Shut Up About My Truck

Sure, it's big, bad, and thirsty. But I love it—and you can't judge a man by his wheels alone.

Ace Atkins

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Picture this:

The Pocket Argument


1. Big, wet dogs
2. The local whitewater hole is not Yaris-accessible
3. Tailgating
4. “Sure, man, I can tow you out of there…”
5. Bench seats allow her to sit closer
6. Home Depot

You’re at a stoplight, feeling smug in your new Prius, when a big Ford F-150 rumbles up. A large, scruffy guy in a baseball hat is behind the wheel, clearly enjoying his gas-guzzling V-8 engine, four-wheel drive, and oversize mud tires. You notice the tag: He’s from Mississippi. Oh, great, you think—a red-stater. The son of a bitch probably never even saw An Inconvenient Truth and tunes in to Fox News between reruns of Walker, Texas Ranger.

Of course, the guy in the Prius may not be you. But the guy in the F-150 is definitely me—although, for the record, I don’t watch Fox and I prefer the dearly departed Deadwood to Chuck Norris. And, yes, on this page of this environmentally aware magazine, I’m here to declare that I don’t feel bad about driving my truck. Not a bit. In fact, I love my truck. I love the power of the engine, the durable construction, and the way my 1-ELVIS license plate (proudly purchased at Graceland) looks above the front bumper.

But I also care a lot about the health of the planet. So let’s talk about that sneer you’re wearing when you see me on the road. When you do this, I’m reminded of the immortal words of Mississippi native Bo Diddley: “Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself.”

Does your life match your ride?

I’m a writer by profession, but I own a farm and often haul hay and feed from the local co-op. I drive mainly on rural roads—some unpaved—where a quick thunderstorm can strand most cars. My wife and I grow much of our food, shunning chemicals for manure from a nearby pasture. What we don’t grow, we try to buy at a farmers’ market less than a mile up the road or at our local butcher and baker. We also run a dog-rescue group, transporting animals in large crates that would mean multiple trips in a smaller truck.

Now, to you. You drive an eco-friendly gas sipper. That’s great. But after you park it, then what? Maybe you’re a frequent business traveler, reading this on a plane. Did you know that the average commercial flight in the U.S. burns more than 22 gallons per passenger?

Lucky me; I work at home.

Speaking of homes, how big is yours? In the 1970s, the average new American house was 1,700 square feet. Today it’s almost 2,500, and many homes are bigger than 3,000, which sounds great until you consider that household energy use is directly correlated with size.

I live in an 1,800 square-foot house built more than a century ago to withstand long summers of 100-degree heat and 80 percent humidity. Thanks to high ceilings, shade trees, and good ventilation, we use a window air-conditioning unit only at the hottest time in the afternoon. In the winter, we use sweaters, hats, and extra blankets to get through the coldest days.

Maybe your house has a nice TV room, where you watch the Sundance Channel’s The Green on a sweet flat-screen—which, by the way, probably uses three times more juice than my old television. And that doesn’t include TiVos, DVD players, Xboxes, computers, and chargers for cell phones and miscellaneous iThings. These “vampire” energy suckers use up to 600 million watts every day across the United States.

I read a lot of books.

Finally, since you’re reading Outside, I bet you’re careful to eat healthy. But many of you can’t grow anything yourself, since tilling up your yard for a garden might bring on the wrath of the homeowners association. Too bad, since a recent study done at the University of Alberta says that most of the environmental benefit of organic food disappears by the time it reaches your local supermarket.

I realize that not everyone can live the way I do—abandoning McMansions and high-tech toys to go rustic in the hills of north Mississippi. But as we roll together into an uncertain future, try to keep things in perspective. Contrary to the current fad, you don’t become a better planetary citizen simply by investing in a more fuel-efficient car. That macrobiotic sushi wrap you just ate may have generated more emissions than my tailpipe did this week. And we’re all entitled to a guilty pleasure or two—my truck, your flat-screen—as long as we do something to pay it back.

I work hard at doing just that. Do you?

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