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Sustain Champlain is a campus-wide initiative strives to infuse sustainability concepts and practices across Champlain College by coordinating and promoting best practices within four areas: our institution, academics, operations, and culture.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Going Mindful- Different 'Flavors' of Car

Hello Mindful Beavers,

All ya’ll have probably seen a Prius or two, or twenty, as you’re walking about Burlington. But is every driver suited to drive one? Let’s do a general break down of ‘eco-friendly’ cars. First there are hybrids, then there hybrid plug-ins, and finally there are all electric cars.

I’m actually going to start with the electric car. The Nissan Leaf, a car that has no tail pipe and no gas emissions, is now for sale in the United States. You might think that this is a really revolutionary advancement, but electric cars were around in California back in 1996. The story is outlined in a documentary called “Who Killed the Electric Car.” I admit I produced a teeny tiny tear after watching this movie, which is pretty impressive when the main characters are motor vehicles. During the 80’s and 90’s, California had terrible smog levels. In 1990, The California Air Resource Board passed the Zero Emissions Mandate, which forced car companies in California to offer a zero emissions car, and GM went about manufacturing this vehicle. As you can imagine, not everyone bought onto this. But many, including movie star Mel Gibson, fell in love with the electric vehicle (EV). They were zippy, quiet, and not hard to maintain. Unfortunately, California auto makers sued the California Air Resource Board and won. Slowly but surely they started reclaiming electric cars that hadn’t been bought. When people’s leases ran out they wouldn’t let them resign. They promised the parts to make the cars would be recycled; instead they brought these cars to be destroyed. Essentially, GM killed its own child, and tried to get the public to move toward the use of the hydrogen cell car… I highly suggest you watch the documentary to see how the engineers and owners fought back.

Moving forward fourteen years, we again have an electric car. A plus to the electric car is, like stated above, it does not directly give off any emissions, and as we know CO2 is a major greenhouse gas. It still takes energy to create the electricity to charge the vehicles. Now this is where a potential buyer, someone who is most likely very keen on protecting the environment, needs to consider some other points. They have to look at where there electricity is coming from. Sometimes electricity is produced at plants that burn coal to generate energy. Coal is not the ‘nicest’ thing we can be burning. Although, according to experts, an EV is more efficient than a regular car, even if the electricity comes from a coal burning plant. Electricity can also be generated through nuclear waste, which outside of France always seems to be a controversial topic. Steam, wind, and water are three other options that are more environmentally friendly. In this area of VT we get electricity for four different plants. Burlington Electric, McNeil Power Station which uses steam, VT Yankee which uses nuclear, and Hydro Quebec. The ‘mixture’ we use is different every day and can be seen on the Burlington Electric website. So some days we could be using energy from McNeil and other days VT Yankee. A person looking to purchase an EV should be looking at where there electricity is coming from.

The range of the Nissan Leaf is what seems to turn people off. It can only go 100 miles on a charge and can take up to 8 hours to recharge (there is a fast charge option as well). However, many people primarily use their cars to go to work and back, so this would still be a very viable option, and EV car owners in Burlington can also charge up there car’s at City Market. I think this is a great break through and could be especially useful for people who mainly commute.

Next are hybrids and their cousin hybrid plug-ins. You’re probably most familiar with hybrid cause because nearly every car company that sells cars from $13,000 to $400,000 has a hybrid. These types of cars have two engines: one that is powered by gas and one that’s powered by electricity. This combination gives the car a better gas mileage and lower emissions. Hybrid cars are great for people who live in New York City because fuel efficiency and savings are usually seen in the city mpg numbers. They’re also effective for people who live in flat areas because the car uses more energy when going up hills. Hybrid plug-ins are cars that can run on gas and electricity; a Prius is the most notable example. A plug-in is part Nissan Leaf part regular car. They can run on electricity and then switch over to gas if needed; you still need to keep some gas in the tank though. Chevy unveiled the Volt, a plug in car for sale in the United States. However, at $40,000 ($32,000 after tax incentives), it’s still a very expensive car and not immediately feasible for most people. Hybrids have received flack from those who question their eco-friendliness. The electric batteries are made from Nickel which takes a lot of energy to extract and is usually shipped many places to be built. The batteries need to be properly disposed of after the car has met its end because the components are toxic, and rescuing someone in hybrid or electric car raises the risk of rescuer electrocution. The question is do we accept these downsides and work to answer the questions, or do we ignore what these cars can offer?

You don’t necessarily need to go out and buy a hybrid or electric car for better gas mileage or to be more Mindful. Many regular cars have wonderful mileage and don’t cost nearly as much as their hybrid counter parts. The way people drive also factors into how efficient their cars are. If you have a Prius but still drive irresponsible, like slamming on the gas, slamming on the breaks, not keeping your car in tune, etc, you won’t be getting the added efficiency. When I was in high school my rock climbing instructor, who was allowed to drive a red Ford Mustang as a teenager, bought a Prius. His wife was so frustrated with him because he drove it like he drove the Mustang, and the couple thousand extra for added efficiency was going down the drain. Here are some tips to help your car.

1.) 1.Don’t be a speed demon. Okay, I kind of have a lead foot myself, but driving fast decreases efficiency. It also doesn’t get you were you need to go that much faster and you risk getting a ticket. I find that 73mph is a speed when the posted limit is 65. It’s still not the best for your mileage, but it’ll appease the speeder inside. You’re keeping up with or going a little faster than traffic and you might be able to talk your way out of a ticket. However, note that once you’re going over 60 your efficiency will start to falter.

2.) 2. Keep your tires properly inflated.

3.) 3. to love the windows during the summer. A/C is a huge energy waster.

4.) 4. Cruise control is futuristic and will help increase your cars mileage. That’s because it keeps a steady speed, which is something your foot cannot. My first car used to have a digital monitor telling me how many mpg I was getting. The more I used cruise control the more those numbers rose. I admit it took several, several, several, months to go from 19mpg to 23 mpg, but there was lots of satisfaction in seeing that my good driving habits were paying off.

5.) 5. There’s no need for junk in the trunk. Literally. Take out all that extra weight!

6.) 6. It’s summer time and that roof rack on the top of your car is only holding you back because it isn’t creating the most aerodynamic flow.

7.) 7. Think about if you actually need to drive somewhere. Is it possible for you to walk? Can you do more than one thing when you’re out? Is car pooling an option? (funny story, when I was little I used to think car pools were cars that had pools in them…)

8.) 8. When necessary try not to idle. Also, it’s a good idea to warm your car up a little in the winter, but you don’t need to let it warm up for five to ten minutes. Newer cars have more sophisticated engines.

And you can find a lot more tips online! Hybrids, Plug-ins, EV, and regular cars all have their pros and cons. What will work for some might not work for others. These are all things to keep in mind as technology changes and you approach the age where you have to buy your own car. Go into it open minded. I feel that too many people turn down hybrids and EV because they have flaws. Of course they’re going to have flaws. Issues of gas and climate are not going to be solved with one solution, just like there is not one solution for all cars.

Next week I will be talking about how you can shop, save money, look great, and help the environment! This’ll be tied in with consumerism during the holiday season and how you can still spread your chrismahanukwanzakah cheer and help out the planet.

Keep on Being Mindful!

Here is a link for more info on hybrid cars


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