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How to Reduce Carbon Footprint of Transportation

Last fall, we took a road trip in our Jeep, which we’ve had outfitted for overlander, complete with a pop-up tent, vestibule, solar panel and refrigerator. We were proud of our new getup and couldn’t wait to try it, so we took it on a trip to Maine, so see family, capturing several state high points along the way. It was the trip of a lifetime, but all the added features increased weight and drag, so the gas mileage was severely reduced, from the usual 18 miles per gallon (mpg) to a dismal and embarrassing 11.5 mpg. The total carbon footprint (cfp) for the 4786-mile trip was a regrettable 3.24 tonnes, significantly increasing our total cfp for 2021.

Not wishing to spew that much carbon on a vacation ever again, when we took our next trip, to Milwaukee to see our grandkids, we opted for a much lower cfp option, a train. On that trip, we went 2104 miles round trip, Ubered around town as needed, and reduced our cfp to 89 g/mile, for a total of 0.2 tonnes. Ah, much better! So, it turns out, it can be done. We can still travel, and do so with a lower carbon footprint.

Obviously, the train took longer than a plane, about 20 hours door-to-door. We reserved a sleeper car, with bunk beds, boarded the train around 7 PM, and were served an awesome dinner in the diner car. The next day we had amazing meals while watching the midwestern landscape go by. The train dropped us into downtown Milwaukee, about a mile from our hotel. Easy Peasy. The sleepers cost a little more than a plane, but not by much, especially considering that food is included. In coach, the train is a lot less expensive than an airplane.

For our next trip, to see my Aunt Jeanie in Florida, we considered our options. One of them, probably the simplest, was to not go at all. However, I haven’t seen my aunt in 5 years, and she’s now pushing 90. We’re very close, and I have a lot of cousins and relatives in Florida that I haven’t seen in longer than that. Also, we’re state highpointers, and we had zero state highpoints in the southern U.S. So, how could we do a trip to Florida with minimum cfp, while capturing as many state highpoints as possible? The options we considered are in Table 1.

We were surprised to see that driving an EV was by far the lowest cfp for the trip. It was even lower than the train, because of all the side trips we’d have to take in a vehicle to get the high points, which were scattered from Louisiana to Florida. We decided that an EV would be our best option to keep our cfp down. Since we don’t own an EV, we had to rent one. This felt like a good time to try it out, and see what it’s like to travel long distances across the country, given the logistics of keeping the vehicle charged, as opposed to using gas.

I got on the web and found a site called that actually had EV’s in our area. It turns out that Turo is similar to Air B&B, but it’s for auto-owners to rent their cars. The process to rent was simple and intuitive, and we had a Tesla Model Y long-range booked in no time. We needed a long-range for maximum distance between charges.

We were put into contact with the car owner, Michael, who gave us instructions on how to pick it up. We never met Michael, he simply texted us and told us where the car was, and opened it with a code when we reached the car. The key card was inside, and soon Hilary was happily driving us back to our house so that we could load up the car.

Hilary had no trouble plotting our course to our first destination, Arcadia, Louisiana, where we would do our first high point, Driskill Mountain, at 535 feet of elevation. The monitor on the Tesla laid out where we would need to recharge our battery along the way, optimizing our distance between charges, around 150 miles or so. The car came with an adapter that could charge at the more abundant Charge Point or Plug Shares if we found ourselves in a place without Tesla Superchargers. We definitely wanted to use the superchargers where possible, because they take 20 – 30 minutes for a charge, where the other chargers normally require several hours.

We were pleasantly surprised at how much space there was for our stuff. The hatchback trunk was huge, and we easily stashed our suitcases and camping gear, tent, sleeping bags and pads, with plenty of room to spare. We used the big back seat for our day stuff, a couple boxes with food and dishes for tailgate camping and our day packs and books. We used the frunk for our cooler and recyclable waste that we generate during our trip, to take home and recycle.

Our first super charger was just 13 miles away, at Lone Tree, a short distance south on I-25, so we headed there and worked through our first charge, which was fairly intuitive. You basically just plug it in and wait. There’s a timer on the control panel that tells you how much time is left. Once we were topped, we had enough charge to make it to Trinidad. We geeked out on the control panel on the road. It turns out you can do anything in a Tesla from the control panel. There’s no dashboard in a Tesla, just the control panel. It’s all there. Climate control, seat heaters, music, the route in real time, charge status and range, along with hundreds of other metrics at our fingertips. Hilary called it a spaceship. It feels like you’re in a spaceship, and it feels like it really can do anything except actually fly. Maybe someday. I have to wonder what will they think of next.

