Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Carbon Footprint

For years, U.S. car manufacturers claimed that they could not sell cars based on their fuel economy. And then along comes a serious spike in gas prices and guess what? Everyone's scrambling for hybrids, anything that gets better gas mileage than a Ford F150 or a Cadillac Escalade. (Well, I guess everyone but Tiger Woods, but I digress.)

My point? Europeans are obviously far ahead of Americans in their willingness to buy smaller cars and Renault, Peugeot and Citroën are also now touting their performance in reducing emission of greenhouse gases in their billboards and magazine ads. Take that Detroit.

Helping people understand their own carbon footprint is not going to get us to the kinds of reductions that the world's heads of state are now discussing in Copenhagen. But it's a start. When you calculate your itinerary on Parisian mass transit (or transports en commun, as it's called in French) on the RATP Web site, the results page not only shows you what time to catch the bus and where to transfer but also the comparative carbon emissions versus the same trajectory by car. The leg I take to and from my French class two times a week, for example, results in 258 grams of CO₂ by bus and just 10 grams of CO₂ if I go by subway compared with 642 grams if I were going by car. (If you're a real geek and you can read French, you can learn more about the method of calculation on the RATP site here.) It's not going to keep a small Pacific island from sinking into oblivion but at least it's something.


Ksam said...

To be fair, I don't think it's all due to Europeans being so much more eco-friendly. They have been forced to buy smaller cars because gas costs so much more here ($7-8/gallon). They also travel much shorter distances and thus the extra comforts that American cars have become less important.

Peter said...

Well, I sold my car and now use my electric little motor bike (eSolex). Now of course, to make the battery and to get it recharged obviously also has some negative effects somewhere. Difficult to be perfect! :-)

Anne said...

Ksam: I'm not an expert on energy policy but it's my understanding that gas prices in Europe are much higher than the U.S. because the taxes are so much higher. Taxes on gas has two effects: raising revenues to fund an assortment of public goods (including public transport and train systems) and also reducing gas consumption. On both counts, the Europeans have made policy choices that are more eco friendly. It's also true that in America, things are much further apart and that results in people driving more. But those were choices and decisions made knowing that fuel would be relatively cheap. Once made, those decisions (as opposed to which car to buy to replace your old one) are a lot harder to change in the short term.

mtnbiker404 said...

I think I have to agree with Anne. We're spoiled here in North America. When I first traveled in Europe I noticed all their small cars. It made sense to me. I really don't think we need to drive around in our SUVs to be comfortable. I know we could manage quite well with something a lot smaller than that. If the Europeans can do it, there's no reason we can't either.

We should also consider cycling more. It's hugely popular in many countries around the world. From many European countries to China and Japan. I've seen many businessmen and women riding bikes to work in Tokyo while I was visit. Like I said before, if they can do it we should be able to as well. It's not only for our benefit, but for that of future generations. Think of it as a present to your kids and grandkids.

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