What would happen if everybody in the United States cut back on driving?
We’re not talking about getting rid of your car, just using it a little bit less. It turns out that even driving just 10 percent less — if everyone did it — would have a big impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
That’s because Americans drive trillions of miles every year, helping to make transportation the biggest contributor to United States greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2017, light-duty vehicles in the United States (including cars, S.U.V.s, pickups and most of the vehicles used for everyday life) produced 1,098 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. That’s about one-fifth of the country’s total emissions footprint.
A 10 percent cut, therefore, would be roughly 110 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, or the same as taking about 28 coal-fired power plants offline for a year.
To achieve such a reduction, every American driver would, on average, have to cut about 1,350 miles per year.
While not easy, that target is realistic for most people, said Tony Dutzik, a senior policy analyst at the Frontier Group, a nonprofit research organization.
A low-hanging fruit is shorter rides, Mr. Dutzik said. Over one-third of all car trips are less than two miles, so walking, biking or taking public transport for some of those trips could add up. Planning ahead to combine errands and avoid unnecessary trips could help, too, he said.
“Emissions per rider in a full bus or train are vastly lower than a car,” Mr. Dutzik said. He also suggested car pooling or occasionally working from home, if possible.