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April 2021 | Transportation for a more sustainable world

Happy Earth Month, friends. We have 20-something days of cringey corporate PR campaigns ahead of us, many countries are re-shutting down, and it feels like we're back on the struggle bus. But vaccines are rolling out and I'm optimistic that we're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

People are quite surprised when they find out our weekly changeletters... about sustainability... have never once covered transportation. Even though it's the biggest way to impact our individual carbon footprint.

Yeah, I tell them. It's on my list!

Here's the thing: I just don't think it's very useful to tell people to fly less or ride a bike more. You already know that. Plus, I feel hypocritical as a gas-car driver and a pre-COVID plane-traveler.

However, now that the pandemic is "ending" and people are driving and flying more, it's time we face the facts.

Many people have resorted to flight shaming, and I get it. Simply taking less flights is a HUGE way to reduce your carbon footprint. But also, the term "carbon footprint" was invented as a PR strategy by BP to deflect from their own corporate responsibility, so... instead of making you feel bad, I want to explore how we can solve this together, put pressure on who's really responsible, and be in it for the long term.

P.S. make sure you sign up for our Apri 28 5pm PST event, letter-writing to incarcerated people. Grab your spot by 4/14.

Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

💌 Thinking about sustainability can be overwhelming after a busy workday, so we're here to help. Join over 4,000 other busy people and subscribe to Changeletter, a bite-sized action plan that'll take you 3 minutes or less to read every week.
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Headshot of Ash Borkar (a woman with glasses and a cardigan)
"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar, Change.org
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"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google

Read | Basic facts about transportation

Transportation is an unwieldy sustainability topic because it spans so many challenges — jet fuel alone could be its own Changeletter topic but alas. I wanted to start us off with a broad understanding of how big the problem is.

Read the full 2019 article here from Yale Climate Connections - highlights are below as always.

  • ⛽ In 2017, transportation accounted for almost a 1/3rd of the USA's emissions.

  • 🚗 If we drove just 10% less every year (1,350 fewer miles), we could cut CO2 emissions in the U.S. by the same amount as shutting down 28 coal-fired power plants for a year. Can't wait to take the bus again!

  • ✈️ Air travel contributes to ~2% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions from passenger flights are estimated to increase by 300-700% by 2050. (This estimate was done pre-COVID and everything's all wonky now, but wow)

  • 🐧 32 square feet of Arctic summer sea ice melts for every airline passenger who flies 2,500 miles (basically a 6 hour flight).

  • 👨‍💼 In 2018, U.S. travelers took 463.6 million business trips. That's basically 1.4 business trips per capita lol.


There's a lottt more to cover within transportation: how COVID and public transit highlight racial inequities, how transportation is a public health issue, how building more bike lanes can actually increase biking (yay!), etc.

Listen | Why highways make traffic worse

Sanya, my teammate who leads marketing for Soapbox Project (check out our Insta and say hi), just told our community that today, she starts her new job. She has to commute 60 miles round trip every day and there's no reliable public transit that can take her to and from work.

I used to think traffic was just this Magically Horrible Thing that happened, but it turns out, as with most things, we did this to ourselves. Today's LISTEN module explains how, in a 6-min video.


We have a transportation discussion thread going on in our community - come join the conversation and add pics of you riding your bike or taking the train (or being mad in traffic)! 


Before we get started, I want to re- re- re- re-emphasize that fighting climate change depends on fighting for justice especially in light of Daunte Wright's death. He was a Black father shot by a police officer at a routine traffic stop — this is not separate from our topic of transportation. Everything is related, and I'm here to help you unpack the layers/find resources. We're in this together.

Wild things I learned from the vid:

  • 🤑 The Katy Freeway in Texas has 26 lanes at its widest point. But making the freeway super chonky actually made traffic worse because of induced demand.

  • 🏠 Highways connect suburbs to city centers and encourage more developments along the route which encourages more highways which... you get it. Induced demand is when more supply creates more demand. It happens basically with all roads. The video has a great visualization.

  • 🛣️ More highways will never be the congestion to solution (because of induced demand). Plus, they're costly af! The Katy Freeway expansion cost taxpayers $3 billion. The video includes solutions like congestion pricing, better transit choices, equitable land use policies, behavior change, and more.

  • 🚵‍♂️ The city of Boston even removed a freeway in the 1990s and replaced it with a bike-friendly boulevard. This reduced congestion by 62%! 

Traffic sucks and it's really complex, but the video does a fantastic job at pinpointing the problems we create for ourselves. Check it out, and in our next module (ACT), we'll go over solutions you can get involved in.


Join the community discussion if you have any questions or want to share more about transportation in your area.

ACT | Sustainable air travel and more

I'm ready to take a nap, treat my butt to Honeycomb Luxury, stare at a beautiful Earth Day print and listen to lo-fi (not all at once lol), but I gotta get you your action plan on transportation first. There's 124,847 things you could do to make transportation more equitable and clean, but I've picked 5 that are most relevant for the times we're in.

  • Offset your flights. Preventing emissions is better than offsetting, but you may be thinking about taking a post vax vacation soon. Rose Hartley, one of our Soapbox community members (and the sustainability manager at Imperfect Foods) shared her personal 3-step offset framework with us. Check out her 1-min read to see how she offset a tonne of carbon for ~$17 USD.
  • Sub out 1 car trip a week. I will let you get creative with this one. I'm challenging myself to bike (instead of drive) when I meet up outdoors with friends. Hint: e-bikes are a great hack if you have them in your area. They're also a fun weekend activity!
  • Understand your city budget. Transportation is an economic issue. Look up your city budget and see how much funding goes to transit. This can affect how you vote in local elections!
  • Join a transit advocacy group. I recently joined my neighborhood greenway group — turns out one of our Soapbox readers leads one (thanks for the recs, Brie)! National US orgs you can check out: America Walks, People for Bikes, and Smart Growth America.
  • Push for change at your company. If we learned anything this year, it's that business travel is essentially just a flex. We don't need it! Write an email to your HR department proposing an essential travel policy. At the very minimum, you can ask for transparency in your company's travel footprint and get them to purchase offsets for all employees. If you're in our membership community, I'll have a pre-written email you can send by the end of this month.

REFLECT | Highways, racism, yikes

If there is ONE thing I hope you'll take away from our April transportation topic, it's that social, environmental, and economic issues are inextricably connected.

This short NPR article/clip (4-min listen) talks about the impact of Joe Biden's infrastructure plan on racist urban planning, which will set a standard for countries around the world.


I'll let you peruse it, but 3 highlights:

  • President Biden's $2 trillion plan to improve America's infrastructure promises "to address the racism baked into decades of urban planning in the U.S."
  • A lot of today's highway date back to 1956. Freeways literally segregated and destroyed thriving communities of color (like, bulldozed them). Biden's plan includes funding to dismantle some of these projects.
  • Freeways contribute to disproportionate air and noise pollution in communities of color. The $2T infrastructure package can go towards righting these wrongs and formally recognizing neighborhoods lost to highway construction.


NPR says (and I agree) that it's a positive sign that the highest levels of leadership are examining highways' role in structural racism. There's SO much to learn on this topic but the NPR piece is a good, quick place to start. I also highly recommend the book The Color of Law.

Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

💌 Thinking about sustainability can be overwhelming after a busy workday, so we're here to help. Join over 4,000 other busy people and subscribe to Changeletter, a bite-sized action plan that'll take you 3 minutes or less to read every week.
Take action
Headshot of Ash Borkar (a woman with glasses and a cardigan)
"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar, Change.org
Headshot of Meghan Mehta speaking at Google with a microphone in her hand
"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google