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General · 2nd March 2009
Carrie & Barry Saxifrage
When we did our first carbon footprint, the only truly bad news was that a single trip to Southern California to visit our families was equal to an entire year of driving our Subaru Legacy. That one flight was far more greenhouse gas than a person can emit for an entire year’s transport, if they don’t want to contribute to devastating climate consequences. Everything else in our footprint we could work with: line drying our clothes, biking more, buying local products, turning down the heat, getting a more efficient car.

But no flying? Giving up flights to great vacation destinations wasn’t too hard because there are so many things we love to do close to home and the pleasures of flying faded as the climate consequences came clear. But what about our family visits? We love the yearly visits to California. It connects us with our parents, siblings, nephews and nieces. We relied on our ability to fly in choosing to live so far from our families. If we can’t in good conscious fly to see them every year, how will we maintain those relationships?

Time for a road trip!

Time was indeed the main issue, because flying is so much faster. We could have done the entire road trip to Southern California within the two weeks of our son’s spring break, if we pushed. But we wanted to explore. So we arranged to add two more weeks and be available for work by email. Then we loaded up the Prius with wetsuits, and drove the coastal route to Los Angeles.

We found fossilized clams on a white, wind-swept Oregon Beach. We were miniaturized in time and stature by the huge trunks of the coastal redwoods. We read Cannery Row aloud, and recognized the place names around Monterey Bay. We watched elephant seals and sea lions lounge and sea otters frolic. We toured Hearst Castle. We visited our favourite winery. We looked up lots of old friends we hadn’t seen in years and spent the lovely nights with their families. We rode a cable car. We played “Punch Prius” until we reached Berkeley, where they became too thick to play anymore. We drove along twisting roads high above the glittering sea, drinking in the light. We zipped through gridlock in car pool lanes from Santa Barbara to Orange County, gaping at the single occupant SUVs around us. And, whenever we could, we pulled on our wetsuits and splashed into the chilly, roiling Pacific to play in the waves.

Our Prius averaged 21 km/liter (49 miles/USgallon). Although we traveled 3000 km more than the flight distance due to side trips, we still spent only about $100 per person on gasoline. Best of all we produced 75% less emissions than we would have just on our flight…more than 2 tons saved. In total, we have reduced our yearly transportation emissions from 8 tons apiece four years ago to less than 1 ton apiece this year.

And we still got to have a great time with our family in Southern California. In addition, we reconnected to the landscape and to our friends along the way in a way that flying doesn’t allow. In fact, getting there was half the fun.

Article originally published in the June/July 2008 edition of the Watershed Sentinel
EPA mpg rules changed recently
Comment by Barry Saxifrage on 12th July 2008
Andy, the EPA recently changed how they calculate mpg per vehicle. The main changes are to include:

* faster speeds
* faster acceleration
* air conditioner use
* colder outside temps

For example a 2007 Prius used to be rated at 55mpg combined. Now it is rated at 46mpg. Our actual Prius mpg is in between the two...mostly because we don't accelerate fast and drive 55 to 60 on freeways. Part of the Prius "effect" is that it shows you instantaneous mpg based on driving choices. We've learned to drive more efficiently.

Honda Fit is a great car. Agreed.

Honda Fit Competes well with Prius
Comment by Andy on 8th July 2008
Your 49 mpg for the Prius is better than EPA's "new" hwy estimate of 45 mpg. Being a hybrid, of course, the in-city mileage is even better.

EPA estimates appear to be low generally. I'm getting 41 mpg combined now that my Honda Fit has broken in at 17,000 miles -- up from 39 mpg when I bought it new. My Fit is the base model with a 5-spd transmission. EPA rates it at 31 combined (34 hwy/28 city), but someone at EPA must have a heavy foot.

Does EPA base its ratings on computer models or actual driving experience?