This post is by Sheryl Canter, an online writer and editorial manager at Environmental Defense Fund.
Last week we sent an email to our action network asking how people were coping with high oil prices. The response on our sister blog, the Green Room, was enthusiastic — over 600 comments! Here are some of our favorites, organized by topic:
Strategies to Increase Gas Mileage
I’ve been driving 60 mph on the highway and have seen a dramatic improvement in my gas mileage. I’m getting 38-40 mpg in my Toyota Camry on the highway! Drive 60 when you go.
From Mike Frisch:
I have dropped my fuel use by 70-80%
1) I bicycle two days per week (25 mile round trip) – great exercise & fun.
2) I purchased an electric bike/scooter (Ego cycle 2 LX, cost $1700) and I use it two days per week – costs 10 cents to charge it – great fun.
3) On the days I have to use my car, I carpool, and I drive 60 mph or less to save fuel.
Editor’s Note: For others thinking of trying scooters, be sure to do it safely. Motorcycle and scooter accidents are on the rise due to inexperienced converts.
Alternative Fuels to Power Cars
From Charlton Jones:
In April I completed the conversion of an older car to all electric. I have been driving for less than 5 cents a mile since. I used lead acid batteries and components off the shelf. I didn’t invent anything. I can drive on the freeways and have 150 mile range. It’s surprising that the car manufacturers can’t do as well. GM had the lead in electric cars in 1996 with the EV-1, but then they crushed them all. (If GM had been in change in 1492, Columbus would still be in port.) I enjoy my electric car, but I also ride a bicycle for short trips. It’s a shame more people don’t realize how smoothly a bicycle fits into traffic at very low cost in fuel, pollution and congestion. Bicycles and electric cars can solve the current oil fiasco.
Editor’s Note: Is there a business opportunity here? Another commenter, Bobby J., asks if Charlton would be willing to make one for him!
From Tom Smith:
My dad has always shown an interest in renewable energy. Now he is involved in a project that I find very appealing. Instead of using commodities like corn to make biofuel, his project involves algae. The algae requires CO2 and our nation’s power plants are under pressure to reduce CO2 emmisions. If biofuel production plants are constructed next to power plants and other sources of CO2, we can turn the CO2 emissions into a positive by consuming it to grow algae for renewable energy production.
Editor’s Note: Contrary to what abinkow says in his comment, algae is indeed a very promising source of fuel.
Electricity from Human Movement
From Abe Velez:
We of course need to find more ways of capturing and re-purposing sustainable energy, and here’s one that I think should happen: the fitness industry in the U.S. is bigger than ever, but right now we’re powering our treadmills by burning energy (mostly non-sustainable electricity from coal etc.) in order to then burn our bodies’ own energy (calories). This doesn’t make sense. How can we close the loop and use all this chocolate cake-fueled energy of ours to power our fitness equipment?
Editor’s Note: This is happening! See our post on electricity from human movement.
Has anyone heard of Trevor Field’s Play Pumps, or Raj Pandian’s Swing Generators? It’s the coolest thing. Inventions use playground equipment & all that natural kid energy to pump water and generate electricity. We could get our kids off Ritalin & harness the power! Can’t find a proper link to Pandian’s work, but you can google him.
Editor’s Note: Apparently both were invented by Raj Pandian. He invented a swing, a seesaw, and a merry-go-round that generate electricity (see the links I added). Cool stuff! For more examples of human power conversion, check out our story on electricity from human movement.
Ways to Encourage Solar Power
From Pavel Ivanov:
I want make solar power available in my home and I am looking to buy a house. The problem is the architecture of the city is such that the houses are street oriented (facing the street) and not solar oriented (the main slope of the roof facing south). I would prefer to have a lot of south windows and definitely not west windows. With the south windows the sun can warm the room during the winter but not during the summer – east and west windows work in the opposite way.
In Idaho there is a prototype generating technology project called the solar road, which produces solar power from a paved driving surface. Considering the vast area, both public and private, which is already paved, this is an idea which bears looking into.
Editor’s Note: Interesting! I found some articles on solar roads on Treehugger and Renewable Energy World.
Obstacles to Saving Energy at Home
The increasing rate of renters vs. homeowners presents another interesting conundrum: few landlords will upgrade the energy efficiency of their rental properties, preferring to force the energy costs onto their tenants. Of course, energy efficiency of a house depends both on equipment and on usage patterns, so I propose a federal law mandating that landlords and tenants must split utility bills 50-50. Um, except that it’s unconstitutional. But nobody really reads that thing anymore anyway, and this law would surely do some good.
