The Trouble with Transportation
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The transportation sector accounts for 29 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, making it the largest contributor to climate change. Worldwide, emissions from transportation have more than doubled since 1970. Tackling climate change means finding ways to reduce emissions coming from all forms of transportation. This large sector can be broken down into two main categories: passenger and freight transportation. Simply put, are we moving people or goods? This distinction is important because the solutions are different for each category.
Reducing Passenger Emissions
About 45 percent of worldwide transportation emissions come from road vehicles carrying passengers. These emissions are such a large chunk of total transportation emissions partly because so many people opt to use their own personal vehicles. About 76 percent of American commuters drive to work alone, and American culture and infrastructure relies heavily on personal car use. Not only does this increase total emissions, but cars can be prohibitively expensive for lower income individuals.
Walking is arguably the only zero-carbon form of transportation. If you are able to, try walking short distances instead of hopping in your car. Another very low-carbon option is biking. The only carbon emissions associated with using a bike are from the manufacturing process. However, it is a very small and one-time amount, making biking a very environmentally-friendly way to travel and get some exercise. You can buy a bike, borrow one, or rent one in many cities that have bike-sharing programs.
If it’s too far to walk or bike, or you’re physically not able to, that’s alright: There are lots of other options! Public transportation in the form of buses and trains can greatly reduce carbon emissions per capita. When you use and pay for public transportation, your money is going to the maintenance of the system, which will make it more accessible to everyone. You can also talk to your local representatives about funding more public transportation options in your area if there aren’t great options already.
If the public transportation infrastructure where you live can’t get you to work, carpooling can be a great option. Carpooling with just one other co-worker would cut your individual emissions in half. You also get the added benefits of saving money on gas and maintenance, while possibly making a new friend.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming more and more popular. They can be an excellent option if you are in the market for a new car and are able to afford one. Almost every car manufacturer is venturing into the world of EVs, driving down the price and making them accessible to more people. Don’t forget that while EVs don’t run on gasoline, they’re still reliant on electricity that has to be generated by fossil fuels or renewable energy. So it’s important to advocate for renewable energy to maximize the benefits of EVs.
For long journeys, consider taking buses or trains instead of planes. There are lots of options that can both be better for the environment and your wallet. Services like Greyhound and Amtrak are popular alternatives to flying.
Reducing Freight Emissions
More than 100 billion packages are shipped around the world every year, and that number is projected to grow. The unfortunate truth is that every time you order a product online, you are creating emissions that contribute to climate change. But don’t worry, there are ways that you can reduce your emissions!
As consumers, we can vote with our dollar. We can buy from brands that are actively working toward net zero carbon emissions. And we can call on other brands to reduce their emissions, or risk losing business from eco-conscious consumers.