Most people don’t live at their jobs, and only a lucky few can walk there. For the rest of the world’s employed or enterprising population, a bit of help is required to get to one’s workplace. Public transportation is a great option if you live in the metro, but if you’re commuting from outside the city, you’re probably driving yourself to work.
Well, the reality is that we are all still extremely dependent on fossil fuels to run our transport vehicles, and almost everything about fossil fuels is bad—from the grave environmental and ethical impact of the way these fuels are produced and consumed, the effects of their use on our health, down to the fact that they are non-renewable, unsustainable resources.
That said, if commuting is something we want to keep doing for generations to come, then conserving our dwindling supplies of oil, coal, and natural gas, as well as shifting our dependence away from fossil fuels, should be prioritised.
Driving and pollution
The main problem with commuting in the United States is the sheer volume of cars on the road, as well as the amount of carbon emissions and greenhouse gases this produces every day.
In 2014, there were 253 million cars in the United States, and plenty of those cars are neither brand new nor fuel-efficient. Pickup trucks and SUVs account for a substantial portion of personal vehicles, and the average age of a car is 11.4 years. This means most cars on American roads today came out before electric cars were particularly popular, or affordable.
Thus, more people are driving cars than need to be, and they aren’t driving cars that are as good for the environment as they could be. Add to that the fact that First World countries create far more pollution per capita than Second or Third World countries, and you can understand why pollution is such a glaring concern.
Evolving technologies in personal transport fuels
Fortunately, carmakers are addressing this issue on the level of commuting and personal transport. Toyota has excellent, high-performing hybrids, for example, and while fully electronic cars are still rather expensive, quite a few of the companies who make them, including Tesla, have already begun launching cheaper versions of their flagship models.
One promising fossil fuel alternative is ethanol. It’s clean-burning, can be produced quickly, and can potentially provide more horsepower than gasoline. However, encouraging farmers to produce corn for ethanol can result in a shortage of corn in other areas of use, like livestock feed.
Still, as automobile manufacturers improve on their technology, the more that cars running on electricity, as well as cars running on other cleaner, more sustainable fuels like ethanol, biofuel, natural gas, and hydrogen, will become more affordable and more efficient.
If your budget doesn’t permit electric cars, hybrid cars, or flex-fuel cars at the moment, don’t panic—almost all new car engines these days are engineered with fuel economy in mind, allowing you to cover as many miles per gallon as possible.
It’s easy to learn a how to keep your gas mileage up, too. For instance, aggressive driving can lower your gas mileage by as much as 33 percent; on the contrary, keeping up with oil changes will keep your mileage up.
Greener alternatives to driving
Now, if public transportation is available to you, you should absolutely take it! Going by train or bus might result in a slightly longer ride, but you don’t have to drive, it’s much safer than taking your own car, and it’s better for yourself and the environment.
Plus, taking public transportation lets you avoid all the hassles that come with driving your car everywhere you need to go everyday, like having to find and pay for parking, spend for fuel and vehicle maintenance, or deal with mean drivers in traffic.
If the bus or train lines are not easily accessible for some reason, you can join a carpool, preferably with people who drive well. Carpooling shares some of the same benefits of public transportation. You’ll save money, you won’t have to drive every day, and fewer cars on the road translates to safer driving conditions, fewer traffic jams, and more parking spaces for those who need them.
With more people taking public transportation and opting for carpooling, not only will fewer people be driving, but the ones who do will also spend less time running their cars, and the stress of driving will be reduced for everybody involved. Just imagine a world without road rage!
If the roads are relatively safe where you live and where you work, riding your bicycle might also be an option. Biking completely eliminates the pollution and carbon emissions a daily drive to and from work would otherwise have created, and it takes care of your daily exercise.
Not only that, if you can get rid of your car, owning and maintaining a bicycle is significantly cheaper than owning and maintaining any car will ever be. If you don’t want to invest in a bicycle just yet, you can test the waters and just rent one instead. Renting a bike can be kind of like leasing a car, but you don’t need to worry about the mileage!
In the end, it’s not the commute that’s the problem—it’s the way it’s being done. When we all insist on driving to and from our jobs every single day, we end up with too many people, too many cars running on universally harmful fossil fuels, and no real way to clean up after ourselves.
You can also encourage your workplace towards sustainability by suggesting a Working From Home policy to avoid the carbon footprint that comes with commuting into the office each day. If you are to do this, be prepared and arm yourself with the right information as well as suggest collaboration work tools and video conferencing technologies such as GoToMeeting to get better buy in from your managers.
While the practices of using alternative fuels, prioritising public transport and carpooling, and driving our petroleum-powered vehicles less during our daily commutes might not be enough to fix the problem of pollution and climate change entirely, they’re most certainly valid steps we can consciously take toward lessening the detrimental impact of our commute on our already ailing planet.
How do you get the work each day? Do you have any tips that help lessen the environmental impact of your commute, especially if your circumstances require you to drive a car everyday? We'd love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to talk to us in the comments!