aware that at some point, one starts being penny-wise, pound foolish. What is your thought on this? Your personal experience with such a journey? I'd like to hear! Meanwhile, happy traveling!

-Marn Yee

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