My Truck Isn’t Destroying the Planet

Are there more environmentally friendly vehicles than the truck I drive? Yes — and no. Like most things, that question doesn’t have a simple, black and white answer. Instead, it has a complicated one, which I try to dive into here. So buckle up, we’re going on a truck ride.

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I love our public lands, and I'm a big advocate of protecting our environment. I do my best to adventure responsibly. A lot of folks would probably call me a tree hugger. And because of that, I get a lot of questions about how I square that with the fact that I drive a truck instead of, say, a Prius. But the truth is, my truck isn't destroying the planet — and here's why things aren't as black and white as they seem.I’m a pretty environmentally conscious guy. Reduce, Reuse, Repair, and Recycle is my jam. I’m an advocate of Leave No Trace principles. I try to live my life in as sustainable a way as possible. But when talking to people about conservation, environmentalism, and climate change, there’s one thing I’m frequently asked about — my truck.

And I understand why. Until recently I drove a 2001 Ford Ranger. Old enough to vote, it wasn’t necessarily a beacon of fuel economy or environmentally friendliness. Since getting my new job, I upgraded to a newer, more fuel efficient 2017 F-150. Well, more fuel efficient than the ole Ranger, but not exactly a Tesla. But despite this, the truth is that my truck isn’t destroying the planet.

What do I mean by that? Simply put, while my old Ranger and my current truck aren’t perfect for the planet, neither are to blame for the mess of environmental problems that we’re facing. Of course our vehicles play a contributing factor, which I’ll address momentarily, but there’s a lot more going on than what meets the eye here.

Ford f-150 and Ford Ranger
New truck, old truck. Both are good trucks.

So if my truck isn’t destroying the planet, what is? That’s a big question. Before we get to that, let’s talk about why I own a truck in the first place.

Do you really need a truck?

The short answer is no. I don’t need a truck. But as I touched on in my critique of the Tesla Cybertruck, most of us don’t actually need the exact vehicles that we own. Almost all of us would have our needs fully met by driving a small vehicle with great fuel economy. Some would need something like a crossover, with all wheel drive, but few of us need every single feature that our vehicle provides. Do you need more than four seats? Do you have a sunroof? Does your car have some kind of entertainment system? Bluetooth capability, a CD player, or hell, even a radio?

You don’t need those things to get where you’re going. So why have them?

Because we want them. And frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that. So why do I want a truck?

There are four main capabilities I want out of a vehicle.

1. Four wheel drive for winter weather and rough public lands roads.
2. The ability to toss things like soil, lumber, trees, firewood, and other materials in the back.
3. The option to camp out of the bed, hunt, and explore OHV trails.
4. A backseat large enough to accommodate two medium-sized dogs.

Now would an SUV or crossover be capable of such things? Absolutely. But would they do all four equally as well as a single truck? Probably not.

my truck isn't destroying the planet — it's hauling these pups around in the back seat
Gotta have room for hauling these punks around.

But isn’t a truck wasteful?

Yes, my truck is wasteful. But everything is relative, so let’s look at how. First of all, my old Ranger got 15 mpg in city traffic, and 18 on the highway. At least in theory — calculating fuel economy can be a pretty complicated matter. In practice, I never got that much. In fact, none of us probably get the advertised gas mileage. That’s advertising for you!

Now that fuel economy is relatively more wasteful than the 2009 Chevrolet Impala I drove before the Ranger, which advertised 19 mpg city and 23 highway, if I used normal gas. Use e-85 and that dropped to 17 and 22 — fuel economy suffers when you use ethanol. Realistically, I likely never got that good of mileage in it, but that’s still superior to the old Ranger. But my 2017 F-150? You’d think it would be less fuel efficient, but in practice it does just as well as the Impala. A new Ranger does even better.

My old Impala
You might think this sedan would get better gas mileage than my truck… But, nah.

Of course, this doesn’t stack up against a Prius, which can get up to 58 city and 53 highway.

So why not drive a Prius?

Go back up to the list of things I want out a vehicle — looking at those, how well do you think the Prius will do?

