A gal in a hybrid and a guy in an SUV test-drive their clean, green vision
By Jennifer Hattam
It seemed like a typical all-American road trip: Over 700 miles and five days in February, Sierra Club organizers Darden Rice and Joe Murphy sampled local cuisine (oyster stew, heart of palm salad), sang along with Van Halen on the radio, and played spot-the-SUVs until they ran out of fingers and toes. They even visited a 24-hour psychic. But this journey had a serious purpose: to show their fellow Floridians how to help the environment by changing what they drive.
An activist adventure was right in character for the two coworkers, who each learned the importance of citizen action at an early age. (As a teenager, Murphy fought to keep a company from burning hazardous waste near his hometown of Spring Lake, Florida; for Rice, the epiphany was reading Silent Spring in junior high and realizing that "the government doesn't always do the right thing.") What might be surprising was who they collaborated with along the way: county sheriffs, city commissioners, and other officials with the power to purchase fleets of gas/electric hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius that Rice drove from Tampa to Tallahassee. For comparison's sake, Murphy piloted a GMC Yukon sport-utility vehicle alongside her. "Hybrid fleets are win-win: They save taxpayer money and reduce carbon dioxide emissions," says Rice. "Officials like the idea because it
allows them to be a champion for something positive."
Miami's board of county commissioners has already
ordered a feasibility report on switching the entire Miami-Dade fleet to hybrid power. And sheriff's departments in Alachua and Martin Counties have put hybrids on the beat. "It was exciting to see ten Prius hybrids with the Alachua County logo on the side, all lined up in a row," Murphy says. When public officials from other counties test-drove Rice's car, most liked what they saw.
"Honestly, people were surprised to see you didn't have to plug the Prius in," Murphy says. "Someone actually asked if you could drive it in the rain. People are just starting to see that it can do anything a regular vehicle can."
Although he was driving a 6,000-pound behemoth big enough to hold the starting lineup of a baseball team, Murphy didn't mind playing the bad guy: "This isn't about people who drive SUVs," he says. "It's about the manufacturers who make them so gas-guzzling and polluting." Over a 124,000-mile lifetime, a Yukon is expected to spew 85.6 tons of globe-warming carbon dioxide, three times as much as a Prius. Low-lying Florida, with its 1,197 miles of coastline, will feel the impacts of climate change acutely: rising sea levels threaten to inundate the Everglades, while higher temperatures could hurt the state's famed citrus crop and irreparably damage its fragile coral reefs.
If ChevronTexaco has its way, Florida will also fuel the cars that are raising its temperatures. The company has proposed drilling off Florida's Gulf coast, a move the Sierra Club and other groups are fighting-and the hybrid alternative is a cornerstone of their opposition. "Hybrids tap into the American can-do attitude," Rice says. "People like the idea that we have the innovation and the technology to make automobiles that could lead the way to energy independence."
To read Rice and Murphy's trip journals and learn more about hybrid cars and global warming, check out the "Drive Clean Only" campaign.
By the Numbers
Number of nations that produce more CO2 than U.S. cars and trucks alone: 4
Percentage of Americans who rank fuel economy as their top consideration when buying a car: 11
Percentage of Americans who ranked
fuel economy tops in 1980: 42
Population of Florida: 16 million
Percentage of the population living in
coastal counties: 95
Sea-level rise, in feet, expected this century: 2
Estimated cost of sand replenishment to protect Florida's coast from a 20-inch rise in sea level: $1.7 billion to $8.8 billion
Our Ears Are Burning
When confronted by accusations that energy companies like Enron unduly influenced the Bush administration's
energy policy, the White House PR machine tried to hide behind the nearest environmentalist:
"The president thinks that access should be across the board, and that's why the Sierra Club . . . met repeatedly with the energy task force." --White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer, January 22, 2002
"There are also a dozen recommendations in [the Bush energy policy] that the Sierra Club also supports. Does that mean that the Sierra Club put our plan together? No. It's right out there for everybody to see." --Vice-presidential advisor Mary Matalin on CBS's The Early Show, January 21, 2002
In fact, Sierra Club representatives never met with the energy task force while it was crafting its industry-friendly plan. (We did meet twice with Bush administration officials from the group-after the plan was released.) Vice President Cheney and his staff met six times with Enron officials, including then CEO Kenneth Lay, while the plan was being drafted.
To learn more about the Bush-Cheney energy plan (including a point-by-point rebuttal of the administration's claims of Sierra Club support), visit www.sierraclub.org/energy/bush_plan.
Badge of Honor
In January, Sierra Club leader Vicky Husband joined the ranks of writer Margaret Atwood, poet-singer Leonard Cohen, and media critic Marshall McLuhan-all Canadian luminaries who have been awarded the Order of Canada. The nation's highest civilian honor for lifetime achievement, the Order is a distinction bestowed by the governor general, a representative of Queen Elizabeth II.
Husband's award will come in the form of a snowflake-shaped badge, symbolizing her unique contribution to her country. As conservation chair of the Sierra Club of British Columbia, she has led successful efforts to establish Canada's first grizzly bear sanctuary and to protect Gwaii Haanas/South Moresby National Park Reserve, part of a remote wilderness archipelago off the northwest coast. Husband says the award will lend credibility to her continuing work to preserve the Great Bear Rainforest, fight the deregulation of the mining and forestry industries, and protect the marine environment.
"This is the first time the Order has been given to a frontline volunteer activist, someone who's very critical of government and industry in this country," Husband says. "It's recognition that we environmentalists are playing a very important role in Canada. We're not on the fringes anymore." --Jennifer Hattam
To join the Sierra Club activist network, write to the Office of Volunteer and Activist Services, 85 Second St., San Francisco, CA 94105-3441; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Members receive a free subscription to the Planet monthly newsletter and Sierra Club Currents, a twice-weekly e-mail update.