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Editor’s Column: Car shopping - pitting ethics against economics

Buying an EV is great but individual shopping habits alone won't slow climate change.
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Buying a car is about the last thing I want to do on a Sunday afternoon.

I know nothing about cars yet am fussy as heck — it’s a brutal combination. Add to the mix, I’m decidedly frugal. In fact, some might call me the C-word (cheap).

Point being, the whole process last week was never going to be pretty but throw in something called “supply chain delays” and, well, it got ugly indeed.

Fun fact: A 2019 Toyota Prius Prime costs more than a 2022 Toyota Prius Prime. Why? Because you could wait up to two years for this year’s model, but the older one is sitting in the lot out back — supply and demand.

The dealer at the Richmond Auto Mall told us the wait for the even more coveted new plug-in RAV-4 could be up to five years.

“People have offered to pay extra under the table to get one now, but I don’t have one to give them even if I wanted to.”

My partner and I wouldn’t be in this position (stressing out at a dealership on a Sunday afternoon) had he not recently totalled our trusty little beater.

ICBC says it wasn’t his fault since someone turned left in front of him and all, but I blame him anyway — kind of a habit.

I should note that he did walk away from the crash at No. 1 and Steveston Highway, but now has a part-time job coordinating all his physiotherapy, massage therapy and kinesiology appointments.

While the accident meant we had to buy a car at the worst possible time, the truth is we had been talking about it prior. We knew our 2006 Matrix wasn’t going to last forever, but what really pushed the conversation was a drive home from hiking at Mt. Baker on a beautiful fall day. 

We had just had a great time doing what we love best, trekking up to the lava field, but a couple of things didn’t sit right.

First was the balmy, T-shirts and shorts weather. As nice as it was, it just shouldn’t be 20 degrees Celsius in the middle of October at that altitude. I know we can’t make a direct link to climate change, but if it walks like a duck...

The other “not right” thing was the amount of bare-faced rock we could see. The beauty of Mt. Baker is the volcano’s massive glaciers. It’s heart-breaking to see them melting before our eyes. According to Mauri Pelto, a glaciologist who returns to the mountain regularly to study its glaciers, "At the rate it's losing mass, it won't make it 50 years...This is a dying glacier."

As we drove home, the connection between our driving from Richmond to Mt. Baker and back in our gas-powered car and these “inconvenient truths” about weather and receding glaciers were hard to ignore. Actually, it’s more than inconvenient to feel like I’m slowly killing the very things I profess to love.

Back in the about having to put your money where your mouth is. Electric vehicles are not cheap — which is a problem because, as mentioned earlier, I am.

We settled on a small, three-year-old hybrid plug-in for three reasons: One, it was actually there unlike the new ones; two, it mainly runs on electricity, but if we get stuck, given the EV charging infrastructure isn’t what it should be yet, it will switch to hybrid mode; and three, while it’s still appallingly expensive it was a little less than the bigger vehicles.

I realize that one person’s actions are not going to stop climate change. In fact, when I heard it said at COP27 (the recent UN climate change conference) the oil and gas sector earned $34 billion in profit in just three months, I wondered why I’m taking one for the team. Focusing on individual action is a great way to deflect from the real culprit, corporate greed. Speaking of, dirty energy lobbyists at the COP27 were able to ensure the phasing out of fossil fuels was not included in the final agreement.

So, no, I’m not going to swan around claiming to be doing my part to save the planet. There are bigger, systemic issues at play and this is where our focus should be.

That said, I may enjoy my drive back from Mt. Baker a little more next time.

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