Me and my SUV

  • Carla Wise

 

I love my purple 4Runner.  She's a 1998 stick-shift with 177,000 miles on the odometer, and her name is Jesse.  She's been all over the West, camping on dirt roads and shuttling for river trips.

Once, in the high desert of central Oregon, I hit a patch of ice going fast on a cold, bluebird day, slid, spun around and came to rest with a jolt just two inches from a large ponderosa pine. She's never broken down, and as she gets older and more scraped up, I only grow more attached. Yet I devote a lot of my time writing about climate change.  So my attachment to Jesse -- who is, let's face it, an SUV -- can seem on good days like an inexplicable quirk and on bad days like hypocrisy.

Why this admission? Because I've come to understand, in a personal way, the dilemmas involved in wrestling with what is necessary, desirable and even possible in addressing the climate crisis.

Perhaps it is already too late to prevent catastrophic climate change.  But if it's not, solutions will need to include both technological fixes -- electric vehicles, windmills, solar cells, etc. -- and remaking our lives so that fossil fuel isn't required for almost everything we consume. We'll need both these approaches, and neither really leaves much room for my 4Runner.  Yet why has so little progress been made?  And why haven't I given up my beloved vehicle?

Here's my answer: I have made changes; I drive less, garden more, buy more local organic food, buy renewable energy from our power company. But these changes will never be enough to turn this thing around in time. Anyone working seriously on this must know this, too. The needed shifts will never take place simply by choice, and in any case, these shifts are way too small.

There is broad scientific agreement that to avoid the likelihood of catastrophic climate change, we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 80 percent by 2050. Or maybe even more. Eighty percent will not happen based on individual acts of conscience.

I am not the first to notice this.  I am just one illustration of why it is true.  Even though I know that individual choices are destabilizing the climate and threatening our wellbeing and our very survival, I continue to drive.

The scale of change we need will be hard. Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, argues for cap-and-trade legislation along with a mechanism to phase out coal, because the big changes required will happen only when it is too expensive not to make them.  Unfortunately, federal efforts to pass a cap-and-trade law have foundered, and Congress is now attempting to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, at the moment, legislative solutions seem impossible in a Congress filled with stubborn climate-change deniers.

What can we do?  I'm doing two things: working to protect the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, and hoping gas prices keep going up, an unpopular position if there ever was one. I know some people will suffer. I am not making light of the pain of this. For the poorest among us, skyrocketing gas prices in 2008 caused serious hardship, including hunger and homelessness.

Today, we are again unprepared to pay a lot more for gas, food and everything else that is affected by higher energy prices. But the last time gas prices approached $4 a gallon, General Motors closed four truck plants and halted Hummer SUV production. Home purchases in far removed subdivisions fell much faster than those closer to urban centers.  People began driving less, and ridership on public transportation went up all over the country.

Skyrocketing oil prices, as painful as they are, may help us start doing what's necessary. As for me, while I have not sold Jesse, this latest gas price spike has helped me change my habits again.  I've given up driving one day a week, and started busing and carpooling much more often.

I've called my political representatives to ask them not to allow amendments stripping the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority.  And I'm hoping that the next election will bring a saner approach to climate change action.

In the meantime, rising oil prices, along with mounting climate destabilization, might just cause enough pain to spur us into action before our window of opportunity closes and the climate spirals out of control.

Carla Wise is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). She lives in Corvallis, Oregon.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • PLANNING & BUILDING DIRECTOR
    Searching for candidates with a Bachelor's Degree in Planning, Community Development, or a related field with 7 years' experience in land use planning forums, including...
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • NEWS DIRECTOR
    Based in the state capitol, Boise State Public Radio is the premier NPR affiliate in Idaho. With 18 transmitters and translators, it reaches 2/3rds of...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR MOJAVE DESERT LAND TRUST
    Organization Background: The Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT) is a non-profit 501(3)(c) organization, founded in 2006. Our mission is to protect the ecosystems of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is accepting applications for an Executive Director. This position will provide leadership to RSA, develop a fund raising plan, and effectively communicate...
  • EQUITY IN THE OUTDOORS COORDINATOR
    The Equity in the Outdoors Coordinator will lead community engagement, program implementation and development, and data collection for the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement (EVOM). EVOM...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a personable individual who is passionate about conservation to join our Sandpoint Field Office. The Community Engagement Assistant will...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION INTERN/ASSISTANT
    Actively introduce students to Experiential Education, Outdoor Recreation, and Sustainability while engaging and challenging them to learn and participate in these diverse opportunities. Room, board,...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATIVE MEDIA SERVICES
    In-depth investigations of polluters, lobbyists, regulators, elected officials and others focused on environmentally damaging projects in the U.S. and internationally. We specialize in mining projects,...
  • UNDEVELOPED 40 ACRES - SOUTHWEST COLORADO
    in beautiful Montezuma County.
  • TRUCK DRIVER
    Class A & B drivers, pass all DOT requirements and clean driving record
  • MARIA'S BOOKSHOP FOR SALE
    - Thriving Indie bookstore in the heart of Durango, Colorado. General bookstore with 34-year history as a community hub for Southwest region of CO. 1800...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details: