The Subaru Conundrum

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Researcher’s Obsession. I have wanted a Subaru Forester or Legacy wagon for decades. This obsession, and yes, it was an obsession, began when I started the strange, long, creative path called a research career. I do field work in streams and a Subaru Legacy wagon had the space to carry gear and the four wheel drive to get me where I needed to go. I could also get a dog someday, someday when the long work weeks and dissertation were over. This was the plan, but it never panned out. I took a left turn here and another left turn there and decades passed without the acquisition of a Subaru. Then, just recently, I had the chance to purchase a mid-2000s wagon. I was delighted. I was excited. I had visions of me rough roading it to research sites, driving through mud, across boulders, through streams to reach those hard-to-reach sites. Then I found out about the fuel efficiency. It was low, around 20 mpg. A conundrum! I really wanted the wagon, to fulfill a dream, to end an obsession. But. But, I could not do it. In the years between the initial dream and the final choice, I became a scientist, an ecologist, a taxonomist, and an environmentalist.

Climate Change. Climate change is natural. Yes. It is also caused by human activities. Yes. The ramifications of our choices, our decisions are no longer waiting around for 2100, but are happening now. Honestly, I thought I would pass from this beautiful biosphere called Earth long before the clear and present dangers of climate change became manifest. But I was wrong. I no longer worry ONLY for my children and your children who will inherit this catastrophe but worry for myself as I age into climate extremes and uncertainties. So, no, I could not purchase a Subaru.

Disconnect. Subaru has made more fuel efficient cars for American consumption in recent years, but an average of 28 mpg, an average between city and open-road driving, is not good enough. Interestingly, Subaru seems to be a favorite car among university and college professionals, many of whom are climate change literate, many of whom know that carbon emissions from our cars combined with our car/road culture are significant contributors to climate change. Why? Why is there this huge disconnect between knowing about the causal mechanisms of climate change and our actions?

Not a Little Thing. This is not a little thing. We play a game called “Subaru” when West Fork Bitterroot_Sept_2018ddriving around town. The first person to spot a Subaru shouts out “Subaru”. Yes, it is an inane, silly, and fun family game. And I still love Subaru wagons. And yes, I drive. I drive a very fuel-efficient hybrid that precludes me from getting to some beautiful stream sites in the region. I have had to turn back on many occasions. This blog is not about calling out people who drive Subaru cars or who drive at all. Or perhaps that is the point. Why do I drive at all knowing that a catastrophe is coming? And that the catastrophe is a direct result of my actions (in part)?

Cap and Trade. An individual cannot completely remove themselves from the trappings of modern life that include large carbon emissions. Trying to be “that” person can lead to a rabbit hole of insanity. We can reduce emissions in some ways while allowing for larger emissions in other ways, our own, personal cap and trade system. If I drove an early model Subaru Legacy, I could walk to work or take public transportation. I could cut out air travel or live in a multi-resident dwelling to cut fuel and energy costs. For some people, their other car is a Prius or Tesla. Perhaps if we were all aware of the ramifications of our decisions regarding carbon emissions, in a more intimate way than say filling out a carbon footprint web sheet, then we could make meaningful decisions in our cap and trade system. Drive a Forester, cut consumption by 2/3rd. Drive an old Legacy wagon, no more flying (look it up, flying leaves a huge foot print). I had a friend who flew to Central and South America to provide amazing experiences for his young children, but once he found out about the footprint he quite flying for years in an environmental existential crisis.

Size Matters. The reason for this disconnect is that the issue is too large. Sure, I may work on conserving large fish or small insects and my driving a low fuel efficiency vehicle is driving them extinct through climate change, but the linkages still seem so remote, so far away. We individually seem like such small cogs in the machinery of a global, changing climate. How can we confront this issue on a day to day basis? I have had more than one friend who just gave it all up, deciding that climate change was an inevitability and we might as well drive gas guzzlers or purchase high flow toilets. Perhaps they went down that rabbit hole.

Subaru Conundrum. For now, I shall forgo the Subaru and drive my fuel efficient car, but maybe in the future I will get a used Subaru Forester for sampling only. Or perhaps I will car pool with someone who has a rugged, four wheel drive research-mobile. Or perhaps I will car pool and take public transportation and never fly again. Mostly, I will be aware of my climate decisions and my role in this large, global phenomenon.

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