Now I’m not knocking the Prius. It’s a good vehicle, and I have friends that love them. Believe it or not, some are fully capable of towing a little trailer, hauling kayaks, and surviving bear attacks. If you want a Prius, you should get one.

My truck isn't destroying the planet any more than a hybrid is saving it.
A Prius isn’t my thing, but maybe it’s yours. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

And you’ll absolutely create less emissions than I will in my truck, even if I buy a new one. But that doesn’t mean that you’ll have no environmental impact.

The batteries in hybrid and electric vehicles, composed of metals like lithium and cobalt, require vast amounts of energy and massive amounts of effort and industrial machines to locate and acquire, and process into batteries. We’re looking at mining and industrial waste and pollution. An electric or hybrid vehicle may not create much in the way of emissions itself, but the production of the vehicle creates TONS of emissions.

Additionally, the National Center for Policy Analysis found that, “the nickel contained in Prius’ battery is mined and smelted at a plant in Ontario that has caused so much environmental damage to the surrounding environment that NASA has used the ‘dead zone’ around the plant to test moon rovers.”

None of that is to say that a truck is good and a Prius is bad — that too is a gross oversimplification of the data. Instead, consider that the whole situation isn’t as black and white as it appears on the surface. My truck isn’t destroying the planet through emissions any more than the production of electric and hybrid vehicles. Whether you drive a hybrid or a truck, we’ve got a lot of shit to work out.

Does an F-150 use less fuel than the Prius?

Of course not. An F-150 uses roughly twice the fuel than a Prius to travel the same distance. But that’s talking about one truck and one hybrid. Let’s look at cumulative fuel reduction.

In 2015, Ford introduced the Eco-Boost, designed to deliver more power while simultaneously improving fuel economy. On average, it gave each F-150, Ford’s most popular truck, an additional 3 miles per gallon. Since 2015, Ford has sold an estimated 4.8 million F-150s. That’s a cumulative 14.4 million additional miles per gallon since the introduction of the Eco-Boost.

Since 2015, Toyota has sold roughly 63,000 Priuses. The 2020 gets up to 56 combined mileage. We’ll compare that to the 2015 Ford F-150, which got 20 mpg combined. That means each Prius would save 36 miles per gallon over the F-150. At roughly 63,000 Priuses sold, the total estimated savings there is almost 2.3 million additional miles per gallon.

Looking at it that way, since 2015, the Ford F-150 reduced fuel consumption significantly more than the Prius.

Normally we think of miles per gallon, but when we flip the script and think of gallons per mile, we see that, “if the efficiency of a small group of vehicles is improved significantly, the total amount of fuel saved will still be less than if the consumption of a massive group of vehicles increases slightly.”

Considering the popularity of the F-150 and the fact that most truck owners won’t transition to a Prius, improvements in truck fuel economy are every bit as important as more drastic changes in other vehicles. Now if you’re asking why truck owners won’t opt for a Prius, there are some who can’t — they need to haul horse trailers, move heavy equipment, or other similar tasks that a Prius simply isn’t up to. The truth is, however, that most of us truck owners could switch to driving hybrids. But we won’t.

Why?

Trucks are tools that support lifestyles

I don't need a truck — but I prefer driving one.
I don’t need a truck. But I sure do like driving one.

Look, none of the above changes the fact that my singular, individual truck uses more fuel and creates more emissions than driving one single Prius would. Obviously. But let’s review what I want out of a vehicle —

1. Four wheel drive for winter weather and rough public lands roads.
2. The ability to toss things like soil, lumber, trees, firewood, and other materials in the back.
3. The option to camp out of the bed, hunt, and explore OHV trails.
4. A backseat large enough to accommodate two medium-sized dogs.

A truck is best suited, in my opinion, to do all of those things well. That’s why I drive one.

But my vehicle isn’t everything. I do a whole lot more with my life than drive, and a lot of what I do helps reduce my carbon footprint. For example, we planted a large garden this year. That doesn’t sound like a big deal until you dig into what that actually means. “For the average American, about 8% of personal carbon footprint comes from food! Of that, 28.5% is from transporting the food… By growing as much food as you can in your back yard – you are cutting down these percentages. Ambitious gardeners that use their garden to replace 20% of bought food, reduce their carbon footprint by about 68 lbs of CO2 per year!”

