Reducing Carbon Emissions on the Road: from Cars to Infrastructure

a crowded highway

Slowly, it seems that everyone is waking up to the dangerous potential of our dinosaur-sized carbon footprints. And speaking of dinosaurs, perhaps the worst contributor to world-wide CO2 emissions is fossil fuel consumption. One of the driving forces behind all of these emissions is, well, driving. Between personal travel, commercial transport and construction and maintenance, our roadways are one of major reasons for our carbon emissions problem. According to the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) the US alone is responsible for creating 5,833,381 metric tonnes of carbon emissions each year. That figure, is roughly 20% of the global total. It’s a pretty impressive number for a country that that only takes up about 6% of the earth’s land area.

The upside is now that we recognize the problem, through government programs and individual initiatives, we are gradually making some progress to improve the situation. The bad news is we still have a long way to go.

Personal Transportation

As a country, the US still holds the dubious honor of being the top producer of carbon emissions per capita. On average every individual in the US is responsible for about 18 tonnes of CO2 each year. For a little perspective, the rest of the world is averaging about 4.5 tonnes per person. If that bothers you, it should. Because we can all do better when it comes to cutting down how we consume our energy, particularly on the road. While there are some cities with flourishing public transportation systems, the majority of the country relies heavily on individual conveyance. With millions of personal automobiles driving around we all need to make better, smarter, and more responsible choices regarding our cars.

  • Greener Vehicles – You can choose a more fuel efficient vehicle to help save the planet or just to help save on gas money. Whatever your motivation is, when you’re shopping for your next car, fuel performance should be a major consideration. And your choice goes beyond to Hybrid or not to Hybrid. You can also look for cars that use ethanol in addition to gas. Or you can stick to straight up gas, but look for vehicles with the best gas mileage and low greenhouse gas scores. If you want a big hint, look for “Fuel Economy” labels on cars that the EPA has designated as more environmentally friendly.
  • Regular Maintenance – It’s amazing the difference a little air can make. Poor tire inflation can actually reduce your fuel efficiency, by about 3%. It also increases your release of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants. But it’s not just your tires that need attention; get regular oil-changes, replace air filters, tighten gas caps, and pay attention to the “Check Engine” light. It’s not always a false alarm when that CE light comes on, most cars produced after 1996 are programmed to activate the light when a problem arises that effects your emissions output.
  • Better Driving Choices – Every time we turn the key and press the gas pedal we are making dozens of little decisions. We can choose not to speed, because it uses less energy. We can roll down the windows rather than blast the AC. We can park and go into McDonald’s rather than idling in a drive-through line. We can keep cars light and free of unnecessary cargo. We can also choose not to drive. Every time we walk or carpool we help cut down on the carbon emissions pouring off of our roads.

Each personal effort may not make a huge dent in the national average. But if we all commit to taking these steps together, it can make a notable difference.

Next: the impact of the trucking industry (click the page link below)

Image credit: epsos.de at Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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