Tesla Created an Identity Problem

Getting a Tesla revealed an identity problem that I didn’t know I had.  My Model 3 is probably the 8th car I’ve ever owned. While I took care of its predecessors, they were all just cars – functional machines.  But with the Tesla, there’s this whole “tribe” thing among owners. We’re the people who know… the ones who voted with our wallet… the ones who believe in the mission of moving to a more sustainable energy future.

When I got my M3, it was a big deal for me personally.  I’d wanted a Tesla for years. For the first time, I had a sense of pride in my vehicle.   I had the pride of ownership, and a sense of membership with other owners whom I knew only from shared purchasing decisions and online communities.

At the same time, I also felt a great deal of humility.  Yes there are versions of the M3 that come in close to $40K (already an expensive option for me), but I opted for the long range, with self-driving capabilities, which bumped the price up a good bit.  The humility was that I had no desire to draw undue attention to myself for having spent more on a car than some people spend on a down-payment fo a house. I was self-conscious for making what I believe to be the right decision, while simultaneously recognizing that it’s a position of significant privilege that I was able to make that choice at all.

A couple weeks ago, somebody ran into the rear passenger wheel at speeds sufficient to nearly sheer it off.  I got a concussion and 2 fractured spinal plates. The shop says it will be another month before it is expected to be repaired due to parts and labor, and insurance is covering it.  But during this time, I’m back to driving an ICE-car (Internal Combustion Engine) that I’m renting.

Over my lifetime I’ve probably used thousands of gallons of gasoline and seldom given it any thought beyond the price of fuel.  Now, having gone gas-free for a while, the impact of filling the tank is inescapable to me. It’s something I know that I can (or could) avoid.  I know first hand how easy an EV (electric vehicle) is, and when I fill an ICE tank, I simply can’t pretend that it’s normal anymore. I can no longer pretend that it’s OK, nor can I ignore the impact each tank is having.  

It’s like The Matrix movie – most people took the blue pill and went back to dreamland, with no clue about the impact they are having by driving gasoline cars.  Switch to an EV, and you’ve just taken the red pill, awakening to the reality that most of the planet is slowly killing us all by conveniently ignoring the reality all around us.  And just like Neo, those who woke up to EV’s are up against an immense army of Agents Smith, which is the oil and gas industry making billions of dollars in profits while they will do almost anything to prevent their impending end of life.

Also, while my EV is in the shop, I found that two things are happening at once.  The first is that I’m creating this BS story that I’m no longer part of my tribe of EV owners/drivers.  It’s as if, despite having never been particularly status-conscious, I’ve just lowered myself to driving an ICE again, even if it’s temporarily.  I know it’s just a story in my head, but I formerly identified with part of the solution, and now I believe that I’m part of the problem again. Yes, I know that it’s temporary, but I genuinely experience it as physically and emotionally unpleasant, and each tank I fill is a reminder of that truth.

The second transformation from this unpleasantness is that if I’m generous, I can create some level of empathy for why so many people don’t want to take the red pill.  Awareness would simply be too painful. Cognitive dissonance kicks in, and they tell themselves that everything is just fine, or that there is nothing they can do, or that it’s too big for them to solve on their own through individual decisions, or that it’s government’s job to fix.

Another structure built into our society is the notion that it’s OK for everything to be far apart enough that cars are essential.  Our cities and towns and certainly our suburbs require a vehicle to get to the store, to school, to appointments, to recreation, and to so many things in our daily lives.  That’s all just part of the way it is, of course, but only because we’ve collectively failed to envision anything different.

I’ve thought about simply forgoing our family’s 2nd vehicle while mine is in the shop.  But then how would I get the kids to school, since there’s no bus to their Catholic school 8 miles away?  The very question drips with privileged absurdity… “How will I get my kids to private school unless I’m willing to drive them there?  Woe is me, I’m left no option but to drive as a result of [fill in reasons] to send them there.”

They are in 4th grade now, and even when we started them there, I brought up the number of miles we’d be commuting them over the next 8 years as a negative.  That was before I took the red pill. I had an inkling that it would have an environmental impact, but I failed to properly weigh it out.

8 miles, twice a day, 5 days a week, that’s an extra 80 miles a week.  

At maybe 38 weeks of school, that’s 1,520 miles/year.  

Over 8 years, that’s 12,160 miles.

At a generous 30 MPG, that’s still 450 gallons.

At 19.64 lbs of CO2 per gallon, that’s 7,960 lbs of CO2, just shuttling the kids to school – nearly 4 TONS, just for school, and we’re just ONE family!

But how many people take the time to do the math?

Way too few.

Hell, I just did it, but it has yet to change my behavior.

Personally, I’m thinking we need to move closer to the kids school, or send the kids to a school that’s closer to where we live – like the one they could WALK to, or take a school bus to get there.

And the resistance I feel to something so burdensome is at the very heart of why getting society off of gasoline is going to be so difficult.  It simultaneously demands a great deal of thought and effort from a great deal of people, who are not accustomed to factoring in the hidden costs of everyday decisions, let alone changing those decisions in the face of data.

Getting people off of gasoline is truly going to be a monumental task.