A Jeep Driver, and a Recycler, Too

When I bought a Jeep Wrangler in September, I knew my vehicle of choice might engender the occasional finger wag from the hybrid-electric crowd. I just never expected it to happen here on Southern Scene.

In early February, when I wrote a post about how exciting it was to take my Jeep off road for the first time during this winter’s biggest snowstorm (“Going Deep in a Jeep”). The post was intended to extoll the simple pleasures of traveling deeper into the woods than I ever had on four wheels. However, the post’s lone commenter didn’t share the feeling.

“If you truly love mother nature you might consider driving a hybrid or one of the many cars that offer 40 MPG and higher,” wrote Joan of Medford in a reply titled “Go Deeper.” She went on to add, “Certainly a Jeep Wrangler is not the choice of a true lover and devotee of nature and in fact it is one of the worst (not to mention most selfish) choices for everyone on the planet.”

Later in her reply, Joan encouraged me to leave my Jeep behind and hike the trails rather than promote “activities that contribute to asthma in children, wars for oil, disturbing wildlife, exploiting 3rd world labor, and the poisoning and destruction of our thin fragile atmosphere.”

Okay. Not exactly the response I expected, but thought-provoking nonetheless.

My reaction to Joan’s exegesis has been mixed. I certainly see her point (albeit with a touch less fervency). Indeed, nature is best enjoyed in its purest, most undisturbed state—and here I speak from experience. I have relished countless excursions through the Pine Barrens on my own two feet. I’ve stood on mountaintops in Wyoming and beaches in Costa Rica where the only sign of human life was the sound of my own breathing. It’s sublime.

I’m also aware of the socioeconomic consequences of owning a vehicle that gets an average of 17 miles per gallon. Despite Joan’s assumption that “like most Americans you haven’t truly thought through what impact you are having on the rest of your world,” I gave the matter serious consideration before I decided to visit the dealership.

That being said, I’ve always taken umbrage with the notion that one can gauge another’s ecological dedication simply by the car he drives (or any singular benchmark for that matter). To be sure, I’ve had my share of moments encountering a Hummer on the road and making a swift, silent judgment about the driver’s lack of environmental consciousness. But then I wonder: Who am I to make such sweeping verdicts? For all I know, that person may live at the base of a secluded mountain in a yurt powered by river water and cook his all-organic meals on a stove heated by sunlight. Who is to say that just because someone drives a Hummer—or a Jeep—he or she is necessarily any less passionate about the planet than someone who drives a Toyota Prius or Nissan Leaf?

We all indulge to varying degrees when it comes to personal choices. Perhaps even Joan has a few ecological skeletons in her closet—we all do. As environmental matters become increasingly heated, it’s important to be temperate with our appraisal of others, because the story is usually a lot more nuanced than it appears. (I compost, buy organic, and recycle like a zealot.) My Jeep is just one level of ecological immoderation I have allowed myself—and I don’t think it makes me any more or less devoted to the beauty (and preservation) of nature.

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