What we need are big answers... and a small hire car
Muskegon, Michigan - We flew in to Muskegon airport late afternoon. The temperature was hovering just below freezing and snow was forecast. There was an unforgiving wind blowing in off Lake Michigan.
We had heavy luggage and we needed to get to our hotel. It is relatively close by US standards, a couple of miles away so how do we get there?
We'd missed the last bus but there is a taxi service or there are hire cars. So what do we do?
We booked a hire car, that's what we did. That's right, the very first day of my trip and I am tooling through the streets of Muskegon at the wheel of a shiny black Mazda 6.
Is that a cop out?
We say no because, as Sara says, the "car- and plane-free challenge" only applies to long distance travel around America. And let's be clear, Sara set the challenge so she should know.
The point is this: we are here to work. Our cameraman Peter, who arrived on a later plane, has lots of heavy equipment. We have a full diary of people to meet and things we need to film. If we were to depend on buses we simply wouldn't get anything done.
Like most American towns and cities Muskegon is one great big sprawl. There is a bus service, the Muskegon Area Transport Service, but it isn't that regular and isn't well used - 94% of Muskegites, Muskegons, Muskegonites (can anyone help here?) drive. Check the website, MATS runs a how to ride the MATS bus workshop to encourage more use!
To give you an idea of the problem take the family we're visiting here, Gary and Cheryl Howard. They live in a suburb of the city. The nearest bus stop is literally miles from their home. The only practical way to use the service would be to drive to the bus stop which would rather defeat the point.
Of course we could get taxis but would that offer any carbon saving? Taxis tend to be older bigger vehicles. Our Mazda 6 lists its city/highway fuel consumption (in US gallons) as 21/30 mpg. That's well below the 35 mpg fuel emissions targets President Obama endorsed recently. He implied current fuel consumption of American cars is 25 mpg but the best figures I could find show the average of 17.2 mpg achieved by vehicles in America in 2006.
And we mustn't lose sight of why we are here in America in the first place. We're here because I was disappointed in the 20% cut in emissions my family achieved having done absolutely everything within reason we could think of to cut carbon (watch the full film here).
We're here to search for the big answers, to see how our whole society might be able to make the huge cuts in emissions the scientists say are necessary.
To those who say we should be trying harder "because every little bit helps," I quote Professor David MacKay of Cambridge University. He says in his book Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air:
"if everyone does a little, we'll achieve only a little".
So when we leave Muskegon it'll be on a Greyhound bus but in the meantime we'll be keeping the car.
Oh and by the way, I had a steak for dinner.