Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Green Transportation

written by Gavin @ The Greening of Gavin.

I don't know if this subject has ever been covered at the Co-op, so I thought that I would list a few methods that I know to help you get around in the greenest way possible in order of lowest to highest emissions produced;

1.  Walking or Aka Shanks' Pony - The most obvious method of green transport but probably the least used in western society.  I say this purely based on observations of my surroundings, because I see so few people walk in the suburbs (more on that later).  I have even seen people who live only 500 metres from the corner shop get in their car and drive there and back.  I could leave home on foot and still beat them there!  This oddity of human nature to take the easy way out is a contributing factor to the increase in medically diagnosed obesity rates.  Certainly another reason to get out there and walk, not only for exercise and to live longer, but to lower your greenhouse gas emissions.  I have read somewhere that we should all walk at least 10,000 steps a day to remain healthy in body and mind, and as it is the greenest form of transport known to mankind, I am all for walking to get from A to B.  Sure, there are GHG emissions created when we add fuel in the form of food and water into our bodies, however this is a lot lower than all other transportation methods.  So if your journey is only a few kilometres, then consider walking to your destination.  Not much fossil fuel burnt in the process and it is very cheap as well.

2.  Cycling - It has been said that the bicycle is the most efficient form of human powered transportation ever invented by our species.  You can travel further by bike than you can by walking using the same amount of energy.  Not only that, you can carry heavier loads than when walking.  If you need to transport more items than you could normally carry in a backpack, then I suggest fitting saddle bags on your bike, which help balance the load.  For even bigger items, you can fit a small trailer to tow behind your bike.  It is quite amazing what you can add to your bike these days.  The embedded energy that your bike contains is quite low considering that the average bicycle will probably last a few decades with a bit of tender loving care.  Easier to fix than a car, and much cheaper to run as well.  So for that quick trip to the farmers market, consider taking your bike.  Some cities even let you take your bike on public transport so you ride to the station and then on to your destination at the other end of your journey!  A few cities even have a bicycle sharing scheme.  I believe the one in Paris is very popular.

3.  Animals - Now I realise that this is a bit out there and not everyone has room for a horse, camel, oxen or donkey, but look at it this way.  No embodied energy concerns, they are a very personal means of transport, mostly friendly, and you only have to feed it and have enough land to house the beast.  It has been a long time since I rode a horse, but I do remember that it was a lot of fun.  Who knows what may happen in the future as the age of cheap oil comes to a close.  We may have to rethink how we get around.  I can see one of the benefit for avid gardeners in the form of lots of manure!  The only drawback is the current use of fossil fuels in growing sufficient amounts of feed stock for the transport animals and therefore GHG emissions are produced.

4.  Public Transportation - If your town or city has an accessible and reliable public transport system, then consider this option next time you need to travel further than you would normally on a bike.  Not only is it much cheaper than the average running costs of maintaining a car i.e. fuel, insurance, registration, drivers license etc., it is better for the environment due to the lower emissions per passenger-kilometre.  The following graph is presented from the Public Transport Users Association (2008) and includes emissions from public transport in Victoria, where I live.

Transport mode
Energy use
(MJ per
(g CO2-e per
Petrol Car
Ethanol (E10) Car
Electric Tram
Diesel Bus
Ethanol (E10) Bus
Natural Gas Bus
Electric Train
Diesel Train (V/Line
250cc Motorcycle
1000cc Motorcycle

(It is assumed that the factors identified for Victoria will be similar to that of other states.  This is because the electricity factor for trains and trams in Victoria, Australia is similar to that of most other states and fuel use from buses should not vary much at all.)

So, a very good comparison regarding emissions from different types of public transportation mode and much greener than your average car and motorbike. Trams, Buses and Trains win hands down for green modes of transport per passenger-kilometre.  The more people you can pack into a vehicle and the more fuel efficient it is, the lower the MJ per passenger-kilometre.  It makes sense really!

5.  The motor car - If you must drive, and most of us do, think about the way you drive.  Fast acceleration burns more fuel, as does travelling above 100 km/h (60mph).  I remember reading that the main reason that the speed limit was dropped to 55mph in the US during the 1970's was to save fuel during the oil embargo.  For more ways to save fuel and therefore GHG emissions have a look at this previous Co-op post titled "Hybrid miles from the car you already own".  If you are in the market for a new car, take into consideration the fuel economy of each vehicle.  The less fuel you use, the less emissions (and smog) you are pushing out the exhaust pipe.  Hybrid and Electric cars are hitting the market with increased regularity.

6.  Air travel.  Well, suffice to say, one short haul trip can wipe out all of your emission reduction savings for an entire year.  Even though aviation is a relatively small industry, it has a disproportionately large carbon footprint.  It is estimated that it presently accounts for 4-9% of total global CO2-e man made emissions.  Compared to other modes of transport, such as driving or taking the train, travelling by air has a greater climate impact per passenger kilometre, even over longer distances.  So, I choose not to fly at all.  I do not condone air travel completely, but if you do need to travel by this method, consider offsetting your carbon emission for your flight with a reputable carbon offset provider.

In conclusion, throughout the western world, many parts of our newer cities are designed specifically for the motor car, without taking into consideration other forms of greener modes of transport.  Take the suburbs for instance.  A good many suburbs lack easily accessible public transportation systems with many light rail systems being ripped at the start of the 20th century, to make way for the car.  You are now forced by design to travel any distance by car, which again will not bode well with the age of cheap oil well and truly over.  To really reduce emissions in our transportation, either public transport will have to be retrofitted, or the suburbs will need a makeover, big time.  Air travel will also have to become cleaner and produce less emissions if we are to continue to travel long distances quickly.  Things will need to change sooner rather than later, if we are to reduce global emissions with a view to avoiding catastrophic climate change.  Read about what I think may happen if we do act in time at my post titled "Path towards Zero Carbon"

So, do yourself, your children, grandchildren and future generations to come a favour by choosing your method of getting around this big blue marble in a more environmentally friendly way.  Please.