3 Actions That Are Better For the Planet Than Buying a Hybrid

Fossil fuels are at the root of accelerating climate change, so we often hold up advanced technology cars–like hybrids and plug-ins–as the key to a low-carbon lifestyle. But what if you don’t need a new car right now? Or if you simply can’t afford a hybrid? Worse yet, what if driving these high-tech cars doesn’t really make a difference for the planet?

A study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that while buying a Prius or Nissan LEAF plug-in will definitely reduce your gas consumption and personal transportation emissions, these cars really aren’t having the impact we think they are when it comes to taking a bite out of climate change.

“Researchers look at 108 scenarios for adoption of hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and full battery electric vehicles between now and 2050…” reports Fast Co. Exist. “Even assuming electric vehicle adoption rates approaching 50%, the effect in carbon emissions was negligible, they found.”

The main reasons for this are that: a) much of our electricity still comes from fossil fuels and nuclear power; and b) personal vehicles only account for about 20 percent of the average person’s emissions. So if you’ve been feeling guilty because you’re still driving a gas-powered car, you can stop now. The only ones really making a difference are those charging their vehicles entirely through solar or wind power.

The good news is, the inability (or after that news, lack of desire) to buy a hybrid doesn’t mean you can’t still make a difference with your daily actions. In fact, here are three that will go a lot further than driving a high-tech car.

3 Actions That Are Better For the Planet Than Buying a Hybrid

use green energy

1. Use Green Energy

No, we can’t all put solar panels on our home or erect a wind turbine in our yard (yet!), but it’s much easier to source a portion of your electricity from renewable energy than you may think. If you live in the USA, check out this “Green Power Locator” from the EPA. It will help you find out if your utility has green energy for sale, and direct you to the proper channels for signing up. In some cases, it may cost a penny or two more per kWh, but you’ll rest easy knowing you’re helping to support local renewable energy generation, rather than fossil fuels.

family walking instead of driving

2. Drive Your Car Less

Sure a hybrid can help you spend less at the pump, but you know what else can do that? Not driving as much. Walking or taking public transportation whenever possible takes a big bite out of your carbon footprint. Can’t do everything on foot? The rapid growth of peer-to-peer car sharing, bike sharing and ride sharing services makes it possible to get where you’re going without a personal vehicle. You’ll also save money by not paying for insurance or repairs! (For a big list of car, bike and ride sharing services around the world, check out my book, Sharing is Good).

stop energy leaks

3. Stop Leaking

The biggest source of carbon emissions is electricity generation. We use vast amounts of electrical power to heat and cool our homes, schools and offices. Sadly, many of these buildings are inefficient, allowing much of this energy to escape through cracks, poorly insulated walls and out of date windows. Simply sealing up these leaks can go a long way toward reducing energy consumption. And while you’re at it, make sure your appliances aren’t leaching energy while they’re not in use. For tips, see: 5 Easy Ways To Save Money This Winter; Tips to Conserve Energy Costs This Summer; and Simple Home Energy Conservation Tips.

All images via Thinkstock


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Elisa F.
Elisa F4 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

John S.
Past Member 4 years ago

I don't have a car, that's the best option. Especially when you can rent one when needed. I wouldn't recommend anyone eliminate meat, perhaps buy better, organic meat and eat 25% of what you do.

JC Corcoran
JC Corcoran4 years ago

The best chance to mitigate climate change is to severely reduce consumption of animal foods. About 1/2 of human induced warming is attributable to animal agriculture. Methane is 24 times more potent than CO2 but takes only 7 years to cycle out of the atmosphere. CO2 takes around 100 years to come out. Human pursuit of animal protein is the leading cause of methane release and a primary cause of CO2 concentrating in the atmosphere. Check the facts and act!

"A 1% reduction in world-wide meat intake has the same benefit as a three trillion-dollar investment in solar energy." ~ Chris Mentzel, CEO of Clean Energy

"As environmental science has advanced, it has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future: deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease." Worldwatch Institute, "Is Meat Sustainable?"

“If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains... the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.” Environmental Defense Fund

Join the revolution with a 21-Day Vegan Kickstart

Aaron Bouchard
Aaron Bouchard4 years ago

thank you

John Magilke
John Magilke4 years ago

I have a camper van that is fully self contained; no outside source of electricity. I mounted a solar array on top of the camper that charges the battery bank under the bench inside. Everything is 12 volt and runs off the battery power while the sun is down. Even the refrigerator/freezer is 12V. The locomotion for the van, however, is still an internal combustion engine. One small step at a time.

Lucas Kolasa
Lucas Kolasa4 years ago


Brian M.
Past Member 4 years ago

The single best thing anyone can do for the planet is choose a child-free lifestyle. Each child born in the developed world becomes a consumer and that ultimately leads to more greenhouse gas emissions as a result of additional consumerism.

Masahiko E.
.4 years ago


Bryna Pizzo
Bryna Pizzo4 years ago

Thank you for the information and adivce, Beth. Recently, we replaced our sixteen-year-old Camry and didn't think a hybrid would be feasible. However, we were wrong. We use less gas, and the salesman explained that the Prius cleans the air that passes through the engine. I plan on looking into green energy options with our power company as well. :)