Imagine living for over 20 years without a car. Now imagine that for 17 of those years, you also remained completely silent. This is the sacrifice that John Francis, a “planetwalker” made after witnessing a massive oil spill in the San Francisco Bay in 1971. Although he still managed to cross the country several times, get a graduate degree and become a professor during that time, he undoubtedly struggled with challenges of his own.
Some environmentalists feel that radical or drastic action is the only choice we have to make a real difference, but sustainability can be reached incrementally just as well. Although some things simply aren’t sustainable and we may have to shift some habits and lifestyles in order to become truly sustainable, we do not have to make sacrifices to get there. Transportation, for example, can become just a little bit more sustainable without having to sacrifice the luxury of easy travel from point A to point B.
Air travel accounts for approximately three percent of the anthropogenic carbon emissions on Earth. Clearly the best way to become sustainable is to avoid planes altogether, through services such as Skype or WebEx. But lets face it, sometimes there is no way around hopping on a flight. You can check into the practices of the company you are purchasing from, to see if their sustainability initiatives align with your values (Green America has a ranked list here). Consider flying in economy class, using only an e-ticket to avoid paper waste, taking less baggage, handling your own garbage and taking as direct of a flight as possible. These measures allow the airplanes to function most efficient, reducing your carbon footprint. Finally, try to take the best means of transport to the airport as possible.
A car can seem like an absolute necessity in most parts of the United States, but there are many ways to get around on the roads without that SUV. Car share services such as ZipCar give you wheels when you need them, but allow others to use those cars as well, resulting in fewer cars on the roads overall. If you already own a car, consider offering to carpool with neighbors or coworkers. You’ll even get the added bonus of the high occupany vehicle lane! Switching to a hybrid seems like an obvious choice, but exercise caution: The environmental costs of producing a new hybrid car can exceed the marginal benefits of driving one.
Using your car more efficiently can have a huge impact on your gas bills while reducing your carbon footprint. Wait to run errands until you have several nearby stops, so you won’t have to make so many trips. Use a bike or walk when possible — Williamsburg is pretty flat, so it’s not too difficult here. We also have a fairly simple public transportation system that is free for College of William and Mary students — all you need to do is plan ahead.
Planes, trains and automobiles are often characterized as the enemy of the budding greenie, but if we use them responsibly, just a few minor tweaks in our usage would work wonders for the environment. You don’t have to be a planetwalker in order to change the world.