Saturday, March 13, 2010

Hybrid Driving

Not long after my post about the conversation in response to Derrick Jensen's article in the current issue of Orion Magazine on activism (Is Resistance Futile?), I had to take my nine-year-old Honda Civic into the dealer to get it fixed up enough to pass state inspection. As I waited for the bad news, I started lurking in the showroom, poring over brochures on new Civics and Insight hybrids. When the "counselor" (no lie; that's what she called herself) came in to tell me that they needed to do a $200 smoke test to determine what was wrong with my fuel line, and that it would take a couple of hours, I went outside to enjoy the weather and look around the lot.

After a surprisingly long time, a salesman came out to see what I was interested in, and proceeded to let me test drive the two models I was most interested in: the new Civic hybrid, and the Insight--Honda's answer to Toyota's Prius.

The Civic didn't drive much like mine, it was a bit larger, and considerably clunkier. The Insight, on the other hand, is a dream to drive, and its cockpit is almost identical to what I'm used to in the old Civic. The best part, though, is that this car acts very much like a mobile video game, with pretty lit-up displays (mostly blue and green, but with some red and amber) designed to teach one how get the best fuel economy possible.

By the time the counselor came back to give me the estimate ($2K, including the new timing belt I'd been warned about last year), I was signing papers. So the sales office paid for the smoke test, and I turned over the keys.

They gave me peanuts for the Civic, but sent me home in a loaner until the LX model I'd ordered in "Tango Red Pearl" arrived a couple of days later. Honda had some incentives going, but I didn't need them to convince me that I wanted this car. The EPA estimates on gas mileage run from 40-45 mpg, and the lower emissions alone would help me lessen my carbon footprint substantially--even though I had been getting between 35 and 38 mpg in the old car.

Although I'd been waffling about the need for a new car for several months, two additional components entered the mix when I read Jensen's article, and Sharon Astyk's new book, Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front.

Astyk blogs on The Chatelaine’s Keys and Casaubon's Book about sustainability, peak oil, and community. As a matter of fact, I'm going to recommend to the Orion forum that folks who are looking for advice on how to resist the current state of economic short-sightedness order this book. Astyk practices what she preaches much better than I do, and offers an appendix chock full of practical ways in which we can survive the unrest we've only begun to see reflected in our current economic difficulties.

I haven't really been ignoring peak oil over the last forty years, but it had rather become background noise, grinding on below the din of everyday life. I heard M. King Hubbert speak at Penn back in the '70s (during the first of our many moments of oil hysteria), warning that at some point in the foreseeable future we'd reach the moment at which oil supplies would be half gone. But rather than weaning ourselves from dependence on fossil fuels, over the intervening four decades we've become ever more dependent--not only on our own supplies, but on what we buy from foreign sources.

In the meantime, peak oil concerns have become entwined with a variety of doomsday scenarios and conspiracy theories, and most rational folk seem to have been ignoring the situation--even as our fuel costs roller coaster up and down the economic spectrum. The whole concept is getting harder to ignore, however, and books like Depletion and Abundance provide a sensible, constructive path toward forging communities that might be able to withstand whatever turmoil might ensue.

No longer very good at participating in any community beyond my classrooms, I have little time left over for the kinds of activism that Jensen and Astyk advocate. For as long as I've been writing this blog, I've nattered on and on about my small gestures at lessening my own dependence on various fuels, and my efforts to minimize any bruises I leave on the planet. Although I lack the physical and psychic energy to picket the bad guys or join anything, I have been trying to be a wise consumer, and buying a sensible car seemed like a decent thing to do; I consider it a little bit of an offset for the obscene number of Hummers I see on the highway. This will probably be the last car I ever own, so I thought it would be a prudent investment.

I also think it unwise to underplay the power of making sustainable economic decisions. For example, we've got an inefficient ten-year-old gas furnace that needs to be replaced, so we're looking into a geothermal heat pump. It's a costly change, but could well pay for itself within ten years in energy savings, and it doesn't use oil or gas. Solar panels are another possibility, although the number and location of trees on the property limits their efficacy. Upcoming necessary improvements to the house will all be made with sustainability and low environmental impact as primary considerations.

The fact that the entire state of Texas remains in denial about climate change and other environmental concerns doesn't help. But this particular town, at least, seems to be more and more open to "green" solutions, so it may be that moving to an old area of town full of recycled houses may not have been a bad idea in the end. And now that I can go 450 miles or more on a tank of gas, I won't feel quite so guilty about working thirty miles away from where I live.

Photo credits: I pinched the picture of the Insight from Treehugger; the opening "shot," Exxon Desert Tanker a "satirical image created in Photoshop to illustrate the concept of peak oil," was created by AZRainman and available through Wikimedia Commons and his Flickr Photostream.


Martha Z said...

I'll do a lot of things to lessen my impact, air dry my cloths, dip out the bath water to wash cloths, we've got solar cells. One thing I won't give up are our trips to Virginia Lakes. I feel guilty but I do it any way.
Now, if only there were a train from Reno to LA down the Owens Valley, wouldn't that be nice?

Dave Coulter said...

""in the '70s...rather than weaning ourselves from dependence on fossil fuels, over the intervening four decades we've become ever more dependent--not only on our own supplies, but on what we buy from foreign sources...""

Amen. I've often wondered what life would be like today if the USA had invested the same sort of intellectual/economic resources into energy conservation as we did into personal computers and cell phones. Well....maybe THIS is our time,eh?