Environmental Perspectives: a Young Couple's Summer Spent Living in a Van

Written by Samuel Kondratski

 

As highschool students, my then girlfriend (now my wife) Victoria and I had the vision of converting an old cargo van into a camper fit for a Canada wide road trip. After forking over $5,000 earned from part-time jobs as Lifeguards and Cashiers, we set to work on the white E-350 Ford Econoline.

In my grandparents machine shop we ripped out what was decidedly not #vanlife worthy and set to work putting in all of the paneling, cupboards, electrical systems, and finishing touches that made the van a home. True to the do it yourself spirit, we gained inspiration from social media and banged away at the project, eventually dubbing the van “Stanley”. Somehow we managed to pass an inspection, and Stanley was ready for the road.

Days before our wedding, we started our first drive with Stanley in what would become symbolic of our adventures together. Almost immediately there were problems that could only be addressed with tears and eventual laughter. The previous owner had put in an advanced security system, involving variable honking sounds that ranged from chirps to sirens. We discovered this, of course, not in the comfort of my grandparents shop but rather at a gas station 30 minutes down the road. My father, bless his heart, drove out to come help us find a solution. We found and then cut the wires linked to the irritating horn (the real horn still worked, don’t worry!) and we were soon on our way down Highway 2.

For our honeymoon we drove the Icefields Parkway, and we nervously floored the gas to get up the steep inclines and crossed our fingers that the brakes would hold on the descents. Our test trip complete, we readied ourselves for the big one; driving from Calgary, AB to St. Johns, NL.

It was a life changing summer, especially under the circumstances of just having graduated highschool, getting married, and our first aid response to a young climber's fatal scrambling accident a few days before our departure. On that trip we cried both happy and sad tears, ate a lot of good Canadian food, and visited some amazing tourism destinations.

Victoria and I are both passionate environmentalists, yet we sure spent a lot of time at gas stations. I’d estimate that during the summer of 2019 (in which we drove around 15,000 km) we burned close to 2,000 L of gasoline, resulting in the emission of over 5 tonnes of CO2e. Yikes.

Victoria and I grew up in the age of the Paris Agreement discussions, Greta Thunberg inspired protests, and watched Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth in school. We felt plenty of guilt when fueling up, because we knew that what we were doing wasn’t helping our future climate. When we weren’t at the pump, however, we simply focused on the new places our travel enabled us to see.

I think like us, many people are quite worried about climate change (there were no shortage of social media posts about the topic this last Earth Day, that’s for sure). When it comes to making a personal sacrifice, or even contending with the guilt associated with making a GHG emission, however, all too many skirt away from the issue.

For us, reducing our GHG emissions for that trip would have been pretty difficult, with our only real option being to cancel it altogether. I’m not happy that we dumped an extra 5 tonnes of CO2e into the atmosphere (where it will probably kick around for the next 1,000 years), but I wouldn’t want to trade what I learned and experienced during that trip for much of anything.

I want to help change the rhetoric that currently surrounds climate change and GHG emissions. We all emit, but I think we can do more about these emissions than we think. There’s no silver bullet to ‘fix’ climate change, but if we can focus on incremental improvements then I think current and future generations will be better off.

I’d expect that many Canadian’s, the same people that welcomed us with smiles and kind words throughout our travels, will emit more than 2,000 tonnes of CO2e over their lifetimes. That’s a lot, but are these people the bad guys in the fight against climate change? I don’t think so.

The P.E.I. fisherman who sold us part of his daily catch was not a bad man for powering his vessel with diesel. The man we talked to for hours at a Sydney, NS Tim Hortons while waiting for the ferry to Channel-Port aux Basques, NL wasn’t any less human because he got there on a gasoline fueled motorcycle.

If we have any hope in effectively addressing climate change, we need to be able to encourage ourselves to make improvements that reduce the impacts we have on the environment. We need to explore ways to implement the clean technologies that currently exist, and push ourselves to invent new methods that can still afford Canadian’s the opportunity to have successful careers and healthy families for generations to come.

It’s not a perfect solution, but after finishing up my exams for the spring of 2021, I planted an extra 50 trees on Savick’s Carbon Offset Regeneration Project in the County of Leduc, AB to reduce the environmental impact our 2019 trip had. I’d welcome others to support the offset projects I’ve had a part in developing, with the assurance that this initiative is being led by an individual whose career is committed to creating environmental solutions; a perspective that was largely formed during a lovely summer spent in a van with his wife.

 

Originally posted to Savick