I wasn’t able to comprehend the sacrifice involved in cutting carbon emissions until I applied it to my own lifestyle. I’m an active American college student living in the suburbs of a city with less than adequate public transportation and, to top it off the rain in this is relentless. I also have strong convictions and passion to seek and promote a sustainable lifestyle due to an overwhelming concern of a future energy crisis. After learning about the devastation of carbon emissions on the environment I was motivated to incorporate changes into my lifestyle in order to reduce my footprint on this planet. Instead of just preaching about the issues, it was my turn to apply my own action in an attempt to lessen the problematic situation. According to Michael C. Slattery, who wrote Contemporary Environmental Issues, “oil is the world’s predominant energy source, accounting for about 40 percent of energy consumption” (Slattery 35). According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s report on the U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory, “ The Transportation accounts for approximately 33 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions… nearly 60 percent of emissions resulted from gasoline consumption” (U.S. Greenhouse). The really scary figure according to Slattery is that fossil fuels “account for almost 90 percent of commercial energy production worldwide” (Slattery 25). This figure includes natural gas, coal and oil consumption. Majority of the items that we utilize and consume on a daily basis are transported to us from another part of the world. Most of the transportation requires the use of dirty fossil fuels. This also includes foreign oil and, America is one of the leading oil importers on the planet making it one of the most crucial countries that need to take a step towards localization. In order to reduce my own footprint I decided my project needed to reduce my carbon miles in so I can move closer to a sustainable lifestyle. As an active American I decided to leave my keys on my dresser, and take up a sustainable commuting practice. My project demanded that I would specifically to utilize sustainable modes of transportation either by, bicycle or the use of the local public transportation system to commute to school.
In order to track my progress I decided to do some research in order to estimate my carbon footprint before and, after. In May after the start of my project I was asked to fill out a form during week five that allowed me to estimate my greenhouse and transportation costs. I concluded that this particular worksheet allowed a solid platform so that I could accurately estimate my progress. According to my estimates and the mathematic equations my Subaru Outback station wagon runs at twenty two miles per gallon with a fourteen gallon tank. I would usually drive two weeks between refuels which estimated that I provide the planet with 7,884 pounds of carbon into the atmosphere alone by driving 8700 miles annually. This number frightened me which led to continued motivation for this project. I was under the impression that my car a twenty-two miles per gallon wagon would have been much more environmentally friendly. I was completely baffled, and overwhelmed by the own emission output. A closer look at the cost was also shocking. Driving an average of 24.38 miles per day costs according to the mathematical calculations of the chart cost $4.14 per day. This price may not seem like very much at first glance but, I assure you as a college student the cost adds up to an annual price of over $1500. Personally this is more than a months’ worth of living expenses in my situation. I was looking forward to adding the savings to my bank account balance. Frequent trips to the gas station would be a thing of the past! The monetary cost and the carbon emissions were eye openings and, it was time to incorporate changes. I am a full time student and, my only obligation has been commuting to school and back every weekday. Google Maps estimated my distance from the school as 3.6 miles. According to the C-Tran web site the estimated commute by bus this would take 16 minutes each direction. My commute to school required that I would travel an estimated 36 miles per week. Over the course of 55 days I could easily save over 400 miles. Not to mention the hassle of a community college parking lot that can last nearly forty five minutes every morning and hundreds of pounds of carbon dioxide.
Public Transportation requires patience. Commuting in a personal vehicle allows certain freedoms. The most important step in using transportations is accepting a loss of those freedoms. For instance, the bus drivers usually are very helpful and kind but, they are not running a taxi service and, they stick to the route regardless of any attempt at coercing. Any spontaneous stop on the way requires careful planning to avoid being late to my scheduled obligations. I had to plan my trips if, I wanted to stop by the grocery store or post office. I had to plan ahead and check bus schedules and routes. This was expected although it took some getting used to. Spontaneity checked out of my lifestyle. The first two weeks I experienced the most amount of frustration while adjusting to the project and, I was slightly bummed. I felt a little lost at first as I noticed the loss of my freedom. I missed my Outback and I felt awkward. The frustration set in shortly after I realized that this project wasn’t going to be as easy as I first anticipated. I continued the project with a certain level of frustration because; I felt that a small sacrifice of my personal freedoms was important for the commonwealth of the planet and future generations not to mention my grade. I also have lived in several cities with efficient means of public transportation. Vancouver is not such a place. The inconvenience forced me to question my own convictions on modern day environmental issues. How could feel so passionate about the issues, yet frustrated at the application of better choices? I continued on the path of being a suburban bus commuter. I wondered if my sacrifice of convenience would really make much of a difference. After all, I am just one suburban college student.
When I conceived this project idea I had planned on commuting by bicycle several times a week. That’s when I also noticed that spring in the Pacific North West is not a favorable place to commute by bicycle due to the overwhelming about of liquid sunshine. I had hopes using a bicycle would have health benefits as well .I was wrong because, my motivation to ride a bicycle in a rain left me when I was awarded a drivers license at sixteen. From my trial and error experience through the first few days I had decided that the bus was a better alternative. I didn’t have to pay the bus fare thanks to a student Identification and a bus pass that cost less than twenty dollars for the term. Riding my bicycle 3.6 miles either left me drenched from the rain, or perspiration from the work out. The commute generally would last about twenty minutes each way by bus. This was actually a faster commute than driving the 3.6 miles because; I no longer had to deal with the parking issues at the school and the commute time by bus was less than by car. My commute by bicycle was respectively the same. I was happy with the situation; although I did have several occasions where the bus took longer than expected and sometimes wait became major inconvenience.
