Cars and trucks are important and valuable parts of our American lives, economy and culture.  However, in Massachusetts, transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gases, especially CO2.  This comes from the gasoline and diesel fuel we put in our engines.  How much we drive and the type of vehicle we drive has a big impact on our carbon footprint.  Pope Francis could have been describing Massachusetts when he wrote: “many cars, used by one or more people, circulate in cities, causing traffic congestion, raising the level of pollution, and consuming enormous quantities of non-renewable energy.”  Sadly, around Boston and statewide, most of us drive alone.  As Massachusetts population is expected to grow by about 400,000 people in the next 20 years, with even high growth in Boston and other urban centers, traffic will make our commutes and our air pollution even worse than they are now. As the Pope reminds us: “advances have been made in the production of non-polluting energy and in the improvement of public transportation.  These achievements do not solve global problems, but they do show that men and women are still capable of intervening positively.” 

Parish and Schools

Parishes and schools based in large cities will have a very different set of Transportation needs and opportunities for impacting the carbon emission compared to their rural counterparts.  In building the best plan for your organization engage with your community to get their ideas and concerns.

Encourage Carpooling

One way that Catholics can continue to respond positively to Laudato Si is by sharing rides to Sunday Mass, school, and parish events.  Some parishes attract parishioners from as many different towns.  Others, especially suburban parishes, have more tightly clustered parishioners. There are many opportunities in each parish for folks to carpool to church or school, and thus reduce their consumption of fossil.  Carpooling to church can also serve as an extra way for parishioners to get to know each other and ease parking issues. 

For commuters, MassDOT offers tips and guidance on carpooling through to help improve commuters set up car pools, save money, and improve the quality of our air.  Additionally, parishes and parish organizations can develop carpool lists and databases to link parishioners interested in carpooling. 

EV Car Charging Stations

Parishes and schools can encourage parishioners, teachers, and students to drive electric cars to work and church by installing a few charging stations.  As these tend to be near buildings that can accommodate them, they can also have the best parking spaces! You can contact your electric utility for help in buying EV charging stations, including rebates and special billing rates for electric car users.

Parking for Hybrid Cars

Aside from parking spaces necessarily set aside for the handicapped and the elderly, who doesn’t want to park as close to the church or school as possible?  Depending on available parking space, parishes could set aside a row of spaces reserved for parishioners, students, and teachers who drive hybrid, electric, or alternative-fueled vehicles. Rewarding parishioners who are committed to the spirit of Laudato Si is one small gesture that can change hearts and minds.

Family Actions for Transportation

Our lives depend on getting to our work, school, church, vacation and anywhere efficiently and safely.  A family's decision about their mode of transportation and their personal vehicle(s) are very personal decisions.  But we need to understand that this decision also impacts our community and the entire planet.  The carbon footprint and other emissions can vary by a factor of 10-20 times which can harm others.  But the cost, availability and time to destination can also vary dramatically which affects our family's time and budget.  

Carpool to work, church, school

Did you know the average American spends 42 hours a year in traffic? And, did you know studies have shown that using HOV lanes can save 10 to 15 minutes in your morning commute? There are so many benefits to carpooling or ride-sharing. It saves money, gives you more time to read, listen to music, chat, or pray. It also cuts down on traffic, which is what makes our commutes so miserable. You may be rewarded by NuRide for making the decision to greening the environment by carpooling, biking, or using public transportation. NuRide also helps commuters find travel companions who have similar traveling routes and working hours.  Carpooling with friends and co-workers also strengthens personal bonds in our increasingly tuned-out world.

MassCommute has a list of Transportation Management Associations (TMA) that help  commuters to improve their commute, save money, and improve the quality of our air around Massachusetts.

Alternatives to Driving

There are many benefits to driving less and many alternatives. Both active and public transportation can greatly reduce harmful CO2 emissions to the atmosphere and promote energy conservation. Pope Francis frequently used public transport when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires and rode on a public tram on his way to deliver his address on World Youth Day

  • If possible, use public transportation such as buses or subways. It is one of the most effective actions you can take. A single person, driving 20 miles round trip, who switches to public transportation, can reduce his or her annual CO2 emissions by 4,800 pounds per year. According to the American Public Transportation Association, that is equal to a 10% reduction in greenhouse gases emissions produced by a household with two cars and two adults!
  • Simply walk or bike. When the weather permits, you can walk or bike to your destination if it is not too far from your starting point. Not only are there significant health benefits but you are also contributing to cleaner air and improving the environment by reducing vehicle exhaust emissions. If you do not own a bike, there are non-profit earn-a-bike programs in Boston and Worcester, committed to recycling bike parts and social change.
  • Join a bike sharing program. There are over 160 bike sharing stations across Boston neighborhoods. These network of stations are run by Hubway, a program launched on Earth Day and owned by the cities of Boston. Bikes can be unlocked at one station and dropped off at any other stations, making the bike sharing system an essential and eco-friendly mode of transportation for Bostonians.
  • Try ride sharing or car sharing services. When traveling as a group, there are ride sharing
  • services you can utilize to reduce the growth in vehicle miles of travel per person. There are also car sharing services that allow you to rent-by-the-hour. Less cars on the road means less air pollution and more green spaces.
  • Both Boston and Worcester also have human-powered transportation. Several organizations in Boston will bring you from one point to another on a rickshaw. 

Vacation Carbon Footprint

Americans need to take more vacations!  However, be careful of your carbon footprint when traveling.  Air travel is the most CO2- intensive way to travel, so unless you are going overseas, consider taking a train.  Try a local vacation to one of the many beautiful New England coastal area.   If you need to travel by plane, try and offset your flight's carbon footprint at your destination. When you arrive at your destination use public transportation as much as possible.

Drive fuel-efficient car

When buying a car or truck, always consider its gas  mileage, carbon footprint, and environmental footprint. Buy consistent with your true needs. EPA has put together a “Green Vehicle Guide” to assist with learning about less polluting and more efficient vehicles. Along with that, you can compare different vehicle models and find the most environmentally friendly that suits your needs using the Fuel Economy and Environment Label. Driving a fuel-efficient car that minimizes our impact on the environment identifies us as someone who cares about the future, and who identifies with the spirit of Laudato Si’. Fuel-efficient cars also save lots of money on gas. There are also a growing number of charging stations in Massachusetts. Additionally, Massachusetts has a program called MOR-EV offering rebates to electric car owners in efforts to prevent air pollution. Learn as much as you can about fuel efficiency standards, and which cars and trucks rate the highest, so that when you shop for a new car or truck, you can find the one that says you are a snazzy driver and someone who cares about creation.

Remember Simple Things

You don’t need to warm your car in the morning unless it’s a very old model.  Don’t idle while waiting to pick someone up, or waiting outside a store.  Avoid using the drive thru.  Don’t drive around the parking lot looking for a space; pick the first one and get a little exercise!  When approaching a red light, start coasting so that when it turns green, you are already moving.  Combine shopping trips into one.  Keep your tires fully inflated and your engine tuned up (if you have one).