Simple changes to the Mile per Gallon standard

So two wedges towards 450by2050 can be achieved through better driving habits (reduction and extraordinarily better fuel consumption), right? How do we achieve them?

Fuel economy is pretty straight-forward - a combination of business/environmental ethics, government regulation, and consumer pressure. Not to say that it's easy (as citizens of the United States should know), but we seem to be getting onto the path. Obviously, technological development in the form of hybrids and plug-in electrics help enormously - and may let us achieve the 60mpg average that represents a stabilization wedge.

But mileage reduction - people driving half as much, even as we're adding more and more cars to the world - is a little trickier. Mass transit and alternative transportation play a part - but right now these things are pretty undervalued. Cars, for both convenience and prestige (especially in developing nations), are a way of life. We're moving towards reduction in some places, especially urban settings, but suburbs aren't going away, and neither is car culture.

But there are simple steps we can take to give people a better picture of their habits - and the easiest step that I can see is to mandate a switch from miles per gallon to a more information measure. (Inspired by posts and comments on Yglesias and Kevin Drum on Mother Jones.)

On those sites, there's some talk about replacing miles per gallon with gallons per 100 miles (a kilometer equivalent of which is already used some places in Europe, though I'm unclear on those details). The idea here is that it represents the diminishing returns of fuel economy a little better. Consider what seems like the identical leap between going from 10mpg to 20mpg and 20mpg to 30mpg. In the first case, you can suddenly travel 100 miles on half as much fuel (10 gallons to 5 gallons). In the second, though the mpg changes by 10 again, you're only going from 5 gallons per 100 miles to 3.33 gallons per 100 miles - nowhere near as much of a savings.

So that's one possibility. But there's another one that I favor even more - comparing gallons to travel time rather than travel distance. Essentially this: we assume that you travel 30 miles per hour in city traffic and 60 miles per hour on the highway (I'm assuming - straight-forward research could result in more accurate numbers). From there, we can say that your car gets, say, 1 hour of city travel or 2 hours of highway travel per gallon (an equivalent of 30 miles per gallon).

Suddenly you're able to weigh your options better - you'll have a much better, general idea of how far a fill-up will get you. Even better than that, you'll be able to gauge a change much better; you'll think about it and realize that your neighbor's plug-in electric hybrid can get 3 hours of city travel per gallon, instead of just comparing 30mpg to 90mpg and trying to remember how many miles your commute to work is to make sense of it all.

Would this help conservation? Research into similar sorts of steps taken with home electrical usage (some of which is detailed in the posts and comments linked above) seems to indicate that it would.

So let's do it. There's no reason not to want better, more straight-forward information. That's how we can start ordering our world, after-all.

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