- Ian Thompson
Tomorrow is Earth Day! We'd like to honor the day by sharing our household's experience of trying something new in '21 that was a little uncertain at first, but which has ended up reducing our impact on the planet. It's also saving us a lot of money every month.
Electric Vehicles (EVs) produce less pollution than cars powered by internal combustion engines. If they get their electricity from a clean energy source, they can run with no emissions at all. EVs are becoming more common every day in the big cities, but they are rarer than hens teeth out in rural places, like where we live. Long distances and few charging stations in the country are real obstacles for adopting an EV, even for people who might really want to make that transition. In line with Nan Awaya Farm's goal of healing the land, we made the transition this spring. It has been a learning experience, but a positive one. We'd like to offer our story in hopes that it might be encouraging to someone else out there considering the transition to an EV, regardless of where they live.
Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, humans have dumped around 1.5 trillion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere as a byproduct of burning fossil fuels. Climate change is happening as the planet reaches a new balance with all of that CO2 up there. As CO2 emissions continue to accumulate, climate change becomes more severe - to the point that humanity is jeopardizing our own future. Although the US is lowering our emissions somewhat, our nation has cumulatively emitted more greenhouse gases than any other country in the world. Transportation is currently the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in US, and the largest share of transportation emissions comes from personal vehicles.
When we bought our previous vehicle new in 2011, it was the most fuel efficient model we could afford. When we moved to Nan Awaya Farm last year, it doubled the distance of our daily commute. As a gallon of gasoline burns, it puts 26 pounds of CO2 into the air. With a long daily commute - from the farm into town for work and then back to the farm again - our humble little car was spewing an incredible 600lbs of CO2 into the air every week. COVID hit shortly after we moved to the farm, but if we had made this commute for a full year, it would have meant putting more than 30,000lbs of CO2 into the air. This is damage that can be quantified. A growing number of companies specialize in pulling CO2 directly out of the air and trapping it underground to combat climate change. The price - $500/ton, or more. The cost of repairing the harm caused by one year of emissions from our daily commute - $7,500-plus. That's a lot of damage. Working to restore the native landscapes of our farm on one hand, while causing that much damage to the earth through our daily commute on the other, was quite a contradiction. You might even call it self-defeat.
Building a new vehicle takes a lot of resources from the earth. From the day we bought it, we had planned to stick with our previous vehicle until it just couldn't carry us any farther, and then see what was available on the market. Our car finally reached that point in January, after having taken us 240,000 miles, the equivalent of going around the planet 10 times. We had hoped that it would hold out until the infrastructure had been built out to make getting a fully electric vehicle practical. In rural America, that has not yet happened. With our car inoperative and no immediate prospects, we rented a vehicle to get us to work for a week or two while we figured things out. This provided an opportunity to talk with Uncle Steve, who has owned electric vehicles for several years.
Uncle Steve surprised us by recommending an electric hybrid. These vehicles are able to run on both plug in electric and gasoline. The tradeoff is a shorter battery range than a purely electric vehicle. I had thought of electric hybrids as sort of a gimmick for car manufacturers just to meet mileage quotas, but I had failed to really understand what they offer. In our neck of the woods, they offer the ability to travel as far as possible on zero emissions, while also having the backup of gasoline when there just isn't any place available to plug the vehicle up for a charge.
On a very limited budget, we went to Carmax and found a used Chevy Volt hybrid electric for about the same price we would have paid for a gasoline vehicle with similar mileage. Lightening quick acceleration and a silent electric engine that produces zero emissions are just some of the perks that come with an EV. We charge the car up every evening at our house on free solar power, and drive the first 50 miles of our morning commute without producing any CO2. Choctaw Nation has graciously installed some solar-powered car chargers for employees to use at work, and we take full advantage of those whenever work schedules allow. If we can charge up on both ends, we do our 120-mile daily commute only about 7/10 of a gallon of gasoline. We figure this car is saving us about $150 per month on gas and oil compared to our previous car, along with cutting our household's CO2 emissions by something like 20,000 lbs per year. Not a bad transition... We still have plenty more to do though.
This is our Earth Day '21 story. We'd love to hear yours in the comments.