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  1. Opinion

Tampa Bay’s CO2 emissions are up by more than half in 30 years. We’re the problem. | Editorial

Where is our mass transit?
Traffic backs up between the Clearwater Memorial Causeway Bridge and Clearwater Beach. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Oct. 18
Updated Oct. 21

The best thing Tampa Bay leaders can do to fight climate change is simply get more cars off the road. But that’s a hollow hope in a region that still lacks meaningful mass transit, and where building more toll roads is seen as progress. A sense of urgency in solving the transportation problem is no longer just about convenience and economic competitiveness — it’s also now about global warming. Tampa Bay is particularly vulnerable to every aspect of climate change, from sea level rise to more powerful hurricanes. That’s something to ponder while stuck in another gridlock on the Howard Frankland Bridge.

In the last 30 years, tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide, have risen by more than half in the Tampa Bay area, according to an analysis from the New York Times based on data collected by Boston University. And according to new Census data, 117,000 Tampa Bay workers spend at least an hour getting to work and another hour getting home, polluting all the way — our air and even our water, when nitrogen settles out. This is lose-lose, for productivity and for the planet.

Need proof of the need to act? Here are some facts that illustrate the depth of the problem:

55 percent

is the increase in carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks in Tampa Bay since 1990.

Heavy traffic is seen along the southbound lanes of I-275 on the Howard Frankland bridge. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]

2017

was the first year in which cars, trucks and SUVs began to spew more carbon dioxide than electric utilities across the nation. Utilities are cleaning up their act and reduced emissions each year in the five years leading up to 2017, the last year for which the EPA has records. But vehicle emissions rose every year in that period.

A vehicle's exhaust pipe releases fumes. [ANDREAS RENTZ | Getty Images]

4%

is the amount by which air pollution has gone up per person in the Tampa Bay area since 1990. We have more people, and each of us is polluting more, on average.

TECO power plant at Port Sutton [CLIFF MCBRIDE | Tampa Bay Times]

1.2 million hours

is how much time Tampa Bay’s workforce spends commuting each day, about 30 percent more than 10 years ago.

Traffic is seen during morning rush hour headed northbound on Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg. [ELLIOTT, LOREN | Elliott, Loren]

Four out of five

Tampa Bay commuters drive to work alone, clogging roads with solo drivers in a region plagued by sprawl. What happened to car pools?

A busy intersection in Tampa [URSO, CHRIS | Tampa Bay Times]

18,994

take public transit to work in Tampa Bay. That doesn’t sound horrible until you discover that more people walk (20,482) than take the bus.

Samantha Sheffield, 19, St. Petersburg commutes to her job in Largo using a Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority bus. Her commute is 2-2.5 hours. [SCOTT KEELER | TAMPA BAY TIMES]

56%

of Tampa Bay workers have a commute of under 30 minutes. But in 2010, 63 percent did.

It’s us.

Sure, cows and coal-fired electric plants may be bad for the environment. But transport is the single worst source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States today, and our cars, trucks and SUVs are the major culprit. Nationally, we drove 46 percent more miles in 2017 than in 1990.

Until Tampa Bay leaders embrace real mass transit, this problem will only get worse.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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