By the time we reached Trinidad, it was late in the day so we stopped for the night. We charged the battery, and found a hotel while we waited.

On the fourth night, we found a nice camp site just north of Meridian, Alabama, at Okatibbee Lake. We sat in our camping chairs, watching the sun set and the full moon rise and listening to the crickets and katydids chirping away. We slept well in our tent, until about 3:00 AM, when the thunder started. It started raining lightly, then in buckets, dumping on our tent. Nervous, we wondered if we should bolt to the safety of the car. Neither of us had ever been in a storm this radical in a tent. Ever. As much as we’ve been camping. It turns out that Alabama storms are a whole other thing. We expected it to stop any time, but it didn’t. It just went on and on. Thankfully, the tent held up and we stayed dry. Good old Fitzroy.

At 6:00 AM, when we were planning to leave, it was still storming like crazy. We ripped everything down as fast as we could and threw it in the car, as the rain let up just a little. Almost as soon as we were packed, it started back up again. We headed back into town to get the car charged, and left with a 70% charge, which Tesla said would be enough to get us to the next charge station. It wasn’t. We were short by at least 5% and, seeing that coming, we searched for a non-Tesla station in the small town of Camden, Alabama, luckily finding one at the McGraw-Webb Chevrolet.

A guy named Jeff came out and guided us in as we backed up to the charger. Hilary snapped in the adapter. When it didn’t start charging, we all looked at the charger and saw that none of the indicator lights were on. Another guy came out to help, and we decided it had to be the breaker. They went in and, sure enough, the breaker was open, so they reset it, and the Tesla started charging. For a few seconds. Then the lights went out again. They reset the breaker again, and it again died immediately. It turned out the charger had two 10-amp breakers, and the Tesla was trying to pull 48 amps. I found the place on the control panel to reduce the charge rate to 19 amps on the Tesla panel, and that took care of it. But it was definitely really slow. We had 16 hours until a full charge. We decided to go for 15%, enough to get us to the next supercharger. That took 3 hours.

A guy named Larry showed up, and offered to drive us to his restaurant, Larry’s Drive In. We took him up on that, since it was still raining like crazy, and had an awesome breakfast, served up with true southern hospitality. After breakfast, Larry took us back to the Tesla, where we had another hour to wait. This little hiccup with the Tesla gave us a first-hand look at what southern hospitality is. Hilary offered to pay Jeff for the electricity, and Jeff told him we owed him nothing, they were glad to help. Enough to restore my faith in humanity. Maybe there’s hope, after all.

After our first range-anxiety experience, we learned our lesson well. Never leave a supercharger with less than full charge, even if Tesla says we can make it. Stay the extra 10 minutes and top it. We think the reason we lost charge faster than expected was that it was cold, so the battery was using more electrons to stay warm. Also, the driving rain and wind were impacting efficiency by adding friction, or drag, which reduces mileage on any car. We foolishly had our heater on, which increased consumption, and the windshield wipers were running like crazy, which we think added more demand n the battery than you’d think, since it’s a big window, so the blades are long. All that easily explains the extra 5% charge that we consumed.

In Florida, it seemed like the Tesla superchargers were everywhere, on all the Service Islands along the highways, and the WaWas, the ubiquitous quick stops, all had them. There was always one open when we arrived, so we never had to wait. There was a WaWa nearby when we were staying with my Aunt Jeanie in West Palm Beach, and we took her around while we were there, including to the high point of Palm Beach County, where she joined us on a Florida County High Point.

We hit three more state high points, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, and visited more friends and family on the way back to Golden. Below is a shot of Hilary and I and the Tesla at Woodall, the high point of Mississippi.

On our return, we simply emptied out the car and recharged it at Golden Mills. Before I drove it back to the parking lot in downtown Denver, since it was first Saturday in Golden, I saw the EV display at Golden Real Estate and stopped by to say “Hi” to Jim Smith, the owner, and show off the Tesla. Once the car was back in the downtown lot, I texted Michael that the car was back, and he locked it up remotely.

When we got home, we ordered a Tesla Model Y long range. It will solve our carbon footprint anxiety in travel for years to come.

The Three Legs of Sustainability

Per my research and modelling of the three legs of sustainability, to save our planet we need to do address the three legs. Table 2 shows our actions to help with this, while offsetting our travel at the same time. Specifically, we donated to organizations that provide birth control to women who want to control their family sizes, but can’t afford birth control, and to “One Tree Planted”, an organization that plants trees.We donated $25 to each organization.

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