The Ethics of Small Town Living: Fossil Fuel

I have to say, out of all the issues one faces living in a small town, I think fossil fuel (particularly gas) use is my greatest concern.

Here are the basics for me — and keep in mind that I live in a small state. It’s not the same as having to drive across a rural Texas county but the populated areas are densely populated, so traffic is a problem.

I live about an hour’s drive or 50 miles from the nearest city (population 40,000). 1.5-2 hrs drive or 70-80 miles from the nearest major cities (population 500,000+). Aside from boating (I’m not kidding), driving is the pretty much only way to get from my home to said cities. There is one bus route that leaves from an island 40 minutes away, but it’s notoriously overcrowded and unreliable. Basically, driving is unavoidable and because of the length of trip/amount of traffic involved, we’re looking at 1/3-1/2 tank of gas per round trip.

As someone who filled up maybe once a month in her last place of residence, I have to admit, this bothers me. Moreover, my car (bought used) is far from new (100,000+ miles). And for all the climate change naysayers out there, this isn’t just about the amount of greenhouse gases I am personally pumping into the earth’s atmosphere. It’s about money. Gas is expensive. New cars are expensive. Cutting down on the amount of time I spend driving isn’t just ethical, it’s a necessity.

Ways I’m approaching this:

1) Multitask.  If I’m going to spend 3 hrs and $20 driving to urban civilization and back, it has to be worth my while. One errand isn’t going to justify spending that much money or using that much energy. For example, this week, I traveled across the state to see my sister and go to a concert. But, to get the most out of the trip, I thought about other things I don’t have access to where I’m living now. So, I also went to an indie movie and a museum while those things were convenient to me. On the way home, I went grocery shopping at a store we don’t have here and made a trip to the bank, which — you guessed it — doesn’t have any branches where I live. And doing so, saved myself several individual trips.

2) Find equivalents. So, my bank, my favorite place to get organic food, all of my healthcare providers are now at least an hour away.  Yes, it’s helpful if I can get the most out of my trips, but wouldn’t it be better if I could replace at least some of those errands with local (often walkable) options?  Yes. For example, there’s a small organic food store in town. It doesn’t have everything I would buy at a larger store, but it does carry enough that I might only need to go to another option once or twice a month.

3) Carpool. Given that are about 5,000 people who live in my town and have the same access problems I do, why not team up? It’s a good opportunity to meet people and it cuts down on the number of miles I put on my car — and the overall amount of gas used between me and my carpool groups. But do make sure you know and trust the people you plan to carpool with before you agree to any long-term setups.

4) Work close to or from home. So, we’re well aware that major cities are where the jobs are. It’s tempting, then, to throw a wide application net, regardless of what it will mean for my commute. I don’t think anyone should limit their options professionally, but sometimes it’s surprising what you can find in your local area or online. Virtual and telecommuting positions are becoming more common, particularly in technology-related fields. Right now, one of my preferred options is through an online company (fingers crossed). Just be sure to also do your research and avoid scams.

5) When possible, bike or walk. Studies show that our cars are least efficient on small, local trips. Even though I’m putting an emphasis on cutting down long commutes, I’m also working to reduce the amount of time I spend driving in and around town. Fortunately, this is getting easier as the weather gets cooler. For small errands, I’m do much more walking than I was in, say, July. (The only exception is walking at night — there are very few streetlights out here.)

But, as always, that’s only what I’ve come up with so far. What are your suggestions for reducing fossil fuel use? How have you dealt with this in your own life?

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One thought on “The Ethics of Small Town Living: Fossil Fuel

  1. Hm… well, living on the other side of the river makes driving to school (and just about everywhere else) pretty much a necessity for me. But, once I park my car, it pretty much stays put for the day. I walk to wherever I need to go on campus, or take the campus buses. If I meet a friend somewhere, and we want to go somewhere else, we just take one car instead of both. When possible, like when we go to Birmingham, we definitely carpool or plan as many things as possible into those trips.

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