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The hidden cost of driving
It’s time to consider a better way to get from A to B. We’ve been chugging around in our combustion engine powered cars since the oil began pouring out of the ground and Henry Ford’s factories started mass-producing affordable cars back in the early 1900’s. Around 60% of our fossil fuel usage goes to powering our vehicles.
Back then it made sense. Oil was cheap and abundant – if you drilled a shallow well in parts of Texas the black gold would pour out with very little effort. You would get around 100 barrels of oil from a well for every 1 barrel of oil (energy equivalent) used to get it out. These days it takes a lot more effort to extract and we’re hunting for the black gold in increasingly remote areas of the world and using increasingly damaging means to get at it.
As an example of how desperate we are to keep feeding out oil addiction, take the Canadian tar sands. It’s like something out of a bad sci-fi movie - huge tracts of pristine forest are being turned into a wasteland of open pit mines, smoke stacks and toxic ponds. To get the oil requires eight barrels of water and the energy from two barrels of oil to net just three barrels of oil (The waste water ends up highly polluted in massive holding ponds).
Then of course there are the countless lives lost in wars to secure the world’s last remaining pockets of abundant oil in the Middle East. You know there’s a problem when the price of oil spikes due to unrest in a relatively small time producer such as Libya.
We may feel far removed from the problem in little old New Zealand but in a way we all have blood on our hands. So far we’ve taken the easy option to carry on with business as usual and push aside the tough choices that need to be made to transform our transportation system into something less reliant on oil. The state of our public transport is shocking and the roads are not as bicycle friendly as they should be.
So how can we respond? We need to change our habits and make a transition to sustainably powered, efficient transport based on renewable and non-polluting energy sources. The following two graphs show the energy efficiency of various forms of transport. The first graph assumes maximum loading the second graph is for a single occupant in the vehicle.
It becomes obvious when we look at the graphs that we need to move away driving around in single occupant petrol powered vehicles. We need to keep up the pressure on the government to implement laws that encourage a shift towards public transport, cycling and cleaner forms of energy.
In the short term there are some easy things we can all do to reduce our fossil fuel usage (and save money at the same time). If you are dependent on your car drive in a more economical way:
- Reduce your speed (also reduces your chance of having an accident)
- Use your gears correctly
- Check your tyre pressure is optimum
- Consider carpooling and sharing - letscarpool.govt.nz
- Work from home if you can
- Drive a smaller car
Ideally, where possible, make a shift to a more environmentally friendly form of transport:
- Walking or cycling
- Electric bikes
- Scooters and motorbikes
- Public transport
Article by Carlin Archer