Millions of commuters, businesses and various forms of transportation are using mostly nonrenewable resources for energy. We are slowly moving towards renewable sources, but as carbon emissions increase and the threat of climate change looms over the horizon, we need to speed up the process.
Interestingly, alongside the terrors of the COVID-19 pandemic came a drastic decrease in commuting, which astronomically changed our carbon output — although the rates are returning to pre-pandemic levels. Still, in 2020, the United States’ carbon energy emissions were the lowest that have been seen in 40 years.
As we transition back to varying degrees of normal life, it is important for us to maintain and even improve upon the positive impact that we had on carbon emissions last year. If we continue decreasing pollutants, as we have begun to do, there is a chance of meaningful reversal of global warming consequences.
The most apparent solution is electric transportation. Although the initial purchase cost of an electric vehicle is daunting, the advantages are endless for both businesses and individuals. For businesses and state governments, there is an exhaustive list of tax incentives for using alternative fuel vehicles.
Similarly, there are incentives for individuals. Upon individual purchase of an electric car, you can get discounts on electricity to charge your car, be eligible for tax credits and even ride in the high occupancy vehicle lane. The Department of Energy also reports that alternative fuel vehicles with an alternative fuel license plate may use HOV lanes regardless of how many people are in the car.
Georgia Power offers "plug-in electric vehicle rate savings". On average, we spend $107 per month on gas -- where we could be spending only $19 per month on charging, instead.
Moreover, Georgia Power has several plans that can be adjusted for your charging needs. For example, you can prepay a set amount, like a fixed 12-month bill that doesn't ever change, or get rebates for only charging your vehicle overnight.
An issue in Gwinnett County that directly affects Athens is the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. Every time the issue of expanding MARTA is brought to a vote, the suburban folks have said no.
When Gwinnett County voters most recently denied an expansion of the transit system at the ballot box, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that "young people" or voters who are under 50 years of age, are the most passionate about expanding public transportation. The problem: Our generation is unengaged.
Gwinnett county rejected expanding MARTA in the 1970s, 1990 and in 2019. I think the overwhelming reason for the "no" is the stigma surrounding MARTA.
According to the AJC, one voter said that Atlanta "has a reputation for murder and rape — the wrong people", and citizens do not want that group of individuals in Gwinnett County. Another said, “Do we really want a direct line for the drug dealers at Five Points to get new markets among our fourth- and fifth-graders?”
While I will not deny that drug abusers and others may use public transportation, so do business people, students and families. It is not fair for voters to let a few bad eggs ruin the chance of public transportation for everyone. Not only would an expanse of MARTA decrease traffic, but it would also curb carbon emissions without commuters all having to buy electric vehicles.
An important thing we, as college students can do, is be informed and engaged in elections. If you are registered to vote in Gwinnett — and many University of Georgia students are — you can turn the page on the county’s consistent denial of transit expansion.
Luckily, Athens has a bus service of its own. Nineteen buses provide 18 routes covering 44-square-miles of Athens-Clarke County and parts of the UGA campus. It’s also currently free to ride, its fare subsidized by the American Rescue Plan.
The ACC Multi-Modal Center, where many of the routes end, was actually designed with a potential rail connection to Atlanta in mind, though that cannot happen until trends change in Gwinnett about rail. Currently, 100 out of 150 counties in Georgia have a bus system. Imagine the reduction in carbon emissions that would be seen if extensive bus systems were found within all of Georgia’s counties.
Overall, the time for reducing carbon emissions is now. COVID-19 gave us a valuable jump-start by forcing us to stay at home and off of the roads. Hopefully, we will recognize the importance of the changes we have seen over the past year, and keep going in the right direction.