When environmentalist David Suzuki and his wife, Tara Cullis, needed to travel from their home in Vancouver to Toronto – to perform their theatre production “What You Won’t Do For Love” at June’s Luminato Festival – the couple needed to make a big decision.
“The simple truth is, I’m trying to keep from flying in jet planes and the reason is we know air transportation is a very heavy carbon emitter,” said Suzuki. “I’ve done a hell of a lot of flying working on ‘The Nature Of Things.’ Over a year ago, I told the CBC I wasn’t going to fly to do the show anymore.”
Suzuki said they thought about taking a bus across the country but discovered there were no companies offering direct trips from Vancouver to Toronto. They considered taking the train but found the cost of two round-trip tickets was $18,000 – and it, too, was not consistent with their philosophical beliefs.
“The terrible thing was the carbon footprint from going on the train is twice the carbon footprint of an economy class jet, so the freight train was not an option for us,” Suzuki said.
That whittled down the couple’s option to driving. They own a five-year-old Leaf, an EV with a total range of 150 kilometres per charge – which meant the journey would see them stop repeatedly to recharge.
When Volvo Car Canada Ltd., a sponsor of the festival, heard about the couple’s challenge, it offered them the use it its C40 Recharge fully electric compact sport utility vehicle, which has a range of up to 335 kilometres.
As well, Ian Mauro, a filmmaker and executive director of Climate Atlas of Canada, who has known Suzuki for 20 years, and fellow filmmaker Marcel Kreutzer decided to make the trip with the couple, documenting their journey.
During their trip from British Columbia to Ontario, the group learned all about EV charging and range anxiety and came away with some thoughts about what the federal government needs to do to cut down on fossil fuels.
The journey also documented climate solutions that people and groups are involved in across Canada. They made several stops, including one in Lethbridge, Atla., to visit with the Kainai Nation – it is working to prevent the extinction of the buffalo on its land – a farm in Saskatchewan that has embraced solar power, and the city council in Regina, which has pledged to have the community fully powered by renewable energy before 2050.
“The trip turned into a really inspirational thing to see that change is happening in terms of getting away from fossil fuel used to generate electricity and travel,” Suzuki said. “The revolution is here. It’s undeniable. You can see it in Toronto. Just look on every block and count the number of Teslas. It’s just astounding. (Elon) Musk has really caused a revolution in electric cars.
“The technology is here – solar and wind storage,” he said. “We just need the federal commitment to change the power grid so we can use this renewable energy. We need charging stations as frequently as you find a gas station.”
And, Suzuki said, the process of charging vehicles can be complicated. “You have to be computer literate and download an app and then go to the right places,” he said. “These two guys that drove us were computer savvy.
“The other thing is, yes, we can make it across the country with longer, bigger batteries. But if we stopped in Regina and decided to make a side trip up to Churchill Falls, or wherever, that might take 150 kilometres. I wouldn’t be able to do it because there aren’t enough charging stations. We can go straight from Vancouver to Toronto, but to sightsee and make side trips, that becomes much more complicated.
“The new cars coming out with 350 or 450 (kilometre ranges), that’s a big relief from mileage anxiety. Now we want to have the grid that allows you to travel around more than just the highway.”
Mauro said driving an EV requires a different mindset compared to driving a gas-powered vehicle because it’s not as simple as just stopping at a filing station, gassing up and going. Instead, you have time to contemplate what you are doing.
“It makes you think about your impact and the need to use energy wisely,” he said. “In this energy revolution, the vehicles themselves are creating a mindset that is more aligned with ecological thinking. That simply is not possible with fossil fuels that are easily available. This kind of vehicle is not just technology, it’s a shift in our perspective.”
He said this was most evident when they were charging their vehicle and spending $20 while a pickup truck filling up with gas would be paying more than $100 dollars. “The more people that get behind an electric car are going to realize that this is the future – and it might just shift that quickly.”
Suzuki said his experience showed him that driving with an electric car is a great way to explore the country, but there needs to be a cheaper and more comfortable way of doing it.
“I envision trains and buses being a big part of the way we travel over a long distance,” he said. “We need to twin our rail tracks, so we have fast trains, and we need them to be electrified rather than running on diesel. I think magic happens when you do that,” he said. “Trains could be a huge part of our vacations and we could see our country. It’s an amazing country.”