The paradox of pickups

March 27, 2018

Obstacles on the road to more efficient transportation

Confession time: the abundance of pickup trucks on our highways is one of my bigger frustrations as an environmental advocate.  Let’s see if I can explain why in five quick points:

  1. Virtually all world leaders and climate scientists accept that the ‘safe upper limit’ for climate change is 2⁰C (and we’ve already warmed about half that)
  2. If we want to stay under that 2⁰C limit, scientists calculate that we can emit no more than about 500 billion tonnes of carbon – our global ‘carbon budget’. Sounds like a lot, but…
  3. At today’s global emission levels, we will use up that entire ‘carbon budget’ in just 15 years – IE before today’s newborns will complete high school*
  4. About a quarter of Canada’s emissions come from transportation, and they’ve been rising steadily since 1990, in large part due to trucks and SUVs
  5. In decarbonizing our world, simply choosing more efficient transportation is the ultimate ‘low hanging fruit’ – yet trucks and SUVs still dominate the vehicle ads I see, the roads I travel and the dealer lots I pass


So what to do?

  • If you’re in the market for a vehicle, try to resist pickup truck marketing pitches and choose the most efficient vehicle that meets your everyday needs. (Besides, if the dealer is offering $10,000 in discounts and freebies, imagine what the price of the truck must be!)
  • If you drive a pickup, strive to drive it as little as possible and replace it with something more efficient as soon as you can.
  • No matter what you drive, you can save significantly on fuel by being easy on the gas and easy on the brake; some good tips from Natural Resources Canada here.

(PS: I’d give an exemption to working trucks – unfortunately, I don’t see many of them out there…)

*Here’s a four-minute video explaining our carbon budget with crystal clarity.

Transitioning, gently, away from meat

A few summers ago, my son took part in a wonderful enrichment and entrepreneurship program for high school students called SHAD.  Together with a team of colleagues, he had to develop a project around the theme of food security: how can we feed seven billion people in an increasingly resource constrained world?

His team’s idea?  ‘Grub Tub’, a system for farming insect larva for animal or human consumption.

‘Grub Tub’ didn’t win the class competition, but I’m thinking they were onto something.  Humans, and North Americans in particular, consume a lot of meat, and, alas, that comes with a big carbon footprint.  With growing awareness of that footprint comes growing interest in alternatives.  Here are two I’ve discovered recently:

  • The humble pea is getting much attention and investment as a highly nutritious plant-based food ingredient. According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 170 new food products containing pea protein were launched in 2015 alone!  Among the investors: movie director James Cameron.
  • Loblaws, Canada’s largest grocer, has started selling President’s Choice cricket powder as an alternative protein ingredient. Eating insects is definitely a paradigm shift for most of us (remember this classic scene from The Lion King?), but insects are an eco-friendly source of protein and are being eaten by more and more people around the world – so why not here too?

As the issue of global food security looms larger, maybe we’d all do well to re-evaluate our meat consumption.  Maybe the above two options can be viable alternatives.  And maybe it’s time for my son and his team to bring back their ‘Grub Tub’ idea!