Make Your Life Less Oily in 2017
Part 1: Taking Stock
Part 2: Squeezing Oil Out of Your Travel
Part 3: Wringing Oil from Your Food, Stuff, Heat, and Everything Else
Part 2: Squeezing Oil Out of Your Travel
“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” ― Jane Goodall
In Part I: Taking Stock, we covered how every dollar we spend on oil products supports fracking, tar sands, multinational corporate profits, and the beheadings, stonings, and terrorism financed or perpetrated by Saudi Arabia. We also covered how American life is so saturated with oil, it’s nearly impossible to wring it entirely out of one’s daily existence. To make our oil-use more conscious, Part I had a nifty on-line calculator to estimate personal oil consumption. If you haven’t done it yet, or don’t recall your results, go back and do it now. I’ll wait.
|What our money buys|
|Kicking the Oil Habit|
|Your money counts|
Oil in Your Private Vehicle Travel
Travel is responsible for two-thirds of US oil use. American vehicle miles traveled (VMT) are insane. In 2009, our 211 million vehicles belonging to 113 million households traveled 2.2 trillion miles, close to 20,000 miles per household. Do you know how many vehicle miles your household accrues in a year? If not, start tracking it.
This may surprise you, but the first order of business is not to electrify junk miles, but to shed them from your travel diet. After all, whether it causes you to consume oil or not, time spent in a car is not quality time. For most people it makes them stressed, unhappy, and fat. By shedding VMT, you will not only give less money to corporate CEOs and Saudi princes, you’ll make your family healthier, happier and likely wealthier in the process. So let's look at how to do this.
|Walking the Hills --Edward Potthast|
|People over cars (granolashotgun.com)|
Why is living in a walkable neighborhood so important? Since only a quarter of all trips are commute trips (and only 28% of all VMT is for commutes), being close enough to walk to a grocery store, pharmacy, coffee shop, elementary school, restaurants, dentist, post office, bakery, library, and your family doctor is going to reduce your VMT significantly. If you can’t live within a ten-minute walk (half a mile), living within a ten-minute bike ride (1.8 miles) isn’t bad. As long as you’re not riding near crazed, reckless drivers, bicycling is a great way to add exhilaration and even joy to your life. (Yes, once you become moderately fit, cycling can feel that good.) Check out this site, and it will show you what you can reach in ten minutes by walking or by bicycle.
|My SUV of bikes|
Note: don’t move to a ten-minute neighborhood and then continue to drive everywhere. You’ll just make your new neighbors miserable with the congestion and danger you create. Let someone who wants a car-lite lifestyle take that spot.
What if you like where you live and don’t want to move? Well, first check and see if your neighborhood is more walkable and bikeable than you know. People tend to overestimate how far away things are, and more destinations may be in reach under your own power than you realize. Next, does your neighborhood have sidewalks, bike lanes? If it doesn’t, this is something that can be changed with some organizing and lobbying. (Here's an example of a town that used a roundabout and a road diet to create walkability.) Lastly, could your neighborhood become a ten-minute neighborhood by beefing up a traditional Main Street that could once again offer an array of goods and services if only there was enough density to support it? The easiest way to add density painlessly is to replace parking lots along this street with infill development, adding stories of mixed use residential over ground floor retail. Several blocks of two to four story buildings with no parking lots pushing destinations apart will make a world of difference. Though physically this is not hard to accomplish, your town probably has a ridiculous number of legal and cultural obstacles in the way of such development. However, these are not immutable laws of physics but rather human constructs that can be altered by any town interested in achieving prosperity through modest incremental investment. I suggest checking out Strong Towns for all sorts of ideas on how towns can stop going broke by focusing on their cores rather than the illusory get-rich-schemes of ponzi-sprawl.
If the answer is you live in the sticks and your location is never going to become walkable or bikeable, then continue on. There are still things you can do.
|Feel the ice at -8 degrees F. No excuses!|
|Kid shuttling solved.|
4.) Arrange carpools for kids’ activities; opt out of the kid activity rat race. If your child likes to dance or play soccer, find studios/leagues that don’t require lots of travel time, especially if your child is under twelve. You’re not a bad parent if you don’t spend every weekend traveling for soccer. You’re not a bad parent if you don’t drive hours for music or chess or tae kwon do lessons. Children don’t need seven activities apiece, even if it seems as if all their friends have that many. In fact, they’re likely better off if they just have one or two activities and are allowed to drop the ones they don’t like and pick up new ones that suit them. They’re children. Let them explore and experiment. What they should not be doing is spending an hour a day strapped immobile in a car.
