Dear EarthTalk: My wife and I drive more than 20,000 miles a year in our
recreational vehicle (RV) which gets about seven miles to the gallon, but high
fuel prices are eating into our nest egg. Are there more fuel efficient ways to
enjoy the RV lifestyle? -- Walter Hendricks, Tampa, Florida
Major RV manufacturers all report a downturn in sales since the price of fuel
started to skyrocket a few years ago. A typical RV weighs more and gets worse
gas mileage than an 18-wheeler truck, and those who might have bought one in the
past to save money on lodging and food on their road travels are now realizing
that filling er up might end up costing more than hotels and restaurants.
But as with the auto and truck industry overall, some RV manufacturers are
scrambling to incorporate new features and design new models with better fuel
efficiency and a lower overall carbon footprint.
According to the website RV.net, several factors go into designing a greener RV.
First and foremost is reducing weight, which can be accomplished by using
lighter materials and improving the structural design. Reducing the size of RV
engines also can help reduce fuel consumption (as well as overall weight)if
owners can live with trading off some horsepower, that is. More efficient
transmissions, better aerodynamics and increased non-powered engine cooling
round out the suggestions on RV.net.
Some of these features can be found in the new Avanti line of RVs from
Indiana-based Damon Motor Coach, which offers a 70 percent or more increase in
fuel economy over other large ("Class A") RVs. Damon essentially converted the
ultra-efficient chassis, engine and transmission of a leading parcel delivery
fleet truckpackage delivery companies optimize for fuel efficiency in their
fleets to save on fuelfor use as an RV. The Avanti's chassis also sits lower
than other RVs, so it gets less wind resistance. These factors add up in fuel
efficiency14.5 miles per gallondouble that of other RVs in its class.
Of course, size isn't everything. Ontario-based Roadtrek takes stripped down
commercial vanssuch as the Chevrolet Express or Dodge Sprinterand converts
them into deluxe, albeit smaller, motor homes with fuel efficiency ranging from
15 to 30 miles per gallon. Meanwhile, Sportsmobile also offers a wide range of
converted GM and Ford vans customized as motor homes. Owners of Volkswagen's
popular "pop-top" Eurovan, discontinued in North America in 2003, can reportedly
sell their vans for what they paid for them new, even with high mileage, due to
surging demand and lack of supply.
Another option for reducing fuel consumption is to put a "slide-in" camper-top
onto an existing pick-up truck. The additional weight will fuel efficiency
slightly, but you'll still get much better mileage than with any kind of large
RV. Those used to roomier accommodations might opt to tow a "fifth-wheel"a
large RV-style trailer with all the amenitiesbehind a suitable car, pick-up or
SUV with a trailer hitch.
But no matter what, living on the road is not going to be good for your carbon
footprint or for the environment in general. If the environment is a big
concern, giving up the RVand outfitting your home with energy efficient windows
and appliancesmight just be the most responsible thing you can do.
CONTACTS: RV.net, www.rv.net; Damon Motor
Coach, www.damonrv.com; Roadtrek,
Dear EarthTalk: I caught the tail end of a discussion about "ecopsychology"
recently on the radio, something about the negative impacts of people not
communing with nature enough, spending too much time watching TV, sitting at
computers, etc... Can you enlighten? -- Bridget W., Seattle, WA
The term ecopsychology, first coined by writer and theorist Theodore Roszak in
his 1992 book, Voice of the Earth, is loosely defined as the connection between
ecology and human psychology. Roszak argues that humans can heal what he calls
their "psychological alienation" from nature and build a more sustainable
society if they recognize that we all have an innate emotional bond with the
The basic premise is that we operate under an illusion that people are separate
from nature, and that humans are more apt to derive comfort and even inspiration
from contact with the natural worldwith which they evolved over the
millenniathan with the relatively recent construct of modern urban society.
Distancing ourselves from nature, Roszak maintains, has negative psychological
consequences for people and also leads to ecological devastation at the hands of
a society that, as a result, lacks empathy for nature.
In a more recent essay called "Ecopsychology: Eight Principles," Roszak, who
went on to start the non-profit Ecopsychology Institute, states that the core of
the mind is the ecological unconscious, which, if repressed, can lead to an
"insane" treatment of nature. "For ecopsychology, repression of the ecological
unconscious is the deepest root of collusive madness in industrial society," he
writes, adding that "open access to the ecological unconscious is the path to
While many psychotherapists have adopted aspects of ecopsychology in treating
various mental illnesses and psychological disorders, the teachings of Roszak
and other contributors to the still-evolving field can be helpful even for those
not in need of a therapist's care. John V. Davis, a Naropa University professor
who teaches and writes about ecopsychology, for example, says that meditating in
the outdoors, participating in wilderness retreats, involving oneself in
nature-based festivals or celebrations of the seasons or other natural
phenomena, joining in Earth-nurturing activities such as environmental
restoration or advocacy work, and spending time around animals (including pets,
which have been shown to have healing effects with the elderly and with people
with psychological disabilities) are just a few ways in which the discipline can
be used by everyday people to the benefit of their psychological health.
Getting kids involved with nature and the outdoors is viewed by ecopsychology
fans as key to their development, especially in the technological age we occupy
now. Richard Louv, author of the book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our
Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, argues that kids are so plugged into
television and video games that they've lost their connection to the natural
world. This disconnect, Louv maintains, has led not only to poor physical
fitness among our youth (including obesity), but also long-term mental and
spiritual health problems. His work has sparked a worldwide movement to
introduce more kids to the wonders of nature through various planned and
CONTACTS: Ecopsychology Institute, ecopsychology.athabascau.ca; John V.
Davis, www.johnvdavis.com; Richard Louv,
Institute for Ecopsychology,
www.ecopsychology.org; Project NatureConnect,
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