Click our logo for the Sierra Club homepage.
Printer-friendly version Share:  Share this page on FacebookShare this page on TwitterShare this page by emailShare this page with other services

Green Transportation Solutions: Clean Cars

Do you feel chained to the gas pump with no other choice but to pay up? While you struggle to make ends meet, Big Oil continues to make profits. There are 240 million cars and light trucks on the road today, consuming 8 million barrels of oil per day. Each gallon of gasoline we burn produces about 25 pounds of carbon dioxide -- the most common global warming pollution -- that poisons the atmosphere. Our addiction to oil drains our wallets and is threatening our health and environment.

There is relief in sight. American automakers are already producing oil free electric cars, plug-in hybrids, and other advanced technology vehicles that use far less oil or no oil at all. Through innovation and ingenuity American automakers can produce cars and light trucks that are cleaner and more efficient to help break our addiction to oil.

Landmark Action

After decades of stalled action on fuel efficiency standards, fuel efficiency and new vehicle greenhouse gas standards are on a path to improve over the next 13 years. These standards bring together the Department of Transportation, which has historically set fuel efficiency standards, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which is using its authority under the Clean Air Act to reduce harmful global warming pollution.

Soon after taking office, the Obama administration set in motion the first phase of new standards now called the National Program to strengthen fuel efficiency and carbon pollution standards for cars and light trucks sold from 2012-2016. The first phase of the national program was finalized in April of 2010, with a carbon pollution standard of 250 grams per mile, equivalent to 35.5 miles per gallon fuel efficiency standard. The Administration estimates that the benefits of the first round of standards will include a reduction in carbon pollution by 960 million metric tons, cut oil use by 1.8 billion barrels of oil, and save consumers more than $3,000 over the lifetime of these vehicles.

The second phase of the National Program set to be finalized in the summer of 2012 builds upon the success of the first phase with added benefits to our health and environment. These standards for cars and light trucks sold from 2017-2025 reduce carbon pollution to 163 grams per mile, achieving a fuel efficiency equivalent to 54.5 miles per gallon.

The Administration estimates that over the lifetime of vehicles produced under the full National Program (the 2012-2025 vehicles), consumers are estimated to save $1.7 trillion at the gas pump, our addiction to oil will be cut by 12 billion barrels of oil, and 6 billion metric tons of carbon pollution will be kept out of the atmosphere.

Next Steps

Truth in testing
As fuel efficiency standards improve, it is critical that the tests used to check cars and light trucks for compliance with standards are updated. Unfortunately, the test procedures currently used to measure fuel efficiency for standards are stuck in the past. These tests yield results that are vastly different from what drivers see on new vehicle window stickers and experience on the road. For example, the tests assume that you will average 48 miles per hour on the highway and never use your air conditioner, which is unrealistic.

Updated tests for setting standards should reflect the real world driving conditions that are now factored in to consumer information. This would provide one set of accurate numbers that policymakers can use to set standards, and that consumers can use to inform their next purchase. The fact is that the Obama Administration is nearly doubling the average fuel efficiency of new vehicles from today’s average of 29.6 mpg to 54.5 mpg and reducing carbon pollution from today’s 394 grams per mile to 163 grams per mile. But consumers should expect to see new vehicles that average closer to 40 mpg in 2025. To learn more read Sierra Club’s Truth in Testing Report.

A 21st century transportation system to move Beyond Oil
While cleaning up our cars and light trucks is a big step towards moving off of oil, we need to invest in a 21st century transportation system to completely free ourselves from the gas pump. We need to modernize our entire transportation system by fixing our crumbling roads and bridges, and providing more transportation choices such as public transit, walking and biking. Livable communities that enable people to walk and bike to work, school and shopping will move us Beyond Oil.

Personal Solutions

Sierra Club's Green Transportation Campaign also promotes actions everyone can take to reduce their carbon footprint. Transportation accounts for a high percentage of most Americans' individual carbon emissions. The good news is that you can take many small steps on a daily basis to do your part in the fight against global warming:

  1. Leave your car at home - take transit if you can. Taking transit will save oil and let you chat on the phone or text safely while you commute.
  2. Bike to work or to the store.
  3. If you're in the market for a new car, buy a plug-in car, a hybrid or the most fuel efficient vehicle that meets your needs. Considering each gallon of gas we burn releases 25 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, better fuel economy = a better environment
  4. Check your tire pressure frequently and keep your tires fully inflated. Full tires can improve your fuel economy up to 10%.
  5. Use a GPS - studies show that using a navigational device can reduce miles traveled up to 16%.
  6. If you own a car but do not require it for your daily commute, sell the car and join a car sharing company instead. This cuts down on your insurance, gas, and car payment bills, and significantly cuts down on casual, unnecessary driving.
  7. Find out your car's optimal speed for fuel economy and set your cruise control.
  8. Choose an efficient route for your errand-running so as to avoid multiple trips or excessive miles. If you visit a shopping center and plan to make multiple stops, park your car in the center of the parking lot and walk to your individual destinations.
  9. Roughly 44% of car trips taken are less than 2 miles - burn calories instead of gasoline by taking a walk or riding a bike.
  10. Ask your boss if you can telecommute one or two days per week.
  11. Carpool with co-workers. This can be fun and a great way to wake you up in the morning! If a daily carpool won't work, try one or two days per week.
  12. If you have two cars and are taking a trip, choose the more fuel efficient car.
  13. Shop online instead of making the trip!
  14. Keep your car tuned up.
  15. Don't drive with the windows down at high speeds. This creates drag and reduces your fuel economy.

Sierra Club® and "Explore, enjoy and protect the planet"® are registered trademarks of the Sierra Club. © 2021 Sierra Club.
The Sierra Club Seal is a registered copyright, service mark, and trademark of the Sierra Club.