5.) Choose the “pretty good” service/activity closer to home. If the best dentist or pediatrician in the region is twenty miles away, but a pretty good dentist or pediatrician is just down the block, choose the pretty good one nearby. (Go to a specialist the few times you have specialized problems.) Instead of the best church with the most brilliant minister/best music, attend a local church and visit the brilliant one only occasionally. You’ll build connections with your neighbors better that way anyway. And so on. You get the idea.
6.) Take the train for 30 to 300 mile trips. Trains have very good passenger miles per gallon (pmpg). The northeast corridor trains between Washington DC and Boston, being electric, use no oil at all. I realize trains aren’t options everywhere, but where they exist, make use of them!
|Your bus could be electric|
8.) Drop education VMT. Where you send your children to school has a major impact on your VMT. The best is a school walkable from your home. Second best is a bikeable school. Third best is a school on public transit. This is true for lower grades as well as high school, but especially high school. The way your teen is most likely to die is in a car with friends. Let that sink in. If your child’s high school has a huge parking lot with lots of cars, the odds of your child getting in one are high.
|Bike-friendly UC Davis|
10.) Drop down one car. US households on average have more vehicles than drivers. This is ridiculous. After you’ve reduced your VMT and car brainwashing, consider saving boatloads of money by having your household drop down one car. This is especially possible if one of the adults has a non-car commute. Owning fewer cars will further encourage you to replace VMT with other transportation options. As a corollary, the more transportation options you have, the easier it is to drop down one car.
|Replace that car! (OliviaCleansGreen.com)|
Car replacements (consider in combinations):
A.) Bike with panniers or trailer for carrying stuff
B.) Handcart to walk groceries/stuff home
C.) Sturdy stroller to push young children around
D.) Walk/bike with your children to school instead of drive them
E.) Electric bikes (Check out The Pluses and Minuses of Electric Bikes)
F.) Electric adult trikes (many elderly who have trouble walking find electric trikes extremely liberating as well as safer than driving a car)
G.) Electric cargo bikes (mine carries 5 bags of groceries)
H.) Velomobile or pedal electric vehicle (ELF, PEBL)
J.) Join a carshare company for when you need a car/second car, van, or truck for a day or even just an hour.
K.) Electric scootershare
L.) Rideshare/taxis on occasion (bad weather/last mile issues.)
M.) Let your teens use rideshare on occasion. (Way cheaper and safer than giving them a car.)
N.) Make a deal with a friend/neighbor/family member to use their car in a pinch. Repay with food, favors, etc.
O.) Have large items delivered, or rent a van/truck by the hour.
P.) Create family calendar to keep track of car-necessary activities.
Q.) Convert far away activities into local ones.
R.) Teach your children how to ride public transit.
S.) Persuade your boss to let you work from home one or two days a week.
T.) Combine/plan errands. Meal plan. Grow vegetables/fruit at home if possible so you can eat from the garden in the summer.
U.) Other ideas? Leave them in the comments below.
|Scootershare--coming to a city near you?|
11. Make your own biodiesel. As a commenter in Part I said, this is a good choice for some people. Instructions here. Corn-based ethanol, however, is a scam politicians inflicted on us to buy votes from Midwest farmers. Don’t pretend adding it to your gasoline is any kind of solution.
|Scythe revolution! (permaculture.co.uk)|
13. Get an electric car. Yes, this is last. There is a lot of embedded oil in an electric car, as we’ll talk about under stuff. And merely electrifying your VMT won’t improve your health, it won’t increase your joy, it won’t improve your neighborhood, it won’t save you oodles of money. An electric car will still cause traffic and congestion, and it’ll still prevent others from enjoying a car-lite lifestyle because it hogs public space, it’s fundamentally a death machine to bicyclists and pedestrians, and its need for parking pushes destinations further apart. But it’s better than buying oil, and for all but the most coal-intensive states (West Virginia, Kentucky, Wyoming) it’ll produce fewer greenhouse gases than driving a vehicle with a grossly inefficient internal combustion engine. (All internal combustion engines are grossly wasteful and inefficient, every single one.)
