I often have to drive to work, so the carbon footprint of my commute is high. My job as a doctor means my work location changes a lot. If lucky, we junior doctors only change every year but for many of us it can be even more frequent. I swap annually, but despite being in a small area, there is still multiple hospitals I could possibly be placed in, and I rotate through them. If I don't want to move home every year - which I don't want to do, and it might not be possible depending on where my husband works - then I am stuck with a very variable commute. Thankfully I live in London so there is public transport, but many people don't even have this option.
From where I live, I can get public transport to three of the possible hospitals. For the other three I could not possibly walk or cycle to them, even if I had an electric bike. There is public transport of some variety to those other three, but this doesn't mean it's plausible. For example one takes 1.5 hours to get to on public transport (without any tube disruption) instead of 25-45 minutes in a car. If I am working a set of 13 hour shifts, adding another 3 hours of commuting to that day instead of 1.5 hours, ensuring I am able to cook, eat and wash, means I would be sleep deprived. Not a state anyone wants their doctor in.
So I drive. Even though I know how bad cars are.
Driving does not make me any less of an environmentalist, or any less zero waste.
I am the same environmentalist whether it is a year I drive or a year I get the bus, despite the carbon footprint of my commute being different.
And I don't think it makes me a hypocrite, but you may disagree with me on that.
We currently live in a society that does not support us in making more environmentally friendly choices. Even living in London, which does have a lot of public transport, it can be a struggle. Bus routes across the UK are poor, and many are shutting or no longer run every day. The number of people choosing to take the bus is falling (1) whilst there has been an 55% increase in average fares (2). Around the country, places that once had a train station no longer do, in favour of more cars and roads. Between 1950-1975 in the UK, an estimate 7000 miles of train line and many stations were shut (3), meaning many rural places are now far from a railway. Even if you do have access, sometimes the prices are so high that it is cheaper to buy, own, maintain and pay for parking on a car. In other countries, public transport is even more scarce.
So if you have to drive, you are not necessarily a bad environmentalist, you're just living in a society that doesn't enable you to take advantage of the better options.
But just because you need to drive, doesn't mean you shouldn't still be thinking of ways to drive less, and cause less damage to the environment. Here are some ideas, and you could possibly do more than one of them!
Ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your commute:
- Can you ride share? Ride sharing is a way to counter climate change and is very valuable. It can potentially remove up to three out of four cars from the road. Even if you have to go a little out of your way, it still has an over all benefit. It can also save you money if you're able to split the cost of fuel. It's even in the Drawdown list as a solution to climate change.
- Could you get public transport one day of the week? Even doing this cuts the carbon footprint of your commute by 20% which is great! Perhaps you work a shorter day one day a week and could use the time to get public transport. The time may not be lost as you would be surprised how much more you can get done when you're not driving! Send or draft some emails, read a book or just sit back and relax.
- Could you work from home one day a week? Obviously not an option for many people but you may be surprised which professions could do this. This also cuts your transport carbon footprint by 20%. Maybe start up a conversation with your colleagues or boss about whether there is a way to build this in.
- Could you teleconference? If your work involves you driving around to see clients, are you able to use teleconferencing technology to meet with them instead which would not only reduce emissions but often saves money and company time too. Surprisingly this is also one of the Drawdown solutions.
- Can you go electric? If you are replacing your car, would an electric car work for you? Electric cars are great for something like a commute where you're travelling a reasonably small distance every day. There are even electric car hiring schemes which may work for you if you don't need to own a car - like the Blue City electric cars I see in London.
- Can you limit the impact of your car? Is your car fuel efficient? A car you already own can be actually be made more fuel efficient, and thereby release less emissions, by maintaining it well and doing things like keeping the tires pumped up and changing the air filter. If you need a new car and an electric car won't work for your current situation, can you do your research to make it the most fuel efficient and the least polluting?
- Can you only drive to work, and commit to only getting public transport on the weekend? Try getting trains or coaches to visit friends and family, and try walking or cycling around your local area. The carbon footprint of your commute may stay the same, but your overall carbon footprint will improve.
- Can you stop idling? Sitting in your stationary car with the engine running still releases carbon emissions, air pollution and is using up fuel. Idling usually happens in residential areas meaning that air pollution is happening where children are walking and playing. Air pollution in London alone kills 9,500+ extra people every year (4), so just turn off your engine.
- Can you offset the difference? If there is no way to reduce how much you drive, or you have reduced it as much as possible, could you consider offsetting you carbon emission with carbon offsetting schemes? More information about offsetting can be found here.
Remember, it's not all on you
If you're feeling pretty hopeless because you're not able to do any of the tips above, please don't feel demoralised or guilty. Although we do all have a responsibility to individual actions, we need to remember that our government also has a responsibility to us and the planet. If we do not live in a society that values public transport, working from home, and other ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your commute, then it is almost impossible to do so. But what you can do is campaign for these things.
So, whether or not you can do the things above, how about you write to your local councillors of government representative and ask them to support environmentally friendly measures like:
- Greater investment in public transport
- Support walkable city initiatives
- Subsidies on electric vehicles
- Greater flexibility to work at home or teleconference
Needing to drive doesn't make you any less of an environmentalist, but it also doesn't mean you shouldn't still be looking for ways to reduce your impact. There is always a way to cause less harm, it may just need a new approach or a different way of thinking of things, or even the possibility of getting a little uncomfortable. A climate breakdown won't be comfortable and so we need to be prepared to accept some discomfort to try to prevent worse in the future. It may not always feel like it, but every change we make adds up, so see what you can do to reduce the carbon footprint from your commute, whilst we push the governments to provide a society where we are more supported in our motivations to care for the planet.