Like the annual migration of salmon from the sea to their freshwater birthplaces, the winter holidays signal the journey of humans back to the homestead. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the number of long distance trips taken by Americans increases 23 percent during Christmas, and 91 percent of those trips are taken by car. The Union of Concerned Scientists states that car travel is responsible for one quarter of the country's carbon dioxide emissions, but since the planet's wrath is nothing compared to the mother-in-law who doesn't get to see her spawn on holidays, here are some tips for greening your winter migration.
1) Purchase carbon offsets to balance your car-ma (and give them to the relative you're visiting!). We covered carbon offsets for flight travel in a previous blog, but these companies also sell carbon offsets for car travel.
2) Before you drive, figure out your personal carbon footprint and that of your impending car trip. The EPA has this handy personal emissions calculator that tells you how much carbon you emit, broken down by category (trash, electricity, oil, etc.). This information allows you to determine where in your life you can reduce carbon emissions, whether by recycling trash or reducing electricity use, to make up for those extra miles you drive to family gatherings.
3) Maintain your car. Basic car maintenance will improve your fuel economy no matter what kind of car you have. The Department of Energy says that a clean air filter improves fuel economy by 10%. Inflated tires improve economy by three percent and a well-tuned engine increases economy by four percent.
4) Drive harmoniously. The DOE cautions that "aggressive driving," such as rapid acceleration and deceleration, can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent. Observing the speed limit and being patient with traffic conditions will benefit the planet and your blood pressure.
5) Ditch the excess baggage in the trunk and on the roof. For every 100 pounds your car hauls, you lose two percent of your gas mileage. Another reason to go light on the gifts this year! After all, togetherness is what really matters ... yes?
6) Use overdrive gear and cruise control if you have them. If not, keep an even pressure on the accelerator. The Alliance to Save Energy says that overdrive reduces engine speed, and cruise control increases fuel efficiency by maintaining a steady speed.
For more tips, see the above websites plus EcoDrivingUSA.
Happy holidays and happy trails!
Story by Rachel Brown. This article originally appeared in Plenty in December 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.