Oil in Your Other Travel
Long distance travel is my downfall. My husband and I have squeezed our other categories down pretty well, but my kids now live across the country, and I love to travel. What to do? Here are some options.
1.) Learn to love long distance trains. Yes, they’re more expensive than flying. Yes, they take more time. Yes, Amtrak has its problems. The good news is long distance trains can give you lots of undistracted time to work (great for writing), the scenery is often spectacular, and you’ll gain an appreciation of America that is hard to describe and hard to get any other way. View long distance trains as an adventure, embrace their quirks, and if you’re going overnight, do yourself a favor and get a sleeper.
2.) Take medium distance trains instead of short hop flights, especially the Northeast Regional electric trains between Boston and Washington DC. Seriously, this is easy. Just do it. Other good regional lines, often with evocative names, mostly financed by the states they pass through: The Capitol Corridor (San Jose, Oakland, Sacramento), the Pacific Surfliner (San Diego, LA, San Luis Obispo), the Amtrak Cascades (Vancouver BC, Seattle, Portland, Eugene), the San Joaquin (Oakland, Sacramento, Bakersfield), the Missouri River Runner (Kansas City, St. Louis), the Heartland Flyer (Oklahoma City, Fort Worth), the Keystone (New York, Philadelphia, Harrisburg), the Empire Service (Buffalo, Albany, NYC), the Ethan Allen Express (Rutland, Albany, NYC), the Vermonter (Essex Junction/Burlington, Springfield, NYC), the Downeaster (Boston, Portland, Brunswick) and the lines connecting Chicago with Milwaukee, St. Louis, Carbondale, Quincy, Grand Rapids, Port Huron, Indianapolis, and Detroit.
3.) Fly on airlines that use biofuel. Granted, this is a short list at the moment, encompassing just United Airlines between SF and LA, and only 30% biofuel at that. There are rumors that Southwest Airlines will start using biofuel as well. These biofuels aren’t the scam ethanol is and will likely be more expensive than oil-based jet fuel. Let airlines know you will actively seek out flights powered by biofuel.
|Walk it! (drawntheroadagain.com)|
5.) Combine destinations. If you can link two trips to nearby destinations, that will reduce some air miles.
6.) Drive instead of fly, but with a full car. The more passengers in your car, the less oil attributed to you personally. If your car has empty seats, consider long distance rideshare such as Ridester or Rideboard.
7.) Long distance buses. Not my favorite, but they’re often good value. I don’t know if SleepBus is going to catch on, but maybe.
8.) Electric ferries. Not too many in the US, but Norway has them.
9.) Hybrid ferries. Take them to Alcatraz and maybe other places soon.
Now I know you’re not going to shed your junk miles, move to a ten-minute neighborhood or replace all your flights with trains tomorrow. It may, in fact, take you years to squeeze the oil out of your travel. I suggest for 2017 that you adopt the task as a kind of hobby, (after all, we don’t mind spending time and money on our hobbies) and get creative, flexible and even adventurous about the options available. You may be surprised by the life benefits that cheap oil has been hiding from you.
Stay tuned for Part 3, Wringing Oil from Your Food, Stuff, Heat and Everything Else !
Stay tuned for Part 3, Wringing Oil from Your Food, Stuff, Heat and Everything Else !
Note: if you’re under 70 and can’t comfortably walk at least a mile without getting tired, you have a health emergency that you should treat with the same urgency as you would an asthma attack or a foot with gangrene. Assuming your doctor hasn't forbidden you all physical activity, here’s your sixty-day program to walk with ease. Walk for five minutes today and five minutes tomorrow, no matter how slowly. Get outside if at all possible. Steps to and from your car or around the house don’t count! Increase to ten minutes for days three through seven. Walk fifteen minutes days eight through fourteen, and then twenty minutes every day for the following two weeks. Month two, move on to thirty minutes a day without fail. By the end of that month, your health will be so much better, you’ll be amazed. Start today. I’m serious.