Many Americans live in a place where they have no access to public transit. They live in areas that might be dangerous to walk or bike in. They live miles from where they need to work, or shop, or see family and friends. Getting around by car, then, is an absolute necessity. But when you know the gas you’re buying—regardless of the company—is contributing to climate change, environmental disasters, health problems for those who live near refineries, and more, how do you reconcile the need to live in the modern world with the damage it’s causing?
Besides converting to bike-powered transportation, or even horse, or spending money you don’t have on a hybrid or Tesla (which have their own problems, for sure), what can the average American do to reduce their interaction with auto-based fossil fuels and cultivate a healthier community and environment?
Here are a few ideas to help ease the guilty gas consumer conscience. Have your own ideas? Please share them in the comments.
1. Know what your priorities and goals are. Do you want to save money, reduce your reliance on fossil fuels, or both? Do you want to get more exercise, more fresh air, or something else entirely? Knowing what your goals are, and your priorities, can help you decide what actions to take to reduce your reliance on gasoline, automobiles, and more. Being clear, and then making small changes over time can lead to significant and meaningful shifts later.
2. Drive less. It can be that simple. Instead of making multiple trips to, or across, town, make one, and make it count.
3. Park smartly. Park in a central location where you can walk to all the places you need to go, say within a 10-20 minute walk. That’s a half-mile to a mile radius! You’ll get some exercise, feel better, and save a bit of gas in the process.
4. Know who you’re buying gas from—and don’t discount them because of their ethnicity. In some parts of America, all the local gas stations might seem to be owned by people of the same ethnicity. Whether it’s Marathon, BP, or Shell, it’s still probably owned by a person—likely a franchisee. That person is likely an American trying to live the American dream, and often employs family members or friends of the family, thereby creating jobs. The question, then, should be—do you like the people who own it or work there? Do you have a good rapport with them? Are they members of your local community, and do you embrace them as such whether or not you are friends? Also, do they offer healthy snack and beverage options, like fresh fruit, raw nuts, and distilled water? Do they offer other items or services you might need, like free air or vacuums? Are the bathrooms clean? Do you value the experience? And are their prices fair? That’s a lot to think about, but you’re spending hard-earned money on a fossil fuel regularly—at least take the time to consider the best, and healthiest, way to engage in the process.
5. Be wary of cheap gas. Sure, it might be a dime less at one location, but you might be wise to ask yourself why? Is the gas, perhaps, watered down? Are you driving 10-20 miles out of your way to fill a tank in a place to save $1-$2? Even if an app is telling you to drive another 20 miles down the highway to get the best deal (and yes that’s a lot when you’re poor), sometimes it’s better to just go ahead and pay the $2. It might save you time, emissions, and your engine in the long run.
6. Car share. In Detroit, sharing cars is common—between real people and car owners, in the real world, not via an app. Not everyone in the city can afford to own a car. In a city and state so poor, the cost of a car is remarkably high. Enter car sharing, where people lend their friends and family their vehicles for an hour, a day, a week, or even a month at a time. The friend uses the car, and might offer to consolidate errands for the two households while they’re out—doing laundry at the laundromat, stopping by the dry cleaners or the pharmacy, or picking up groceries or diapers at the store or food or other necessities at the food bank. They might change the oil or the air filter. It’s an easy way to defer some of the cost of driving, and everyone involved benefits—a win-win for community. Of course you can use a car sharing app or service too, but those can still add up, and rarely cultivate the level of community support sharing a car in your community can.
7. Carpool. If you live near coworkers, or you and people you know need to be in the same place or go in the same direction, carpool. It might seem like an old-fashioned idea, but it will save gas and gas money, cut emissions, and might even let you use the HOV lane, saving you time during rush hours. You might get to know people you otherwise wouldn’t have, and make new friends along the way. There are apps for this too, but try cultivating it in the real world.
8. Time bank your rides. Most time banks have members who offer rides. Check out your local time bank, consider what you have to trade, and start getting rides and building community—and see what else you can find there.
9. Turn your car off. How many times do you idle, at the drive-through window or in stopped traffic, for more than five minutes? Turn your car off. Or, try putting it in neutral, so you’re not burning extra fuel. Many people on extremely tight budgets already use the neutral trick instead of racing to red lights or down hills, or when they are waiting at an exceptionally long light.
10. Advocate for better public policy. Environmental justice, public transit, and cyclist and pedestrian rights are issues you can advocate for in your own community. Even if you’re in a rural part of the USA, you can still advocate for more funds for and an expansion of Amtrak, and greater rural comprehensive public transit. And advocating for environmental justice will benefit you and your family and community, for generations to come.