How to Get Out of the Car
Little House on the Prairie illustration by Garth Williams
I am so excited reading all of your comments about driving from the last post. There seem to be two camps - people who live out of town and organise themselves super efficiently to batch all their errands together in their occasional trips to town, and people who live in walkable communities who walk and bike to do all their local trips. And then there is the third camp, which is me, who clearly could do better. I am inspired and motivated by both groups.
I think there are two stories I need to tell myself. One is that most places I need to go are much closer than I think they are. When you hop into a car to drive everywhere you start to believe that walking is much harder and takes much longer than it actually does. The other story is, that when it comes to using the car, I need to believe that I am living in the Little House on the Prairie. I can't find the quote now, but I loved the line where Pa declared that they would all just have to make do with whatever it was that they were out of, "because you can't go running into town every few weeks for every little thing..". I am imagining the huge effort to get the horses hitched up and to drive for hours over a muddy cart track to get to town - that level of organisation and necessity should go into every car trip I make, because I am using such a lot of such a precious and irreplaceable resource to do it.
I have been very inspired by two blog posts by Karen Allen, an intrepid city biker and sustainability enthusiast from San Francisco. In her first post about reducing the amount of oil we use in our lives she included a nifty quiz to calculate approximately how many gallons of oil each of us are using per year, some in surprising hidden places. I took the test and reported my findings in the comments. It would be fascinating to see some more results! The most difficult part for me was transferring the US imperial measures into litres and kilograms and back again, but google conversion calculators are our friends! Part 2 of the series focuses on ideas to get the oil out of our travel - and this is exactly what I need to hear this week. From thinking about where we live to where we choose to shop and go to the dentist to how we get around to changing our perceptions of car use, I am challenged and inspired by the issues in this post, and feel like Karen has opened an important discussion. Our love affair with cars just can't continue..
Angus Wallace blogs from Adelaide where he is busily converting his suburban family home into a sustainable oasis. His latest post also gave me pause for thought. He points out that 1 litre of petrol provides 10kWh of energy, making his family trip to a free-range zoo out of town very expensive in terms of energy use:
So the round trip is about 130 km. Our car uses about 8 L per 100km on the open road, so that works out to about 10.4 L of petrol, which is about 100 kWh (each liter of petrol has about 10 kWh of energy). For us, that is a month's worth of energy (as consumed by our house of four people) used in 1h:20m of travel.
Now, two things strike me here - one is the thought stopper about the energy embodied in a litre of petrol, the other is how little electricity Angus' family uses in a month - approximately a quarter of what our family uses. So when I start in on attacking my electricity use next week, I hope Angus will weigh in!
My car uses about 8.5 to 9L per 100km on the open road, and about 10L per 100km for town driving (for those of you in the US, a litre is approximately equal to a quart, or 0.26 of a gallon, so 10km per litre is about 23.5mpg for town driving in my car, and, I hope my maths is correct, that means that each gallon of gas pumped over there in the USofA embodies approximately 40kWh of energy).
All this really means is that driving a car = huge expenditure of energy, and that maybe, just maybe, we can think of better things to do with that energy than to use it to pick up loaves of bread from the shop.
Both Karen and Angus use and recommend bikes and electric bikes. Commenters on the last post ride bikes. All the people dressed in lycra who clutter up all the local cafes every week-end morning ride bikes. Me, I am very afraid of bikes as I am incredibly unco-ordinated, and also live on the side of a very steep hill. In fact, a lot of my town is on one side or the other of a number of very steep hills. I feel like a whiny scaredy-pants as I whine and complain about this, but there you have it. Still, all the enthusiasm here about bike-riding makes me almost think that I could maybe have a little look at the possible idea of maybe possibly looking at an electric bike. Maybe. Please tell me everything you know about them in the comments. Start at the very beginning. I know nothing. Do you ride a bike? I delegated bike riding teaching for the children to my ex-husband, and actually haven't ridden a bike since approximately 1984. So not only are the hills steep, but also the learning curve..
And I'm not promising anything..