Eva Bradley: Time to cruise Electric Avenue

By Eva Bradley

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Charging it was easy and quick and considerably cheaper than a tank of petrol.
Charging it was easy and quick and considerably cheaper than a tank of petrol.

What does it take to make a change? The answer to that is complex and depends on who - and what - you are trying to change. There's no doubt about the fact that change on many levels needs to happen to restore and protect our environment.

But how on earth (and for earth) does one begin when the problem is so vast and every country and every individual within those countries has a different level of buy-in to the problem (to the point some won't even accept we have a problem)?

I can't speak for the rest of the world's population but I do know that I'm prone to laziness when it comes to the environment.

This is not something I'm proud to admit, but I figure acknowledgement of my languor makes me half a step ahead of most people in the developed world, and at least a little partial to participation in easy fixes.

That's why I said a big, fat yes when I was asked this week to participate in a council-led initiative to promote electric cars.

Aside from assuaging some of the guilt that comes from driving a large car that is not in the least friendly to the environment, it seemed like a good opportunity to upskill on what the future is going to look like from behind the wheel.

What amazed me the most was how unremarkable such remarkable new technology was. E-cars in my mind were part of a bright, brave new Jestons-inspired future, one where we wore space-styled clothing and had robots to hang out the washing.

I definitely assumed the price tag of any such vehicle would keep it off the roads of provincial New Zealand.

But when I arrived to have a test drive of the Nissan Leaf, the only thing that made it stand out from any other vehicle in the carpark was the team of cameramen and creatives standing outside it.

And despite being at the forefront of tomorrow's technology, it was half the price of the gas guzzler I currently drive. Trade Me had a whole bunch of them second hand for around $15,000.

My turn about town was dominated by the e-car's more notable feature: its silence. Once I got used to the fact the car didn't sound like it was even switched on, it was just like any other car.

Charging it was easy and quick and considerably cheaper than a tank of petrol. Even without the environmental benefits, it was hard to understand why more people weren't already driving them.

The problem isn't with the car, it's with the human condition. Generally speaking, we are followers, not leaders, and even if we can see the benefits in breaking out of the mould, we'd prefer others did so first. Lots of others, preferably.

Which is why sometimes we need a push rather than an invitation, and by that I mean a directive from Big Brother.

If there is one sure way to encourage people to make better environmental decisions - and fast - it's to hit them where it hurts most. Not with debatable facts about an apocalyptic future created by fossil fuels, but with financial disincentives that hurt right here and now.

I'm already paying tax-at-the-pump for my dirty fuel. What would happen if this went up to subsidise infrastructure investment in alternative fuel sources? I tell you right now: I'd be taking a few more electric vehicles for a test drive, along with everyone else.

We market ourselves to the world as clean, green and untouched but in reality we are slow to embrace the sort of change that has become normal in other parts of the world.

Next time you're in the market for a new car, maybe it's time to look beyond an upgrade to leather seats and look at what's powering it instead.

- Eva Bradley is a photographer and columnist.

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