Chevy Pham weaved in and out of crowds with her family as they walked through a festival in Bend, Oregon, in 2012. A small, futuristic-looking car parked amid vendor and sponsor tables caught her attention. “What is that?” she thought. It was a Leaf, Nissan’s relatively new at the time all-electric vehicle. A Nissan representative showcasing the car waved her over. “I thought it was a toy car,” Pham said. “I had never heard of an electric vehicle before.” The fact that the car didn’t have a gas tank amazed Pham. At the end of the day, she put the EV in the back of her mind.
For the next year, each time she started her engine, drove in stop-and-go traffic, or idled at intersections waiting for freight trains to pass, Pham continued to feel the weight she’s always felt about her carbon footprint. “I was putting out a lot of fumes and it just didn’t feel right,” she said.
Pham is a Buddhist meditator. Her belief in karma and rebirth, and deep care for this planet and the people on it, motivated her family to get solar panels back in 2009. She became an early adopter of solar because she recognized that conscious individual choices can help slow the Earth’s average warming temperatures—and have a positive ripple effect on those around her. And that’s what motivated her to be an early adopter of an electric vehicle, too.
Pham believes it’s her responsibility as a future elder in her family to create conditions in the present day that will allow her children, her grandchildren, and perhaps even herself to flourish in the future. “If I am lucky, I’ll be reborn as a human being again in a subsequent life… and I will be inheriting a polluted Earth [if we don’t do anything about climate change],” Pham said. “So it’s in my best interest to take care of this Earth, because I may suffer under those [degraded] conditions.”
Reading an article about EVs took her back to the festival where she first saw a Nissan Leaf. “I just drive around town,” Pham said. “I don’t need a gas guzzling vehicle to do that, right?” It took more than a month to convince her husband to sell his relatively new SUV so they could replace it with a 2013 Nissan Leaf. They installed a level two charger in their home when they initially leased the Leaf and eventually bought it when the lease term was up.
Buying an EV made financial sense for Pham’s family, too. First of all, they bought an EV model they could afford. They kept their minivan for only family road trips and once-a-month trips to Portland to shop at Vietnamese grocery stores. Secondly, they reaped savings immediately. In 2012 and 2013, gas prices rose close to $4 per gallon. As of the writing of this article, the average gallon of gas in Oregon costs $4.30. With their solar panels at home, the EV added about $10 to their electric bill during the hottest summer months, and they saved at least $80 a month in fuel costs.
It didn’t take long for Pham’s husband to fall in love with their Leaf. It’s fun to drive. “He loves it more than I do because he likes to brag about it,” she said. In the early days of owning the Leaf, he would chase down other Leaf owners in parking lots to bond over their EV connection. When they lived in Bend, they drove it at least a couple of times to Mt. Bachelor for skiing trips. They outfitted their EV with studded tires in the winter and used chains whenever they needed extra traction.
If you can afford it, why not be responsible?
Pham recognizes her family is privileged to be able to make these investments. “If you can afford it, why not be responsible?” She believes we have a responsibility to support new technologies that help address our climate crisis regardless of whether we recoup the costs of those investments. “There’s a cost to just living on this Earth,” she said. “We’re not taking into account the cost associated with the damage [of using fossil fuels].”
She wishes more humans operated with the seventh generation principle in mind; the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future. “Indigenous cultures worldwide – they tend to think long term and big picture, and interconnectedness and interdependence,” Pham said. “When you remove humanity from how you consume resources, then you’re only thinking about making money… What’s the point of living if you don’t care about the people that come after you?”
Pham said the Nissan Leaf is a keeper. She and her husband are waiting for the price of batteries to go down so they can swap out the Leaf’s battery pack for a larger one with a longer range. “Because the Leaf has so few components to maintain, it’ll last a long time and we take care of it,” she said. How long? Pham hopes the electric car will be in her family for another 30 years.