John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club in 1892, loved to walk. His journeys on foot could span hundreds of miles. Muir passed away well before the heyday of the American automobile, but if he were alive today, I wonder: How would America’s legendary naturalist get around?
A century-and-a-quarter later, the Sierra Club continues to promote walking, as well as biking, public transit and other earth-friendly modes of transportation. But to fulfill its environmental mission in the 21st century, the organization acknowledges that America’s transportation picture has dramatically changed since Muir’s day. The world is hungry for energy, and the club’s 1.4 million members and supporters face tough transportation choices. As a result, the Sierra Club has become one of the leading forces behind National Plug In Day, an event to educate the public about electric vehicles.
The Sierra Club, in association with Plug In America and the Electric Auto Association, organized National Plug In Day, which will take place on September 23, 2012, in 60 communities across the United States. Exact locations and times are available at Pluginday.org.
“We recognize that millions of Americans drive, and they will continue to drive,” said Gina Coplon-Newfield, director of green fleets and electric vehicles initiative at Sierra Club. “It’s a huge source of pollution and oil consumption in our country. So, we want to do what we can to make the cars that people are driving much more efficient and less polluting.”
It’s not that Sierra Club believes electric cars are a silver bullet solution. The organization was an active player in the campaign to raise fuel efficiency standards for all cars and trucks. That campaign culminated in new rules for Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE), finalized on August 28. CAFE now sets 54.5 MPG as the national average for all cars and trucks in the United States by 2025. (That is widely viewed as the Obama administration’s key environmental accomplishment to date.)
To achieve 54.5, the fleet will shift to a range of new technologies, including hybrids, diesels, and high-MPG small cars, as well as plug-in vehicles. “Everyone’s situation is different, so we don’t say that one particular car or one particular technology is the best choice for any person or family,” said Coplon-Newfield. “Our goal is to give them the right tools and information to help make informed choice.”
The right choice for Coplon-Newfield and her family was a Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, which they purchased in July. “We are loving it. For the most part, we are a one-car family,” she explained. “For us, the plug-in Prius is perfect because almost all are local miles run purely on electricity, and then for longer distance trips, we’re getting about 50 MPG.”
To help others make their “perfect” car choice, National Plug In Day will provide consumers an opportunity to test-drive and test-ride vehicles; meet EV owners; visit info booths where they can ask tough questions; and maybe participate in electric vehicle parades. Think of it as a giant electric car tailgate party.
National Plug In Day was first held in 2011 in 29 locations. This year, it doubles its reach to 60 communities. “This shows that more people are driving electric vehicles and more people are excited to tell their neighbors about them,” said Sierra Club’s Coplon-Newfield. “We’re expecting many thousands of people to turn out, drive EVs, look under the hood, kick the tires and have a good time.”
Photo: Gina Coplon-Newfield, director of green fleets and electric vehicles initiative at Sierra Club, with her two children and their 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid.