Am I killing the planet with my old drummer pickup?


Welcome to Temp Check, Mic’s new climate advice section. The news about climate change can be extremely overwhelming, we know that, so we engaged Devi Lockwood, author of 1001 Voices on Climate Change: Daily Stories of Floods, Fires, Droughts and Global Displacement, to help. She’ll be part ethicist, part knowledgeable friend, there to guide you as we all do our best to prevent a climate apocalypse. Read this week’s tips, then submit your questions to [email protected]

Dear temperature controller,

I recently bought a used pickup truck. This is real shit – a 2000 Ford Ranger with a rusty bed. I struggled to buy something newer, but because I live in NYC and don’t drive very often (the truck is primarily for beach trips and upstate camping trips). ), I went for the cheapest thing I could find.

I figured this was an environmentally defensible decision, because while new cars can be more fuel efficient (or electric), when you factor in what it takes to build a new car – materials, transportation, emissions from the car factory, etc. – it feels like driving something older for as long as possible, in the end. maybe pretty much the same thing, global warming speaking? Is this true, or should I have sold a kidney and bought a Tesla?

Camouflaged consciousness

Dear Carried Conscience,

Your 2000 Ford Ranger gets about 20 miles per gallon. It’s not as bad as, say, an all-new 2021 four-wheel-drive Chevrolet Colorado ZR2, which is one of the least efficient trucks on the market at 17 mpg.

But it’s still not great.

Ultimately, the car you buy is a personal choice, and the cost is a big part of the equation. Whether it is beneficial to drive a car longer and extend its life compared to buying something new depends a lot on the mileage you put on the machine. It’s not as easy as wearing a 1985 sweater or fixing your grandma’s hand mixer to make it last longer.

If you want to get to the heart of the matter, the Department of Energy’s Vehicle Cost Calculator allows you to compare the total cost of ownership and emissions of makes and models of most vehicles based on how much. you drive. It might be wise, when considering this kind of question in the future, to use different makes and models of the cars you are considering to determine which choice is less harmful.

Also: you live in New York City, which is consistently ranked as one of the best walking cities in the country. Having a car in New York is painful for a billion reasons, including traffic jams. Energy efficiency decreases considerably in this type of environment; most cars are their most efficient at around 55 miles per hour, not in stop-and-go traffic. And then there is the parking lot. The city maintains some 3 million street parking spaces, but vehicle registrations in the city have jumped almost 40% in 2020 alone. Driving is on the rise in part thanks to people’s reluctance to use transit during the pandemic, but air pollution from traffic can be deadly, and congestion pricing will soon put a toll on drivers entering the busiest parts of Manhattan.

It boils down to this: Ultimately, the decision to own a car isn’t just up to you. You need to put your jerk in the context of all those who acted on the same impulse to buy a set of wheels during the pandemic. Many people making the same decision at once inevitably impact the places we live and call home. This is a good example of how some climate choices are not just individual decisions but systemic ones.

The good news is that American pickups are notoriously absurd and have gotten worse over time. So if you compare your old pickup to a newer model of the same size, chances are your old one wins for minimal use and the occasional outdoor adventure.

Dear temperature controller,

My parents turned 70 this year and they are preparing to enjoy their retirement by going on a series of cruises. Now, these aren’t the big Carnival-style cruises across the Caribbean, but smaller cruises to smaller ports in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe. I think there are 70 to 100 people on the cruises they plan to do, and an equal number of crew.

Now I know cruises are bad for the environment, but how bad are they? By taking smaller cruises, are my parents more environmentally friendly in retirement? Or are they still part of the problem? Is the worst part of cruising the size of the boat, or the number and location of ports? Is there a way to steer them towards a more environmentally friendly cruise? Or should I just let them enjoy their golden boomer years in the nightmarish world their generation forged?


You navigate, you lose

Dear cruise, you lose,

Yes, cruises are bad for the environment. A cruise ship can emit as many particles as a million cars. Many are known to dump sewage, fuel and waste directly into the ocean, which can damage fragile ecosystems. Engine noise can be dangerous to marine life, and then there is the risk of animal collisions to fear. On board a cruise ship, each passenger’s carbon footprint is about three times what they would be on land.

So, yes, the ideal would be to dissuade your parents from a cruise and a shore excursion. You might consider asking them what exactly they like about cruises. Is it lucky to be at the water’s edge? Chic dinners? An excuse to dress up? Epic sunsets? Music? Social time with others in their age group? Many, if not all, of these things can be replicated on land and near you, even omitting the need for carbon-intensive flight. Understanding their motivations for booking a cruise might help you suggest other activities that satisfy those same impulses, but are less harmful to the planet.

If they’re still determined to take a cruise, there are ways to minimize their impact. In some cases, smaller cruise ships can be more durable, but it’s important to dig deeper. Friends of the Earth, an environmental group, publishes a cruise ship report that assesses specific lines and ships. The score is based on wastewater treatment, air pollution, respect for water quality, transparency and criminal offenses. Some companies, like Lindblad Expeditions, have a better reputation and have won awards not only for their sustainability, but also for their contribution to the communities along their route.

As to how to enable them to enjoy their hard-won retirement with the climate catastrophe we live in, well, that’s the future of the planet we’re talking about here. You might remind your parents of the long-term view – and this is where philosophy can help. How do they want them to be remembered as a good ancestor? And what actions can they take now to ensure that they are considered a good long-term ancestor? Yes, fun is important, but their great-great-great-grandchildren will care far more about the sustainability of the planet they inhabit than whether their ancestors could have lived it on a boat.

Dear temperature controller,

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I won’t stop eating meat or processed foods in general anytime soon. Is there a way to keep doing this, while maximizing green consumption – or at least minimizing the damage I do otherwise – without totally breaking the bank?


Want more green without having less green

Dear, want more green without having less green,

You are right to view food as having a significant impact on our individual carbon footprint; some estimates show that food accounts for up to 30% of a household’s carbon footprint. Eating less meat in particular is a climate adaptation measure as it reduces the pressure on land and water due to the intense amount of resources required to maintain livestock. There is also the pesky problem of methane emissions from livestock, the number one agricultural source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world.

Fortunately, not all meats are created equal when it comes to climate. Red meat is the worst in terms of emissions per pound of protein: Beef’s greenhouse gas emissions per pound are 7.2 times that of chicken, for example. If you’re curious about how other types of meat stack up, check out this climate change food calculator created by the BBC. You can help offset your impact by choosing more sustainable forms of protein more often.

Local meat will also have a smaller environmental footprint than meat that has been shipped from afar, so head to your local farmer’s market and buy there if you can. If you don’t have access to a farmer’s market, you can try to find out where the meat is coming from in your grocery store and choose accordingly. Oxford researchers studying what makes people cut back on meat have found that small strategies can really help, so you can try reducing the size of the portions of meat you eat per meal if you have to eat more. meat or have a vegetarian meal a day.

Finally, you can consider other ways to reduce your impact on the planet if you just have to be a carnivore. Flying less is a good place to start: a round-trip flight from London to San Francisco, for example, would emit 5.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per person, which equates to around 500 burgers. If you’re curious about the different aspects of your own environmental footprint, take a look.