I never go to gas stations anymore. I’ve stopped giving oil companies my money. I feel a bit like a junkie who’s finally starting to kick her addiction.
It started with changing a light bulb or two. Then I started eating more local food from a CSA and less meat (Cows are up there with cars when it comes to emissions.) They were little things, like deciding to only buy California wine (not a major a sacrifice!). But they were enough to make me start realizing that there are things I can DO besides wring my hands when it comes to reducing my carbon footprint. I went a little further -- creating a video that has over 60,000 views on YouTube (link in footer) and a website on ocean acidification. However, I was still using electricity and driving a minivan.
My husband and I are not generally early adopters. We're careful with money. But we did our research, and so our next step was not just a vote for a new technology, but a practical move as well. We put ourselves on a waiting list for the Nissan Leaf, an all-electric car. In the meantime, we got solar panels on our house, producing way more energy than we needed for our energy-efficient house -- specifically planning for the electric car. That meant that when we got the car this summer, we just drove home and plugged it into the sun.
We haven’t invested in a charging station. We just use a regular outlet. We charge it overnight and can drive up to 100 miles on a charge. We try to maximize all our miles on it, so sometimes we get low on miles. Once when we got low, we stopped at my in-law's house, plugged it in there, went for a pleasant walk while it charged a bit, and then headed home. But generally speaking, 100 mile range is more than enough. It re-charges when you are stopping and going downhill so you can drive it up the mountain, and then watch it recharge all the way down.
The Nissan Leaf fits my two kids and a dog, and handles better than any car I've ever driven. And I really love never having to stop for gas! But it wasn't until a friend's daughter stopped by the other night with a bunch of her college-age friends to show off the car, and when another friend's 13-year old daughter took a picture of it with her smartphone to share with her friends, that I realized that while we chose it sight unseen purely to reduce our emissions, we've found ourselves driving something that really is very cool.
And indeed, with its touch-screen and rear camera, it feels like a luxury car, but without the luxury price. In fact, a $5,000 tax rebate we got covers the lease for the first year. Since we don’t pay for gas, the car is essentially free right now.
Obviously solar panels aren’t free, but they are a sound investment. We spent $18,000 after tax rebates on lots of solar panels. Here’s the simple math: $50/month electric bill + $200/month gasoline bill = payoff in 6 years. Electric is a lot cheaper than gasoline so it’s not exactly a fair comparison. But with expected inflation in electric costs and the fact we can now get paid for excess energy we produce, it still makes sense from a strictly economic perspective.
I can’t kid myself that I’m home free when it comes to the environment. What about the energy used to make my new electric car? What about all those plane flights we like to take? However, I am closer than I have ever been to feeling like it is indeed possible to be carbon neutral.
A few years ago, when my son was about 6, he liked me to read him Calvin & Hobbes comics. In one comic, Calvin says, “Hey mom, what’s this I hear about the greenhouse effect?” “They say the pollutants we dump in the air are trapping in the sun’s heat and its going to melt the polar ice caps!” “Sure, YOU’LL be gone when it happens, but I won’t! Nice planet you’re leaving me!”
His mom says, “This from the kid who wants to be chauffeured any place more than a block away.”
Calvin replies, “Hey, nobody told me about the ice caps, all right?”
Re-reading this comic to my young son 20 years after it was written in 1989, I realized how long I’ve known about global warming. And it’s not just theoretical anymore. The ice caps are melting. Disasters of all sorts (fires, floods, hurricanes, droughts) are increasing, and this is with 1-2 degrees of warming -- not the 11 or so that may happen in my children's lifetime. It will get worse, but our actions now determine how much worse.
The good news is that the technology now exists to dramatically reduce our emissions -- if we’re willing to make doing so a priority. And, at least in the case of things like the electric car, it’s actually a whole lot of fun!