EarthTalk: What is the best eco-friendly vehicle
choice for those of us who need a pickup or SUV? We are about
to replace two older trucks with one that is more fuel-efficient.
-- Barbara Roemer, via e-mail
Fuel efficiency has not typically been the calling card of
pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles (SUVs). Small hybrid
gasoline-electrics are all the rage now among commuters looking
to save money at the pump, but similar technology has been
slower to gain traction in the “light truck” category.
Carmakers have made strides in recent years, though, to meet
growing demand for vehicles of all kinds that will sip and
Currently, General Motors is the only carmaker offering hybrid
pickups. Hybrid versions of its Chevrolet Silverado and GMC
Sierra 4x4s have been available since 2005, and get about
18 miles per gallon (mpg)/city and 21/highway. The non-hybrid
versions get 15/19 mpg, but cost $1,500 less. GM claims that
those paying the hybrid premium will get back that extra investment
in fuel savings over three to five years.
Toyota reportedly has plans for hybridizing its full-size
pickup line, too. The company recently unveiled its FTX concept
truck, a large 4x4 hybrid pickup, hinting that technology
developed for the project will likely end up in its current
full-size Tundra pickup. But no such models have hit showrooms
yet, and Toyota remains mum about a release date. Meanwhile,
industry analysts have been picking up chatter about a hybrid
version of Honda’s popular Ridgeline pickup, but the
company has yet to publicly announce plans.
Regarding fuel-efficient SUVs, consumers have a few more choices.
Ford currently leads the charge with its Escape Hybrid model,
a smaller SUV that gets 36/31 mpg. Ford makes similar SUV
hybrids under its Mercury and Mazda brands. Meanwhile, Toyota’s
mid-sized Highlander Hybrid SUV clocks in at 32/27 mpg, while
the similar Lexus RX 400 Hybrid gets 33/28 mpg. All these
vehicles post significantly better fuel efficiency ratings
than their non-hybrid counterparts, but also cost more up
If you’re looking to purchase a new hybrid-electric
car or truck in the U.S. before the end of 2007 you may qualify
for a healthy tax credit, depending on the fuel efficiency
of the vehicle. According to the Internal Revenue Service
(IRS), a 2007 4WD Chevrolet Silverado or GMC Sierra hybrid
pickup would garner a tax credit worth $650 (2WD versions
qualify for a $250 credit), and the new 2WD Ford Escape Hybrid
and Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid each qualify for a whopping
$2,600 credit. Buyers of the 2007 Lexus RX 400h can count
on getting $2,200 back. The credits are limited to the first
60,000 sold, though, so if you’re looking to jump on
the hybrid bandwagon you should run, not walk, to the nearest
Replacing an older truck with a newer model--especially a
hybrid--will almost always guarantee better fuel economy,
but it might not be the most environmentally sensitive way
to go, all things considered. Some experts would argue for
keeping the old truck, and fixing and tuning it up, thus preventing
another new vehicle from hitting the roads while an old one
clogs up the junkyard. Repairing an old vehicle is usually
cheaper than buying a new one, though it is difficult to quantify
the cost of ongoing maintenance hassles.
CONTACTS: IRS Hybrid Vehicle Tax Credits,
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Fuel Economy Information,
COURTESY OF GETTY IMAGES
vintage pickup truck sorely in need of a hybrid replacement.
Why do environmentalists advocate that people “eat
locally?” I don’t understand the connection between
patronizing local food producers and environmental quality.
-- Timothy Douglas, Burlington, VT
In our modern age
of food preservatives
and additives, genetically altered crops and E. coli outbreaks,
as with the recent spinach debacle, people are increasingly
concerned about the quality and cleanliness of the foods they
eat. Given the impossibility of identifying the pesticides
used and the route taken to grow and transport, say, a banana
from Central America to our local supermarket, foods grown
locally make a lot of sense for those who want more control
over what they put into their bodies.
John Ikerd, a retired agricultural economics professor who
writes about the growing “eat local” movement,
says that farmers who sell direct to local consumers need
not give priority to packing, shipping and shelf life issues
and can instead “select, grow and harvest crops to ensure
peak qualities of freshness, nutrition and taste.” Eating
local also means eating seasonally, he adds, a practice much
in tune with Mother Nature.
“Local food is often safer, too,” says the Center
for a New American Dream (CNAD). “Even when it’s
not organic, small farms tend to be less aggressive than large
factory farms about dousing their wares with chemicals.”
Small farms are also more likely to grow more variety, too,
says CNAD, protecting biodiversity and preserving a wider
agricultural gene pool, an important factor in long-term food
Eating locally grown food even helps in the fight against
global warming. Rich Pirog of the Leopold Center for Sustainable
Agriculture reports that the average fresh food item on our
dinner table travels 1,500 miles to get there. Buying locally-produced
food eliminates the need for all that fuel-guzzling transportation.
Another benefit of eating locally is helping the local economy.
Farmers on average receive only 20 cents of each food dollar
spent, says Ikerd, the rest going for transportation, processing,
packaging, refrigeration and marketing. Farmers who sell food
to local customers “receive the full retail value, a
dollar for each food dollar spent,” he says. Additionally,
eating locally encourages the use of local farmland for farming,
thus keeping development in check while preserving open space.
Portland, Oregon’s EcoTrust has launched a campaign,
the Eat Local Challenge, to encourage people to eat locally
for a week so they can see---and taste--the benefits. The
organization provides an “Eat Local Scorecard”
to those willing to try. Participants must commit to spending
10 percent of their grocery budget on local foods grown within
a 100-mile radius of home. In addition they are asked to try
one new fruit or vegetable each day, and to freeze or otherwise
preserve some food to enjoy later in the year.
EcoTrust also provides consumers with tips on how to eat locally
more often. Shopping regularly at local farmers’ markets
or farmstands tops the list. Also, locally owned grocery and
natural foods stores and coops are much more likely than supermarkets
to stock local foods. The Local Harvest website provides a
comprehensive national directory of farmers’ markets,
farm stands and other locally grown food sources.
CONTACTS: Center for a New American Dream,
EcoTrust Eat Local Challenge,
www.eatlocal.net; Local Harvest, www.localharvest.org.
SYNDICATED COLUMN ONLY ON AMERICAJR.COM