this has been a question burning in the back of my mind for a while now. the average american (married couples having 2.19 children) makes about $40,000 per year. the average american spends approximately $28,000 on a car. i am not including public transportation, walking, and bicycles in this entry because those are the most obvious yet often overlooked ways of getting about unless you live in a large metropolis, which most people don't. here in my city (columbus, ohio) public transportation is subpar and i live in the burbs (whoops!) and so walking isn't an option either. my husband rides his bicycle to work but oh yeah, the whole family can't fit on a bike. so with those stats in mind, what is the viable (affordable) option for people who want to treat lightly (or lighter) on the earth and own their own vehicle? (in order of what i consider the least to most "out of the box" for people)
01. run your present vehicle more efficiently
the easiest thing you can do is continue to use what you have but do it better. simple things like changing your oil filter regularly can boost your fuel efficiency by 10%. you might also consider obeying the speed limit, buying the recommended grade of motor oil for you car, drive less, carpool, remove excess weight from your car, use your cruise control more (rapid accelerating and decelerating burns more fuel), and keeping your tires properly inflated,
02. standard (non-hybrid) car with high mpg rating
once upon a time my dad, God love him, was in the market for a new vehicle. being who i am i suggested a hybrid to which he said "that doesn't fit my lifestyle." what he meant and what i interpreted him to be meaning differed greatly. for him, and many others, hybrid cars are for hippies waving their freak flags on the road. so for those for whom hybrids don't "fit their lifestyle" the most fuel efficient non-hybrid vehicles are as follows: Toyota Yaris (average 32 mpg), Honda Fit (31 mpg), Mini Cooper (31 mpg), Toyota Corolla (31 mpg), Hyundai Sonata (25 mpg), Nissan Versa (28). The problem is that many of these are itty bitty and people, especially those above mentioned "average american's" that have children, aren't going to find them accommodating.
most folks can see through the stigma and into the real core of what hybrids are all about - saving gas and thus emissions. sadly there aren't a lot of options i feel that suit the average consumer. the toyota prius is probably the best hybrid in my opinion, it also gets a whopping average of 46 mpg! Second on my list would be the Honda Civic Hybrid (42 pmg). Other options: Nissan Altima Hybrid (34 mpg), Toyota Camry Hybrid (34 mpg), Ford Escape Hybrid (30 mpg - which is pretty good considering it's an SUV). The not-often-talked about problem? I have a family friend who just retired from Ford and he told me that the current batteries in hybrids will conk out after 5-8 years and the cost to replace them? a whopping $5000 minimum. (at least the ones from Ford but i venture to believe there is not a huge price difference). help save the planet but expect the resale value to tank in the not so distant future. will the world ever see a plug-in hybrid? i think we might!
04. Alternative fuels
"Alternative fuels, as defined by the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPAct), include ethanol, natural gas, propane, hydrogen, biodiesel, electricity, methanol, and p-series fuels." (sidebar: notice that veggie fuel systems aren't listed? yeah - it's illegal. have i mentioned that?) ok here's the deal, everyone thinks that the world will be saved by alternative fuels and i just don't believe that is going to happen. first off for example the bush administration is calling for at least 15% of our nation's energy to be replaced by biofuels and almost all of that is from ethanol (made primarily from corn) by 2017. even if it was possible to do that, our heavy reliance on corn as the primary maker for our beloved ethanol would force the entire united states corn crop to be devoted to such use. that means no corn for humans OR ANIMALS. oh and let's not forget the huge amounts of herbicides and pesticides that go into making corn. im happy that corn is a sustainable resource but the bi-products of being so dependent on one source for making ethanol is just not a good thing. according to my last issue of organic gardening magazine, brazil has been successful in producing ethanol from sugar cane which has a yield of 8 times as much energy from it, compared to corn which can only do about 1 1/2 times. obviously my preferred method is the diesel conversion that runs on waste vegetable oil but not everyone wants to seek out the oil, install a kit, be confined to diesel cars only (esp late model ones), filter the oil, etc. even if the car is carbon neutral.
for more information about how to green your car go to treehuggers section of the same name.