Posted by: JanF | July 6, 2010

Driving the Guilt

Today’s post may seem to be coming from me but I am actually (consults watch to calculate based on time of post and time it took YOU to read this far) somewhere in Iowa on my way home to Wisconsin. And that is a subject that I have been avoiding.

I am using gasoline on my trip. A byproduct of oil. A non-renewal resource which comes out of the earth and which right now is gushing at the rate of 798,000 gallons a day from a broken well head in the Gulf of Mexico.

By the time I get home I will have filled up my vehicle 3 times and driven over 1,000 miles. While I do not get the worst gas mileage, I drive an SUV because I need cargo space to haul things around for my business so my mileage is not great.

Even if I had a hybrid, driving a hybrid on the highway does not save any gas because the electric part only kicks in at lower speeds. And there is no 100% electric car and even if there were we do not have battery recharging stations yet.

To add insult to injury, each gallon of gas burned generates CO2 emissions that are adding to the problems of global climate change.

So what are the options?
1. Stay home
2. Take a plane
3. Take a bus
4. Take a train
5. Ride a bicycle
6. Walk

I crossed those last two off because my bicycling/walking 1,000 miles days are behind me (well, actually they never existed).

So let’s look at the other options. First, let’s assume that staying home was not an option because it would have made my sainted mother cry.

From a report by Planet Green “Planes, Trains, Automobiles (and Buses): Which is the Greenest Way to Travel Long Distance in the US?” here are the emission numbers from a trip from New York City to San Francisco:
– Bus … 520 lbs of CO2
– Train … 1,220 lbs of CO2
– Car getting 46 mpg … 1220 lbs of CO2
– Car getting 23 mpg … 2446 lbs of CO2
– Plane … 2,500 lbs of CO2

A bus would be the greenest option but the least convenient because I would still need a vehicle when I arrived at my destination and the time invested in a trip by bus (21 hours versus 8 driving) would not be practical for a 5 day trip. They are also not very comfortable in that they do not allow for a lot of movement and generally have no amenities on board. They are also more susceptible to weather and highway conditions.

The train would have the same “need a car at the end” problem as the bus and while the actual train travel time would only be 9 hours, the connections don’t quite work and in my case would require an overnight stay in Chicago to link up to the right train.

So in the end, driving a “normal mileage” car currently turns out to be the only solution that is possible. Now.

How about another option for people who cannot stay home (to avoid disappointing their sainted mothers)?

I think it starts with trains because travelling by train is both comfortable and fun. To make it work better, lets try these:
– Make train schedules more flexible – add routes and trains
– Make trains more energy efficient
– Provide shared-use hybrid/electrical vehicles at train stations for people who need vehicles at the end of their trip.

Maybe a guilt-free trip would not be impossible if we put our heads together to find more efficient ways to travel that still allow for some flexibility. And we can drive out the guilt instead of driving with guilt.

(A version of this was originally posted on 07/062010 at BPI Campus)