With Houston inundated, Caribbean islands devastated, Florida lashed until powerless and the Rogue Valley choked in smoke, the cascading effects of climate change are undeniable. The window is narrowing for avoiding even worse calamities in the future. We must act now, and be bold about it.
Because America’s electric grid is gradually greening (though not fast enough), some analyses now identify transportation as our nation’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. That’s certainly true in Ashland, where we have no power plants or large manufacturers. Unquestionably the number one year-round contributor to global warming here is the internal combustion engine (ICE), a profuse greenhouse-gas emitter that we employ largely for personal transportation.
We’ve got to stop. Every time we drive our cars up to the gas pump, we reinforce demand for fossil fuels while financing the petroleum industry. The technology to do otherwise is available now, starting with our own two feet and ending with an $80,000-plus Tesla Model X — with plentiful options in between.
So let’s set a goal for ending use of vehicles powered by internal combustion engines — hereafter dubbed ICEwagens — for personal transportation within Ashland’s city limits. And fix a date. I believe we can end Ashland’s ICE age within a decade, by 2027.
We’ll start by recognizing a transportation hierarchy for prioritizing incentives and — eventually — penalties. We give first priority to pedestrian transport, then move on through bicycles, transit buses and trolleys (preferably electric), electric bicycles and scooters, electric vehicles (EVs), and perhaps — only during the interim — very high-mileage subcompact and hybrid ICEwagens.
But wait, doesn’t charging an electric car require burning of fossil fuels to generate the electricity? In Ashland, fortunately, hardly at all. Our BPA-supplied power is already more than 80 percent renewable, mainly hydroelectric but with more wind and solar added yearly. Electric outlets in Ashland are far greener than gas pumps, and local initiatives promise to push our electricity closer to 100 percent renewable.
So when human power is not an option, electricity is. Low-mileage used EVs are available for under $10,000. True, the smallest new EVs start around double that even after deducting tax credits, but hey, you don’t need a new Tesla to get from your house to BiMart. A used Nissan Leaf will do the job. And if you need to drive to Seattle, a plug-in hybrid can give you 50-plus miles on battery before the gas engine kicks in beyond Grants Pass. (Such is my current compromise on a $199-per-month lease.)
Ending our ICE age is an ambitious goal that demands a “carrot and stick” approach, beginning with incentives for choosing alternatives to ICEwagens. We start with aggressive measures to make Ashland more pedestrian-friendly, with better sidewalks and downtown car-free malls. We also encourage bicycle use with more bike paths, secure parking/locking and free or low-cost loaner bikes. We work with RVTD for expanded bus service and we subsidize fares in Ashland. And we reward EV drivers with reserved parking spaces and plentiful free charging stations.
At some point, we phase in the “stick.” Eventually there will have to be penalties for using ICEwagens for personal transportation in and around Ashland. Because ICEwagen use for going in and out of the city for long trips may be inevitable for an extended period, most penalties will be based on parking. For example, ICEwagen parking permits would be available for residential streets (keyed to that neighborhood) and visitors could park ICEwagens in hotel lots. But ICEwagens would be fined for parking in city-owned parking lots — now exclusively for plug-ins — or on city streets outside the residents’ tagged neighborhood.
Drastic measures? Perhaps. But time is short, and some city has to be the first to step forward and say “enough is enough.” It’s not all that difficult or costly to ditch your ICEwagen and take to foot, pedal power or — when needed — electromotive force. (Note: Driving electric is also quiet and fun.)
Let’s do it. We all need to get on the bandwagon. If we don’t end our ICE age soon, we humans may well go the way of the woolly mammoth.
— Bruce Borgerson lives in Ashland.