Living Columns & Blogs

Centre Climate: Are you serious about reducing your carbon footprint? Look to transportation

John Franek Jr. Drives a Tesla Model 3 with Telsa representative Dylan Gumbel during an information session on electric cars in Bellefonte on Aug. 9.
John Franek Jr. Drives a Tesla Model 3 with Telsa representative Dylan Gumbel during an information session on electric cars in Bellefonte on Aug. 9.

Let’s face it, climate change is depressing! Many people think there’s nothing we can do, or they simply don’t know what to do. This is completely rational.

Not only is climate change a huge problem, addressing it will require tremendous, disruptive changes to our lives. In cases like these, we need ... wait for it ... math! To focus on things that have the biggest impact in the short term, math helps us determine what to do first.

That’s what the Department of Environmental Protection uses. They recently did an inventory and found that industrial processes, electricity production and transportation are the big three in terms of greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions in Pennsylvania. Together, they make up 82% of emissions. So, that’s where we should start.

Industrial is the hard one, since manufacturing steel, for example, requires a lot of energy and a lot of coal. Smart people are working on alternatives (including here at Penn State), but we need to focus on the other sectors to give them time to figure it out.

Electricity is interesting – nuclear makes up 35% and produces little or no greenhouse gases, but the plants are old and will be expensive to replace. Coal is now down to 36% of electricity production, but it’s so inefficient and so dirty that it’s responsible for 71% of greenhouse gases from this sector.

Replacing coal-fired plants with renewables would cut ghg emissions by one-fifth. Thus far, solar makes up only a tiny percentage of electricity production, but it’s growing.

The transportation sector is the easiest one to tackle. One of the best solutions to climate change is changing how we get around, and in this case, your individual choice really matters. We have, for example, a fantastic public transportation system in the Centre Region, the CATA bus.

If you’ve never tried it (and I know most of you have not), then please do. Using the CATA bus once in a while saves emissions and supports a system that really makes a difference. CATA buses also have racks for your bicycle, helping to combine two environmentally friendly modes of transport.

But the killer app is the electric car. I got one three years ago and will never go back to the old, gas-powered variety. Electric cars are just better: more fun to drive, quieter, smoother, better acceleration – and cheaper! In three years, I have never serviced the brakes, and I save almost $1,000 a year on gas, even including my higher electricity bill.

Today, there are more EVs (electric vehicles) and PHEVs (plug-in hybrids) than ever before. Some buy them new and take advantage of federal and state tax breaks, but I bought mine used. Right in our area, you can buy a two-year-old Chevy Volt for under $15,000, or a sweet little Fiat 500e for $10,000.

EVs and PHEVs help in several ways. First, the motors are more efficient, so even if your electricity comes from coal, you still produce about half the carbon dioxide compared to burning gas.

Second, because they produce no emissions on the ground, these cars make our local air cleaner, which is important. Right now, scientists attribute twice as many deaths to the direct effects of burning fossil fuels (due to poor air quality) than to the indirect effects of rising temperatures. Ozone from your gas guzzler also makes it harder for bees to find their flowers.

Worried about where to charge? No problem! A PHEV like my Chevy Volt has a small gas engine as a back-up. And, chargers are being installed everywhere. Bellefonte has two new public chargers, State College just added six chargers in the Beaver Ave parking deck, and local businesses, like Burkholder’s Market in Spring Mills, have added them, too.

To find out more about EVs and PHEVs, local drivers are organizing an event on Sunday, Sept. 22, at the Country Inn and Suites in State College (they have four chargers!). You can talk to drivers, hear their experiences, and maybe even get a ride. Last year, we had more than 20 different vehicles.

So, if you want to seriously reduce your carbon footprint, then trade your gas guzzler in for an electric car. Early adopters of EVs help promote a sustainable energy infrastructure. And, driving an EV is just more fun! There’s no better way to lift that climate-change-induced depression.

Jonathan Brockopp has been a resident of Centre County for 15 years and teaches the Ethics of Climate Change at Penn State. He welcomes your comments and ideas at