Road Trips Made Me Fall in Love With the Natural Beauty of America — But They Are Hardly Eco-Friendly

Like most of my fellow Americans, I love nothing more than packing up my car and hitting the open road. Ever since moving to Colorado almost two years ago, I’ve had a burning desire to explore the West Coast: from the mountains and alpine lakes of my new home state to the salt flats and deserts of neighboring Utah, I want to see it all.

Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah

Like most of my peers, I drive a used car…it’s just that mine also happens to have 260,000 miles on it. I might have bought it at a bargain price, but there are tradeoffs to a car with such wear and tear. The radio doesn’t work, the passenger’s seat doesn’t slide forwards, and the gas mileage is…less than optimal. I’m lucky to get 19mpg on an open stretch of highway; that figure drops to 13–14mpg when chugging up long mountain passes, taxing my engine to its limits. My Xterra gets me where I need to go — everywhere — but I pay a heavy price for that privilege. Gas adds up.

The author’s vehicle, a 2001 Nissan Xterra, outside Moab, Utah

My dad, a lifelong resident of New York City, once asked me how I could bear to spend so much time in the car — wasn’t it excruciating having to deal with the traffic, the same scenery rolling past? While this might be the case back home — sitting in gridlock for hours to drive a few short miles — out west is a different story. Rarely is there traffic of any kind, and I’m not exactly cruising through an industrial landscape marred by billowing smokestacks spewing CO2.

Here, I drive past jagged peaks, crystalline lakes, and snow-capped forests while on the road. Sure, I might have to spend a few hours in the car, but those few hours are worth it — they afford me the opportunity to see things that I never would have seen had I stayed at home. Countless road trips given me an appreciation for nature and the environment that I never would have gotten had I continued to live in a city.

Buffalo Mountain, outside Silverthorne, Colorado

Yet I’ve found myself in somewhat of a hypocritical position: I can crisscross the country all I want, in search of peace, serenity, and connection to nature, taking pictures and sharing what I’ve seen with others. But I’m not exactly doing it in an eco-friendly way: I’m a single male who put 8,000 miles on his car “exploring nature” during the summer. I can live as cleanly as I please, and espouse all of the doctrines of an eco-warrior, but when it comes down to it, I used 470 gallons of gasoline to get there.

That’s not exactly environmentally friendly.

I’ve thought long and hard as to how I can rectify this imbalance, how I can still treat myself to the natural wonders of our country without contributing to atmospheric decay, and until I can afford a $25,000 Prius, there’s not all that much that I can do — aside from be conscious about my inconsistencies.

These days, the environment needs all of the info warriors it can get: climate-change deniers abound, and the burden falls to those of us who actually care about the future of the planet to educate others about what we can do to help. The easiest place to start is to simply make yourself aware of your personal impact on the environment.

I love road trips, especially those that take me to far-flung destinations of natural beauty, so that I can view nature’s pristine balance untouched by the scourge of man. Yet in doing so, I am very directly affecting the environment in a negative way. 470 gallons of gas emits 9,208 pounds of CO2 into the environment, roughly equivalent to 61.7% of an average homes electricity use in one year.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Being part of the solution first requires acknowledging that you might be part of the problem. Sure, I love driving around the country and exploring American beauty, but that doesn’t mean my actions have no impact: while not as unsightly as an billowing, industrial smokestack, I’m still contributing large quantities of CO2 to the atmosphere.

Take a minute and think — what sort of impact does your daily lifestyle have on the environment around you, and more importantly, how does your method of travel do the same?

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Matthew Koller’s story.