Mr. Green Car: Polluting for pleasure, part two

By Allen Penticoff
Freelance Writer

In my last Mr. Green Car column (“Coal rolling — a new insult to the environment,” July 23-29 issue), I railed against the coal rollers and their snub at environmentalism. Here again, I’ll admit, that I, as many of my readers and Americans in general, are guilty of polluting for pleasure.

There is a book of that name, Polluting for Pleasure, by Mele Andre, but I have not read it. I understand the message without reading it. I’ll point out here that we environmentalists are not always practicing what we preach, and look at how we and non-environmentalists contribute to climate change and air pollution in our activities.

A few minutes ago on a bright and cool Sunday morning, I witnessed a very large diesel pickup truck hauling some canoes in the bed up from Atwood Park in New Milford. Canoing is very environmentally friendly — yes? Not so when you look at hauling paddle-craft (canoes, kayaks, rowboats) around, often with two vehicles for the drop-off and pick-up from a river run — sometimes at great distances from home. Very small and efficient vehicles are capable of hauling paddle-craft on their roof or on small trailers — no SUV needed. However, many “environmentalists” own smaller SUVs for just this purpose. We’ve been sold on the idea we need four-wheel drive to enjoy the outdoors.

I am personally guilty of polluting for pleasure in towing a 26-foot sailboat around with a Chevy Suburban. We’ve been doing this for 25 years. It has been all over North America — and plenty of gasoline has flowed through the vehicles going to and from these destinations, often getting only 10 mpg. Sure, it is only a couple times a year that we do this — but still, it is polluting for pleasure. Similarly, is going camping with a recreational vehicle (RV). Our 1987 VW Camper (which we sometimes tow a trailer with paddle-craft or a small sailboat with) gets only 17 mpg, and like towing the big sailboat, it is not doing the environment any good when a small car and a tent would be just as good an outdoor experience. Worldwide, people love their big RVs, and all are guilty of polluting for pleasure.

Then, there is the joy riding. Again, we’re guilty. Nothing like a little top-down jaunt in our Miata to a nearby forest preserve to start a day. But it gets only 28 mpg. A typical jaunt will use 1 gallon of fuel — the gases from which add to our atmosphere’s many problems. Joy riding on motorcycles, ATVs or airplanes does similar things to the air. Small airplanes can go fast, but their fuel economy is about 13 mpg on fuel that costs more than $5 per gallon. Much small plane flying is for the simple pleasure of being aloft or making personal pleasure trips. Powerboats are in the same category — with even worse fuel economy — with big yachts measuring fuel economy in gallons per mile. If one is using an old two-stroke outboard boat motor, these are much worse polluters than newer equipment. A few minutes of running one of these older motors pollutes as much as an hour of operation of a new four-stroke engine — again I am guilty, for I have one of these old things on my sailboat.

Rockford’s AirFest or Oshkosh, Wisconsin’s EAA AirVenture are a treat and a pleasure to many. But there is a huge environmental impact. Vast quantities of fuel are consumed in having show planes come to the event and when they are performing. Visitor airplanes and vehicles come by the hundreds and thousands from across North America. Additionally, there are simulated explosions, like the “wall of fire,” that produce particularly high levels of pollution with open burning of gasoline. Also, most of the air show acts could be enjoyed without the use of smoke to follow the plane through the sky.

And it is not just air shows that cause polluting for pleasure. People drive in the hundreds and thousands to attend everything from Sunday church services to rock concerts. How many gallons of fuel are burned in deriving these pleasures? Air travel by airliner or a vacation aboard a cruise ship are terrible at producing pollution for pleasure. The Sierra Club magazine is always promoting “environmental” trips to faraway places — and is guilty of not practicing what they preach. It is all ingrained in our modern cultural DNA to not think or care about how we use energy for pleasure. Sierra Club does advertise buying carbon credits that will get trees planted to offset your guilty trip abroad, though.

The more we switch to renewable hydrogen or electric power for our modes of transportation and pleasure, the sooner we can stop the damage to the Earth. While only one small step, our using a Volt for most of our daily transportation is a step in the right direction. Other things we could do to reduce our impact for pleasure would be to moor our boat in one location and drive to it with the Volt instead of towing it around each time. We could camp out of the Volt with a tent and recharge it at the campground for local sightseeing. I can stop flying (nearly have already). It is rare for us to go to a concert out of town, and I often skip going to the EAA air show entirely. Every time you don’t go somewhere, you are helping out the environment.

This is where small towns and big cities have it over medium-sized cities like Rockford: entertainment is often close at hand. The concert on the village square or a subway ride downtown for entertainment; both have minimal impact. The future may contain more of both of these models — when energy costs make polluting for pleasure an unpleasant bite in the wallet.

From the Aug. 6-12, 2014, issue

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