The Greenest Car in Whittier is… Purple?
By David J. Rehak Suma
Special to Glacier City Gazette
This story begins nearly 4,500 miles away, where a conservation-minded individual was trying to figure out the best way to migrate back to Alaska. With Canada burning along the way, before the Alaskan fire season was roaring, there was an irony to burning fossil fuels to get back to the place where I would be working to promote conservation.
There were no good options, so the goal became to do the least bad. This objective meant a long search with the filter “best mpg” taking precedent on all of the used-car buying websites. After weeks debating the merits of a prius, verses saying screw it all and buying a diesel powered truck, time was running out and there were a couple of those gas-sippers getting 40 miles to the gallon that weren’t unreasonable in price or mileage.
In the 11th hour, my heart skipped a beat as a new post touched the used-car forum. In 2010, Chevy came out with the first partially electric, partially gas-powered car. The 2010 Chevy Volt was the first electric car which had the capability to make a cross-country drive, running on a charge for 30 miles, before kicking over to a 35-mpg engine.
Seeing a 2012 Volt within a reasonable price range was a dream come true for someone enamored with Alaska, but conflicted because my presence carries the over-consumption of the everyday American. I discovered that this car came out of the factory red, but had been wrapped in what can only be called “FedEx purple.” A stand-out car for an educator trying to get people to waste less, it must have been fate that brought the two of us together. With only a week to test out its capabilities before hitting the Alcan, it was a bit of a gamble.
One of, if not the first, cars with an electric motor to make it through the frost-heaves and potholes of the Yukon, the car handled flawlessly as I zipped across the North, with my mother beside me. As we drove, the phrase “look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now” came through the speakers, as well as from our hearts, as we travelled between cathedral mountains, along serene shores, and into the vast wilderness which called me back home to Alaska.
Arriving in Whittier after a leisurely 10-day trip up the highway, I learned that I would be able to plug in at work. This arrangement has led me to burn 9 gallons of gas in the first month after driving nearly 500 miles. This engine is the perfect compromise for Alaskans. Nearly all of us live, work, and play within a 30-mile radius of our homes. However, when a trip into Anchorage is needed or a restless heart requires a distant road-trip, this car offers a viable solution to reducing our emissions by at least half without changing your lifestyle.
In the face of endless forest-fires, disappearing coastlines and thawed tundra, there is an obvious need to do better. We are fooling ourselves if we think we can save the planet in a week, a month, or even a year; but we can do better, even if it’s not the best. Change comes slowly, but it must come.
The car has two drawbacks. It’s low-clearance and most of the electricity in Alaska comes from fossil-fuel burning plants. The more popular this style of engine becomes, the more varieties will be produced. In the past 9 years, solar and wind energy have both become 88% cheaper, from installation to production. Minnesota has capitalized on this development and is racing ahead into the future with almost 50% of their consumption coming from renewable resources.
Buying these types of cars won’t save us, but they are the first step to being better.