Driving (or, why I really want an electric car)

I’m a real driver, even though I grew up in New York. I actually didn’t get my license until my mid-twenties, when I was in grad school in Cleveland, OH. I love to drive. I used to love to drive really long distances, like across the country, until I couldn’t anymore. I live now in a setting that is literally impossible (for me) to live without a car. Everything is 10 or 20 miles away, with little or no public transit.

And driving is, far and away, the one thing I do that is the most inconsistent with my values. I don’t have a commute, so that’s a good thing. But I drive about 10-12,000 miles a year, in a standard car (not a hybrid), many years less, some years more, especially when I was doing heavy long-distance driving. Luckily, I drive a car with (relatively) good gas mileage. In 2002, when I bought it, it was one of the most fuel efficient cars there were, but now, it’s about average, because the CAFE standards have risen (yay!)

But 12,000 miles a year means that I am putting 3.6 Metric Tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. And, that means I have, over my driving lifetime, put at least 100 Metric tons of C2 into the atmosphere. Now, on the scale of things, that’s not much. But it’s my contribution to climate change, and I’ve always hated it, even while I loved driving.

I do very much appreciate those people, because of their commitment to the environment, have chosen not to drive. Given my physical limitations and the distance of things, I can’t just hop on a bike and ride around to where I need to go, like many of my friends do. So this is why I want an electric car.

Now, in most states, an electric car won’t really help the environment. Many states, especially in the Northeast and Midwest, use coal-fired plants as their go-to source of overflow energy. So electric cars won’t make a big difference in terms of CO2 emmissions. But I live in California, in the top three states for the percentage of renewable energy used. Over 10% of California’s electricity is generated by renewable energy, largely solar and wind. 

One might ask, “why not a biodiesel car?” Biodiesel is not a magic bullet. The fuel has to come from somewhere. Generally, it either comes from waste cooking oil (the best source, but limited in availability) or from food crops, like soy, coconut, palm, etc. Cars using waste oil do save on emissions (90%ish), and about 60%ish using non-waste oil. But to my mind, using land to grow crops that we will burn in cars, rather than using that land to grow food people could eat is very problematic. Just like coca or poppies take over agriculture because of the demand for those crops, high demands for biofuels crowd out food crops. To my mind, the best fuel for a car is the wind or the sun.

I don’t really expect to be able to afford an electric car anytime soon, but that doesn’t make me stop wanting one.

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