A garden is a great way to reduce waste in the food cycle.

Likewise, we have reduced the amount of red meat that we eat, reducing greenhouse gases as research indicates that “red meat accounts for about 150 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than chicken or fish.” We have not — and do not expect to — eliminate beef from our diets. But when we do purchase beef, we try to buy locally so that our meat hasn’t been shipped from far away, using fuel on its way to us. We’ve also embraced eating meatless once a week, which may not seem like a big deal, but doing so can decrease meat consumption by up to 15 percent, and decreasing animal agriculture-based emissions as well. “Another way to look at it is like this: If the entire U.S. did not eat meat or cheese for just one day a week, it would be the equivalent of not driving 91 billion miles — or taking 7.6 million cars off the road.”

My truck isn’t destroying the planet, but your lawn might be

One of the easiest ways we reduce our carbon footprint is by — how should I phrase this — not giving a shit about our lawn. Green, perfectly manicured lawns are, — simply put — a waste of resources. So at our house, we never water our grass, instead opting to save that resource for watering the garden that provides us food. We also try to mow as little as possible. In spring and early summer, that’s probably once every week or two. But if the weather cooperates, I may be able to go a month or longer in the summer before I need to mow in order to keep my grass short enough that it doesn’t violate local statutes.

So before you criticize my vehicle choice, consider your lawn. Several studies have shown that we as a society put more effort into caring for our lawns than we do our agricultural crops. We also waste water — much of which runs off — keeping our grass green through dry months. We water it so that it will grow, and then we cut it. Frequently. Which is a shame, because;

“The process of mowing lawns produces a large amount of CO2. Estimates vary from 16 billion to 41 billion pounds of CO2 being emitted from lawn mowers every year. Another estimate is that every gallon of gasoline burned by lawnmowers emits 20 pounds of CO2. According to the EPA, one gas lawn mower emits 89 pounds of CO2 and 34 pounds of other pollutants per year. According to a Swedish study, using a mower for one hour has the same carbon footprint as a 100-mile car trip.”

My truck isn't destroying the planet — but your lawn mower might be.
We use a lot of time, money, and other resources maintaining our lawns… And a lot of of us don’t even like doing it.

The irony is that 58% of people don’t even like mowing. If you’re one of them, just stop doing it so often. While you’re at it, skip the leaf blower in autumn. Why? “The amount of CO (carbon monoxide) emitted from a typical backpack leaf blower for just 1 hour is equal to CO coming from the tailpipe of a current year automobile operating for over 8 hours. For the other pollutants, the amounts are even greater.”

So yeah, if you’ve got a perfectly manicured lawn, don’t worry about what whether my truck is destroying the planet. Worry about your mower.

Why not a Hybrid truck?

Actually a hybrid truck is a great idea. In fact, GMC made one all the way back in 2005. They produced the Sierra 1500 Hybrid for about a decade before discontinuing the model. At the time it got a combined 21 mpg. Which isn’t amazing by 2021 standards, but considering the non-hybrid Sierra averaged 17 mpg combined at the time, it wasn’t a bad improvement.

Hybrid truck
A hybrid truck isn’t a bad idea — like this 2013 GMC Sierra 1500 hybrid.

More companies are embracing the idea of hybrid trucks now. The GMC Sierra 1500 Hybrid is making a comeback, along with a hybrid Silverado, and Ram. We can expect hybrid Tundras and maybe Tacomas in 2022. Ford has a Hybrid F-150 in the works for this calendar year, as well as a fully electric model expected in 2022. As far as electric trucks go, I’ve already discussed my feelings in regards to the Tesla Cybertruck — mostly that it isn’t actually a truck — and while I like Rivian’s R1T in theory, with the base model starting at $67,500 it’s not within my price range.

