Sustainable Living: Transportation

American’s have a love affair with the open road. At least, that’s what we’ve been told for years. And really, even with high gas prices I don’t think that changed much. People still traveled, they still drove. Maybe not as far, but people still drove, complaining all the while. However, the previous incredible rise in oil costs, while we’re only now starting to see a respite from, has brought to many people’s attention to need to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels.

There are plenty of ways to accomplish this, even in todays market. Carpooling, public transportation, bicycling, walking, etc. I’m lucky enough to live now where I can walk to work every day, even in the dead of winter. This is a huge improvement on my gasoline usage, even though I only used to have to drive across town, and I’m lucky enough to live in a town with a pretty decent Public Transportation system. Unfortunately, here in the Western United States, things tend to be spread out, many areas lack effective public transport, and personally I’ve never liked the idea of carpooling because I don’t like being beholden to other people’s schedules. My wife’s horse lives quite a ways out of town. We try to drive less, but we absolutely have to drive.

In part because our current car, a ‘95 Mazda B4000 Pickup, get’s fairly bad gas mileage (I think the mass airflow sensor is going out too, which isn’t helping), we decided to buy another car. We bought a 1971 Volkswagen Type 3 Squareback (which should get near 30 mpg). I’ll get some pictures up soon, the weather wasn’t that great this weekend. The car isn’t perfect. It lacks seatbelts, some of the vinyl needs to be replaced, it’s got a few rust spots, the high beams seem more controlled by the angle of rotation of the steering wheel than any other control, the tires are ancient, the transmission is loose, the rear break cylinders are leaking, but the car runs and runs great.

And all the rest of that stuff, I can fix myself.

I do feel that part of sustainability on a global scale needs to involve either doing things for yourself, and while I don’t necessarily want to put a mechanic out of business, I want to have enough knowledge that I don’t have to go to the mechanic, and that I can communicate with the mechanic in a meaningful way. If something is acting up, I want enough knowledge to diagnose the problem, if not correct it. Plus, with this car I can build up that knowledge base pretty easily.

We love the open road, we love to travel, but mostly, I think American’s just love to drive. Admittedly, out little Square isn’t a racecar, it isn’t fun to drive because it’s fast and feels out of control. It’s fun to drive because it’s smooth and simple, and it just looks nice. Of course, that’ll be a lot better once I get accustomed to it. I haven’t driven a manual transmission much in years, and it just takes time to learn the intricacies of any vehicle. Still, the car feels and looks good, and it’s something my wife and I can work on ourselves, and it gets much, much better gas mileage, further reducing our ‘carbon footprint’.

The need to get from place to place is never going to change, and currently, gasoline is still the best way to drive an engine. Admittedly, I’m excited by the work of Tesla Motors. I’ve given a lot of thought to converting a car to electric. I think that’s where the future lies, but right now today, I need gas. And in getting a vehicle with better gas mileage, I’ve also got a vehicle I stand to learn a lot from. Sort of a best of both worlds for me.