I started to enjoy other aspects of the new lifestyle. It also added several perks that I grew to enjoy. For instance I grew accustomed to the reading time, and relaxing before class. I also learned that public transportation is entertaining if people watching. There is a strange man in his late seventies named Herb on the bus every other day who talks on his cell phone so loud that I know all about his grandchildren and, toe nail fungus. More importantly I was able to enjoy the time because I had little responsibility on the bus. It was a new concept which when driving a vehicle, one does not have. I became more observant, and felt I was making a difference.
I was accustomed to filling my fuel tank every two weeks and, during the project I was able to extend it to every four weeks. This was saving me money right off the bat and reduced my cost on gas in half. More importantly I was able to reduce my carbon miles by at least 36 miles per week. I did adhere strictly to my original goal of commuting to and from school during the week with sustainable means. My total reduction for my project had reduced my carbon miles by at least 360 miles. This equals the average amount of miles I get on one full tank. During the project I did miss the bus on a four occasions which hindered me from my goal of 400 miles. In order to make up for those days, I used the public transportation system on many occasions for grocery shopping, errands and, visiting friends. Unfortunately I did not document those trips nor add them to my estimated reduction because my goal was to commute to and from school and, not from other activities. According to the emissions chart, total emissions can be calculated by “Emissions per Mile = 20lbs / MPG”, which calculates to 0.9 CO2 per mile in my case. The total amount of carbon dioxide reduced during this project calculates to 324 pounds of carbon dioxide that I otherwise would have emitted into the atmosphere while commuting to school and back.
In all honesty I am still disappointed with the figure because at first glance it seems like it wouldn’t make a difference. However, if this project is going to continue I have estimated that during a period of one year of commuting by bus that I could reduce at least 1684.8 pounds of carbon from my annual estimate of 7884 pounds of Co2 emissions. By continuing the project I could reduce my emissions by as much as 19 percent over the course of a year just by commuting to school with public transportation! This is good for the environment, my pocketbook and conscience. Although is it enough? Could I do more?
Future generations are facing unprecedented problems largely thanks to global emissions and the burning of dirty fossil fuels. Oil, natural gas and coal consumption is continuing to grow in India, China and other developing countries around the globe. Expansion to find oil and natural gas is becoming dangerous, and unlimited resources are not available. Oil drilling expansion in the Arctic and Gulf of Mexico could prove to have long term dangerous consequences. Even if unlimited resources were available our atmosphere wouldn’t harbor the pollution from those dirty resources. The United States is one of the leading contributors of greenhouse gases that are emitted globally each year. Greenhouse gas emissions are growing at an unprecedented rate and, unless action is taken to reduce the amount of pollution that is emitted into the atmosphere we will be looking at a much different planet in the near future. Recent reports claim that 2010 had reached the highest carbon emission output ever recorded. It is important to start making an impact today in order to slow those changes from happening. Slattery says “People tend to believe that scientists will give us all the facts we need to know about nature and the environment and that technology will somehow save the planet and all humanity” (Slattery 252). This project and the information we covered in class make me wonder if others will be willing to sacrifice some of their own conveniences for a greater common good. Being a person with strong political and environmental convictions made this project a much easier than it would for others who are not concerned about the future of the planet.
The problems that we are facing are also disputed by a side with political corporatist agenda motivated by faith in capitalist society. The republican controlled congress recently discussed the issues of climate change and voted against acknowledging it as an issue despite scientific evidence. Corporations are remaining largely unchecked for environmental hazards, and our legislatures have recently attempted to remove power from those who can hold the corporations accountable. This leaves a burden on responsible individuals to accept the reality that we are in and, make better choices for a brighter future. This leads me to believe that much of the future depends on the sacrifices that responsible individuals take now to reduce their own footprints in order to curb the many issues facing the planet. This could be difficult in rural areas, where people have longer commutes. Once upon a time I lived in the California San Joaquin Valley, and had a two hour commute to work in the bay area in one direction. I’m thankful this is no longer the case because; here I can utilize public transportation. Sadly, millions of Americans are in areas where public transportation is not a viable option. Public transportation in America is not as efficient as many other places in the world that I have visited. In Sweden, many locals claim that the rail has never been late. Many places in Europe may not be as efficient as Sweden but, the infrastructure has created much more efficient systems than the US in general. In fact, our high-speed rail system is virtually non-existent in the US.
Many experts argue that the best step forward would be to rearrange the economic structure and increase prices for oil in order to create a demand for localization in an economy. Transportation costs would then be increased, which in turn would increase the prices for consumer goods including food. Demand for local food and, consumer goods could greatly reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that are expelled into the atmosphere if done on a wide scale. This theory could also have major economic consequences for billions of people around the globe, especially considering food costs are already on the rise.
In order to reduce my own carbon footprint, I can easily change my own transportation options. I cannot change others means of transportation. However, I can make conscientious decisions to reduce my own footprint even further by choosing where I shop. In the Northwest, we have options to shop at local markets for food, and other item consumer goods which can be a major step forward. Local, simple living is another important step that can help reduce my carbon emissions and global emissions. My project has left me with a desire to continue to look for better options to reduce my energy consumption. Energy is an expensive necessity, but every individual has the ability to reduce their energy consumption. It only takes a little will power, and education.
United States. Environmental Protection Agency. US Emission Inventory Report. EPA 1990-2009. N.D. http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/usinventoryreport.html Web. 06. June. 2011
Slattery, Michael C.. “Contemporary Environmental Issues.” Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt, 2008. Print.