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One Thing We Can Do: Drive Less

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ImageCreditTyler Varsell

What would happen if everybody in the United States cut back on driving?

We’re not talking about getting rid of your car, just using it a little bit less. It turns out that even driving just 10 percent less — if everyone did it — would have a big impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s because Americans drive trillions of miles every year, helping to make transportation the biggest contributor to United States greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2017, light-duty vehicles in the United States (including cars, S.U.V.s, pickups and most of the vehicles used for everyday life) produced 1,098 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. That’s about one-fifth of the country’s total emissions footprint.

A 10 percent cut, therefore, would be roughly 110 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, or the same as taking about 28 coal-fired power plants offline for a year.

To achieve such a reduction, every American driver would, on average, have to cut about 1,350 miles per year.

While not easy, that target is realistic for most people, said Tony Dutzik, a senior policy analyst at the Frontier Group, a nonprofit research organization.

A low-hanging fruit is shorter rides, Mr. Dutzik said. Over one-third of all car trips are less than two miles, so walking, biking or taking public transport for some of those trips could add up. Planning ahead to combine errands and avoid unnecessary trips could help, too, he said.

“Emissions per rider in a full bus or train are vastly lower than a car,” Mr. Dutzik said. He also suggested car pooling or occasionally working from home, if possible.

Gretchen Goldman, research director for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said she uses an app called Transit to help her find ways to travel that don’t involve a car. It aggregates bus, train, bike-share and other alternatives to show you transportation options.

Dr. Goldman emphasized that she doesn’t want people to feel guilty for using their cars. She noted that the current transportation system in the United States — including relatively cheap gas prices and poor access to public transportation — encourages car use.

For that to change, she said, “We need policy changes.”

ImageCreditJohannes Eisele/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesGreta Thunberg’s New York Arrival

Greta Thunberg has crossed the Atlantic.

The 16-year-old climate activist, who inspired a global movement through her school strikes, spent two weeks aboard a racing yacht, the Malizia II, crossing by sail to avoid the significant carbon footprint that goes along with flying. Ms. Thunberg departed from Plymouth, England, on Aug. 14. (She has taken the year off from school to expand her work.)

Using the solar panels that provide power to the electrical equipment on board, she has provided regular updates on the trip to her 1.1 million Twitter followers. On Day 4, she stated happily: “Life on Malizia II is like camping on a roller coaster!” On the 25th, however, she shared a video that showed that the seas were turbulent: “it’s very rough, very high waves.” She made the crossing with a team that included her father and a documentary filmmaker, Nathan Grossman.

In the United States, her schedule will be packed. She plans to attend a global youth strike on Friday, Sept. 20, after speaking out with young Americans who are suing the United States government to get action on climate change. The next day, she will participate in the United Nations youth summit, along with an estimated 600 others from all over the world. On the following Monday, she is scheduled to address the United Nations climate summit. Beyond that, she has said she would like to attend the United Nations climate summit in Chile in December, with stops along the way in the United States and Canada.

The trip has led to critics of climate activism pointing out that the Malizia team will fly two crew members to the United States to bring the boat back, making the voyage anything but emissions-free.

Holly Cova, a spokeswoman for Malizia II, said, “We recognize this is an imperfect solution,” but because the additional crew members were necessary for a coming race, the emissions from their flights would be offset, she said.

Ms. Thunberg was undeterred by the attacks. The critics are “doing everything they can to switch the focus from the climate crisis to me,” she said. “That is what you have to expect when you talk about these things.”

ImageFrom the mailbag

Hello! A reader pointed out that a link in our item last week on meat consumption didn’t work. It wasn’t the reporter’s fault, it was an editing goof. Here’s the correct link to the Lancet report on meat consumption.

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