Editorial: We need to re-evaluate our relationship with cars in light of gas prices and climate change

If drivers have been reluctant to limit their car use and reduce mileage in the past, they now have two headline-making reasons to reconsider: painful prices at the pump and a sobering recent report on climate change.

Meeting both challenges means committing to conservation as individuals - and as a society.

As staff writer Marni Pyke pointed out in her In Transit column on Monday, we can do a number of things to keep our gas bills down.

Among them:

• Avoid idling. Turn off your engine if you are waiting in a long line of cars to pick your kids up from school or stalled on the street by the passage of a long, slow freight train.

• Take care of your car. That means keeping tires at the correct pressure and making sure your vehicle is properly aligned. If it's acting up, have it checked out.

• Drive more thoughtfully. Following the speed limit is one important step; avoiding rapid starts at stop lights is another.

• Try not to slam on the brakes when it can be avoided. Watching what's ahead and adjusting speeds accordingly to cut down on unnecessary stops allows your engine to work more efficiently.

• Weigh the ever-growing list of gas-saving options, including hybrids and electric cars, when shopping for a new vehicle. To help push consumers in that direction, the state will offer $4,000 rebates for electric vehicles starting July 1. And if you don't go that route, check the mileage on any model you consider before buying or leasing.

• Carpool if you can. Check out public transit options from Metra and Pace. And when the weather allows, consider walking or biking where it's reasonable. Your body (and bank account) will thank you.

Gas prices are averaging $4.67 for a gallon of regular in the Chicago area, in large part because of the war in Ukraine and President Joe Biden's decision to ban Russian oil imports to the United States. Contrast that to a year ago, when gas prices in our area averaged $3.12.

If that sticker shock doesn't move you to conserve where you can, there's also the very real - and quite frightening - costs that energy use imposes on our environment.

A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide - a major factor in climate change - each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

We have it in our power to drastically reduce that. And it's important we do just that.

Minimizing driving and maximizing the efficiency of our cars are vital tools in the battles to lower gas bills and protect our planet.

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