To use less energy, we should be able to hang our laundry out on clotheslines. But many Homeowner Associations (HOAs) across the country have restrictions against their use. Pressure should be placed on HOAs and state legislatures to rescind this regulation. It is just common sense to dry laundry using solar energy and not use the electric or gas dryer.
We Need Improved Public Transit!
From Mark Farmer:
Do away with toll roads and instead pay for the repair of bridges and highways with increased gasoline taxes!!
This past Saturday I and thousands of other motorists on the Mass. Turnpike spent nearly one hour to go less than ten miles just to get through the limiting toll booth at exit 9. There was no accident, just a back up from the toll plaza. There must be millions of gallons of fuel wasted at toll booths and millions of man hours lost at these uneeded bottle necks.
Editor’s Note: Believe it or not, many states do not allow motorist user fees like tolls to be used for public transit! A pending bill in the House would change this.
From Carolyn Moore:
[Build Better] Public Transit – Yeh! I wanted to use it to get to my last job which was a 20 minute drive from home. Turns out it would take 2 hours with one transfer plus a mile walk at beginning, middle and end, and if one didn’t make the transfer in time, add another hour. No one has 4 to 6 hours a day to commute when 40 minutes will do it. Then I wanted to make a trip from Phoenix, AZ to Portland, OR (2 major cities) by train. This is the route: Bus to Flagstaff, train to LA, switch to a train to Stockton, bus to Sacramento, train to Portland, and better part of 3 days. Insane!
I saw on the local news here in the Chicago area how Amtrak had SOLD OUT tickets for seats aboard their trains this weekend. When was the last time any of you heard that on the news??? I think it’s awesome. Proof positive that when faced with hardships, people WILL explore alternatives. We can whip the oil problem, America! Taking the first step is often the most difficult part of it all. Once done however, the rest comes with relative ease. That said, SUPPORT AMTRAK! Give us MORE TRAINS!
From Jeannine Mead:
I believe public transportation is of vital importance…not only in cities, but between cities, small and large. Amtrak should be upgraded in all parts of the country and have regular schedules starting in early morning and run until at late in the evening. I live 40 miles from a large city and trying to get into it for anything is impossible with the traffic. We are not commuters, but we do enjoy going into our large city for concerts and other activities although town has turned into a commuter town and this is happening all over the country.
Innovative Ways to Get to Work
I work in a remote location about 30 minutes outside a moderate-sized rural town. To save money and the environment, my coworkers and I changed our schedules to 9-hour days and convinced our employer to let us use a company vehicle (a hybrid Escape, no less) to make the commute. We buy punch cards to keep track of payment and have a set departure time and scheduled drivers, so we don’t have the headaches typical of standard carpools. Five people in a car getting over 30 mpg is a big improvement!
From Lisa Petrie:
I approached the Supt. of Schools in my district a couple of years ago, and asked if teachers could ride the local school bus instead of driving our own cars. He loved the idea! I had to carry my school photo ID so that the bus drivers recognized me, but that’s easy enough.
My schedule this past year prevented me from riding, but I plan to work around that this year.
Kids in my school call the bus the “loser cruiser”. But when they see adults taking the bus, by choice, perhaps this could be a first positive lesson in mass transport for them…? Honestly, I’ve had great conversations with high school kids on the short ride to school. Nice.
From Joe Thurston:
I am a systems programmer at a large insurance company. I could easily do my job at home. Give employers incentives to re-think the need to have a body on site. Virtually everyone in my organization could work at home 2 days a week – think of all the commuter miles that would be saved! The biggest stumbling block is an old-fashioned attitude among management – they need to have a reason to think differently.
Make Cities More Bike-Friendly
From Michael Mullowney:
In areas where public transportation is not an option, people ought to consider biking as a more realistic option and great way to exercise. In the long run, employers could help here by providing locker rooms so an employee could clean up after a potentially sweaty commute.
Make bicycling safer. There are a few bike lanes and they are not enforced. I see cars in them all the time. People here have been killed by motorists. There are alot of people who get angry because we want bike lanes. I am fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood where alot of my errands can be run locally. The places are too far for me to walk to due to my disability but I can easily make these trips on a bike. Unfortunately, bicycling is hazardous and I have a baby and don’t care to put our lives in danger doing so.
Change public transit vehicles to accommodate all bicycles. Some, such as the older trolley cars in San Diego, make it difficult to load your bicycle. You must climb narrow vertical steps up and down to get from street level to car floor level. Holding the bicycle firmly your front wheel swings around wildly, banging on the sides. You may find things knocked off your backpack. The newer cars permit a street-level entry. Road bikes are especially difficult to load, what to speak of mountain bikes.
Thanks to everybody for posting so many useful observations and ideas!