The Ford F-150 Hybrid looks to start in around $42,000. To add 4×4 we’ll probably be looking closer to $45,000. Still more than I’d like to spend, but definitely closer to my price range than almost $68k. I’m incredibly interested, and by all accounts it should be an incredibly capable adventure vehicle. However, when it comes to a hybrid or electric truck, we still need to address environmental concerns that come from battery production.

How much does this matter?

On a personal level, it matters a lot. I care about the environment, and I do the best I can to strike a balance between the lifestyle I choose to live and the responsibility I feel toward mother earth and future generations. But folks, my truck isn’t destroying the planet. Because while what I do on a personal level matters to me, it just doesn’t add up anywhere close to where the greatest amount of pollution comes from.

You see, while we’re all concerned about our personal carbon footprint, and perhaps rightfully so, most of us are blissfully unaware that it’s a manipulative bit of marketing.

The purpose of our personal carbon footprint

While it’s worthwhile to care about how we each individually impact the environment, the true intent behind “personal carbon footprints” is deflection. It all started with BP figuring out how they could trick us into thinking that it’s driving to the store, rather than cycling, that’s causing climate change. That if we all “do our part” we’ll fix the planet. There’s only one problem with that — it simply isn’t true. It’s manipulative marketing designed to make us, the consumers, feel as if we’re the ones who need to take steps to fix environmental problems.

Don’t let your carbon footprint allow massive corporations to manipulate you.

Don’t get me wrong, we absolutely should do our part. I just wonder, when it comes to emissions, how big of a role do I play compared to the role of a company like BP. Turns out, I don’t have to wonder —

“Research shows that since the late 1980s, just 100 big companies—including BP—are responsible for about 70 percent of global emissions. BP is near the top of the list of the highest-emitting companies in the world, responsible for more than 34 billion metric tons of carbon emissions since 1965.” 

So yeah, the small things add up, but if you look at 2020, a year in which a pandemic forced us to cut our emissions by a significant amount, “the true number global warming cares about — the amount of carbon dioxide saturating the atmosphere — will barely be impacted by an unprecedented drop in carbon emissions this year.”

Which means that the small things don’t add up to the big fuck-all carbon footprint made by BP and 99 other large companies. My truck isn’t destroying the planet and neither is your vehicle. But these companies are.

So what’s the best option?

Complaining about my truck isn’t actually helpful. In any way, shape, or form. In fact, it’s a lot like BP pointing the finger toward consumers instead of putting their own house in order — it gives you something to do, but doesn’t actually accomplish anything. We’re all a part of this. We pretty much all use the electricity and products made by major polluters. So even though we’re probably making responsible choices in many aspects of our lives, we’re far from perfect.

Windmills on the horizon
So how do we make significant change for the benefit of the environment?

At the end of the day, it may not be super sexy, but electing officials that will pass sensible legislation protecting our environment from the corporate entities that create more than 70% of the pollution in the world is the absolute best thing that we can do to help save the planet. Seriously, no matter how many gas-guzzlers we swap for fuel efficient hybrids, holding those companies accountable is the most important thing we can do to protect our environment.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take steps to make positive changes in our own lives. Nor am I suggesting that you should say, “fuck it!” and give up on any changes you’ve taken to reduce your carbon footprint. My point is that we shouldn’t let the small steps that we take allow the big polluters to continue polluting unencumbered.

Do the best you can wherever you’re at in life

Voting green(er) is the most powerful thing we can do to reduce pollution. But in our day to day lives, we can still make efforts to reduce our carbon footprint — we have to do what we can, whenever we have the opportunity to do so. Maybe that’s eating less red meat, riding a bike to work a couple times a week, or even buying a hybrid.

Or maybe you just want to drive a truck. Or a Trans Am. Or a spaceship, I don’t know. Just do your best to control what you can, and try to elect people who will hold polluters accountable. Maybe start a garden or begin composting. Try shopping local, or going meat free once a week. Don’t get an Amazon delivery every day of the week. Try to fix things before you throw them away. Stop watering your lawn so much, and maybe let it get a little shaggy…

Once you’re doing all that, then we can talk about my truck.

Inkling the dog riding in the ranger
But you’ll have to talk to Inkling about it too.

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