Climate Change

Driving Farther in Bigger Vehicles

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 29, 2006

From the Non Negotiable Way Of Life Dept:

The Environmental Defence watchdog group in the United States has just released a report, covered by the Guardian (UK) showing that the American easy motoring way of life is even worse than one might have expected.

With five percent of the world's people, America is home to one third of the world's cars; but instead of producing only a third of the world's automobile-based carbon dioxide (CO2) output, America actually produces half. In other words, not only do Americans own more cars, but also each car produces more CO2.

That's right: Five percent of the world's population produces half the world's automobile-based greenhouse gases. The report identified two reasons: American cars have a lower average fuel economy of 8.5 km/l (20 mpg) and a higher average driving distance of 17,700 km (11,000 miles) per year.

SUVs are the most-sold cars in America, and as older, smaller cars are retired, the share of SUVs will only increase, even as the number of new SUVs sold peaks in response to rising oil prices. Amazingly, the average fuel economy of vehicles in America has been declining since 1988.

With each new ring of sprawl, the average distance between any two destinations increases, and this is reflected in driving trends over time. The distance travelled in American shopping trips rose by 40 percent between 1990 and 2001.

If you're Canadian and are feeling smug about this, hold on. Canadian driving habits are nearly as bad as those of our neighbours. Our cars have a slightly higher average fuel economy, probably due to the slightly higher gas prices in Canada and what I might term a cultural fondness for hatchbacks, but we drive about the same average distance per year.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal.

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