A desire to be green in a red state

When I moved to Texas 4 years ago, it was to be closer to my wife’s family, given my health had hit another setback. After 8 years in Seattle, I knew I would have to adjust to some big changes. I mean, the usual summer high temperature in Seattle is roughly the overnight low in Austin. And of course, we would be leaving a place so crunchy and leftwing that they routinely argued over if 4 types of waste sorting in take out restaurants was enough, for a place where you might feel like you were hugging a tree if your favorite fast food place had a recycling bin and didn’t use styrofoam for cups. From a place where the choices in local elections was which flavor of left you preferred (socialist? socialist workers? green? regular democrat? justice democrat?), though they didn’t even list parties in materials, to a place where (once you slid slightly out of the blue bubble of Austin-proper) democrat candidates often left affiliation off road signs and eschewed the use of red/blue color schemes (hello, Beto), and most other political roadsigns were screaming statements of the candidate’s conservative/republican cred, clothed in gauche jingoism. It’s a bit jarring. Even voting in local elections is actively difficult — voting in Washington is entirely handled by mail, and you are registered to vote when you update your license; Texas actively under-communicates small elections, has voter ID laws ruled unconstitutional, and limits most voting to work hours (± 1-2 hours) at just enough locations, with faulty and confusing electronic voting machines, to guarantee you can’t duck out during lunch or after work before picking up your kid.

We’ve done our best to adapt and vote our consciousness in a state where almost no one I’ve voted for has won. It’s a state where roughly a quarter of all pickup trucks sold in the US are sold (and our population is roughly 8% of the US), and most of those tend to only get dirty during a storm. You see the intentionally black exhaust setups, often combined with stickers inviting you to test the driver’s mettle and see what kind of weapon they will pull, and upon which demographic group. In this scenario, making choices that are earth-friendly or might lessen your contribution toward climate change are not only a problem of price and convenience, but are often scoffed at and considered a less-than-masculine choice. My own brother-in-law laughed at me the last time I said I was considering an electric vehicle, calling it a sissy car; other family friends in the oil industry would parrot talking points or tell me it’s pointless (“your electricity is made by coal!” they would assume; my power company actually uses 100% renewable power credits1).

With the world essentially on fire (on many levels), instead of curling up in a ball and crying (though if we’re being honest, that happens too), I’m trying to apply as many small environmentally friendly steps as I can. I use the renewable power company I mentioned. I’ve bought the reusable bags (both regular and produce style), and pleaded with the wife to use them when I’m not there. I started searching out sundries and even electronics and accessories that use renewable or recycled components (check out Pela Cases and Nimble chargers). I’m using eco friendly bar soaps (less plastic and packaging, usually wrapped in paper), and even gave Truman’s cleaning products a go (though admittedly I already have enough cleaning products to last for a while).

The part that has haunted me for the past 3 years is my car. When I got my last car 3 years ago, I wanted to get an EV, but all models were inaccessible in price and availability. 3 years, I figured, would make them much more available and affordable. Now, prices have come down considerably, and more and more automakers are prioritizing EVs, with some, like VW and Volvo, committing to producing only EVs in the next 5-10 years. However, when I started planning to replace my car at the end of the lease, it seemed like everything would be available a month or two past my trade-in date. I decided to swap cars with my wife, and update her car (our family hauler) instead. With her old car’s lease now about to expire, I’ve been following the EV market closely (maybe even obsessively). Auto journalists have gushed over the new EVs from Kia and Hyundai, and I followed, expecting it would be as easy as showing up and taking a test drive. Then I found out something rather damning for automakers: they tend to limit their own markets. The Hyundai Kona EV is not available in Texas, or anywhere outside a select few states that align to California’s emissions rules. This is true of quite a few other automakers; they tout a new EV, then make just enough to never leave them sitting on a lot for long in an already eco friendly market. I was excited about Kia’s new EV version of the Soul, and then I found out they were holding off releasing it in the states until calendar-year 2020, to avoid it eating the lunch of the much delayed Kia Niro EV. So I figured I would settle on the Niro, only find that Kia dealers in Texas (and possible elsewhere) stock maybe one vehicle per metro-area, and it lasts less than a week, meaning you would need to be 100% in the right place at the right time. Lunacy.

So I started looking at the other options. I like how Tesla opens up availability with online orders, but their lack of leases, quickly escalating pricing (getting a different color pushes the price up at least $1000, for instance), reports of poor labor treatment and quality issues, and my general dislike of the idea of a tablet in the middle of the car to replace all controls… well, they were off the list2. Okay, so I started getting serious about the only two options left: Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt. And then the reality of the pricing started hitting home. A sales person at Nissan said that to get a Nissan Leaf+ SV, a 3 year lease would require ~$6,000 to get into the $450 a month range. That’s just way too much for someone paying two car payments. Chevrolet’s online lease tools have been quoting monthly leases over $500, with a 10% down payment… and that’s before tax is factored in.

Now, you say, there are great deals on used electric cars! And there probably are, but I have an aversion to buying used, and lean toward leases when buying new (too many experiences with cars costing more money in repairs than a brand new car). Even then, most used EVs are from before automakers started reaching driving ranges most buyers are comfortable with, and their batteries are soon to start showing degradation. Not quite where I want to sink my money.

It’s beating me up, but I simply can’t afford an EV yet, and I find myself back in the place I was 3 years ago: buy something you like that you can afford, and hope things are better off in another 3 years. Which makes me sad, because that’s the kind of attitude that keeps well-meaning people from making the changes we need to slow down the climate change that will at very least severely hurt humanity in the coming decades.

Now, back to that whole curling up in a ball thing…

  1. Due to the way power companies work in Texas, you buy from billing agencies, and they can choose from certain sources to apply the funding… some just choose the lowest rates, mine only uses wind/solar
  2. Plus, Elon’s kind of a twat