Use of a car for observations

Recently I made a rather lukewarm recommendation of Winnipeg as a good place to make observations. One reason I recommended it was it’s a place that sits between a number of different ecosystems. A one hour drive (at 100kph) in any direction would take me to long and short grass prairie, wetland and boreal habitats.
One of the reasons I don’t go to these places (besides lassitude) is that I don’t want to drive and contribute CO2 just to make observations. I don’t use the car much - once a day to take the dog to the river - and am reluctant to contribute to Climate Change. So my question is, am I being too dogmatic about this? I would appreciate hearing from folks.


Maybe you are too dogmatic. But I don’t even have a car, so I’m way more dogmatic than you are! :grinning:


Some things I really noticed when taking an class on air pollution sources, chemistry and control, and we we spent time talking about vehicle emissions: the best results for emissions control come, not from restricting people’s access to transportation, but from focusing on using best-available technology. And from replacing the oldest vehicles, which contribute the lion’s share of emissions. I try to apply this personally. Living in southern California, going without a car is nearly impossible, but I can do a lot to limit my impact. If I am looking for a vehicle, I look for the lowest emissions possible for my budget… can I afford a hybrid or electric? Stay up-to-date on vehicle maintenance, choose higher grade cleaner-burning fuels that give you better gas mileage so you use less fuel overall. Plan ahead and combine trips to reduce back and forth driving. Try to limit impulse driving to run and do just one thing, can it wait until you already need to be in that area? Walk when you can, bike when you can, carpool or use public transportation when you can. Those actions will really have a big impact on your personal contributions. And then, do the driving you need to, and the driving you really want to.


Your values matter, so we don’t see how anything you decide to do or not do regarding transportation deserves a judgment. If everyone else drives and you don’t want to have that relationship with the Earth, then you might not be following the crowd, but you’re living out your values. We would not judge you. If you decide to drive because seeing inspiring prairies would fuel your soul, then you might have a conflict within your value system. In that case you might act in ways that @beetle_mch described. We would not judge you.


I also think this is a matter of degree rather than all or nothing. You do what you can to minimize, but that doesn’t mean you should never go. For instance, you could take a trip of a few days with camping a couple of times a year instead of many shorter day trips.


Manitoba gets nearly all of its electricity from hydropower.

Any kind of electric vehicle is going to be an incredible choice there. I’ll suggest starting with an electric-assist bicycle - it’ll add significant range to what you can do without a car.


It’s really all down to what you personally feel is right.

I used to worry a lot more about driving and my car’s emissions, until I looked into what the major causes of emissions are, and just how miniscule a single car’s output actually is. For example, a single DAY on a cruise ship emits the same co2 pollution as 12,000 cars running constantly, and the amount of sulfur dioxide as 3.6 million cars.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t worry about it, but just to be aware that the potential impact may be a smaller portion of the overall than you think.


I’m envy you can drive at all, having no car limits you a lot and imo spending some gas to drive to a place that can be destroyed later worth doing it, that mobility is neccessary for iNatter.


Our car is electric (we have solar panels on our roof). When I hike tomorrow I will get a lift … Next week we two will travel in our car. Every little helps.


Just that you’re thinking about these issues at all puts you in the small minority. Most of climate change is driven by big picture choices governments make about electricity generation, heating & A/C, agricultural land use, and forest management practices - not something that you as an individual have much control over. Of course, do what you can to minimize your footprint - but if you would get some pleasure out of visiting some natural areas that are 1 hr drive away, I would say do it and don’t feel guilty. You’ll add to your personal knowledge about the local ecology & perhaps you’ll make some cool finds that advance our collective understanding of species ranges & phenology.


I would like to thank everyone for their contributions so far. I think I will make a concerted effort to start riding again (probably in the spring). I have all the equipment to ride around the city and see some of the wilder areas, and possibly to take longer, overnight trips. I haven’t ridden in a couple of years now, and it’s winter. I was a winter rider for a long time. I even rode once when it was -40 outside (without windchill). Not far, but just to say I did it! It takes a certain knack though, and there is not much around until spring. That option had slipped mind - it’s funny how a few years can shuffle things to the back of your cognition.


You wrote, should you drive “just to make observations”? But do you travel just to make observations? I often make observations to encourage myself to get out and walk – exercise. Also, getting out in the world helps fight depression, a chronic problem for me. Plus, of course, the observations you make and post are useful in various ways, some of them potentially environmentally useful. So I would say, get out there and make lots of observations to post!

Pus, if you make lots of photos to post, you’ll be prevented from taking long drive for at least a day because it can take so long to process and post them all.


I personally don’t think, given how the global “economy” works, that there is any harm at all in you doing this. Broad scale changes are needed and while individual actions do matter, the people who really care totally ceasing doing anything at all won’t stop climate change that way. Living by example is good up to a point but I think bigger gestures just turn people off sometimes. So, you know, do it if you want, but if it makes you feel guilty don’t do it. Imho.


I sometimes think about the same issue. I try to make my iNatting useful in the larger sense, by updating rare species records or searching for new sites for rare species (and reporting what I find), by surveying conserved properties (which may help the conservation agencies make management decisions), by trying to learn the more obscure species (galls, anyone?) and adding my observations of them to various iNat projects, and by using all the ideas people have already mentioned - it’s my exercise, my defense against the winter doldrums, my social time with naturalist friends.

And then I take the long (and sarcastic) view, which is that the sooner people use up resources and the more we accelerate climate change, the faster humans will go extinct (or at least, decline to a much lower population level), and then every other species can breathe a sigh of relief and get on with their lives. Unfortunately, I’m only half kidding about that.


Thanks! I actually do get out every day to walk along the semi-wild Red River banks. It’s just that I have been doing it for a while, and would like a change of scenery (and organisms). @charlie That is an issue I struggle with. In the global sense I know a drive once every two weeks or so makes little difference, but I guess it does make me feel bad, at least. @lynnharper I recognise the conflict. I often wish humans would just vanish, and leave the rest of earth alone, but then I consider some of the remarkable things that humans do. Like iNat. A conundrum!


Yes. For those of us fascinated by life’s diversity, a change of scenery and organisms is important.


I’m about as anti-automobile as you’re likely to find. When I was in fourth grade I witnessed a schoolmate hit by a truck (he survived, but missed weeks of school with multiple broken bones) and vowed soon after that I would never learn to drive. A little more than half a century later, I’ve kept that promise.

But I live in New York City, not Manitoba. I can go almost anywhere in the City by mass transit, and the places I can’t get to mostly aren’t worth going to.

Still, your situation is different, so your decision must be different. I suggest that you plan your trip carefully to minimize emissions and make the best use of your travel day(s).

Group your trips. If there are two or more places that you can visit in a day (or even a weekend, if you can manage a multi-day trip), do them together.

Max out your time. Don’t go just for an hour or two; spend a whole day and make as many observations (and other activities) as you can.

Go with friends. Having another person or two in the vehicle doesn’t increase fuel usage significantly, so invite some friends. While you’re at it, choose to take the most efficient/lowest emissions vehicle among the group.

Use iNaturalist to plan your trip. Check out observations at the places you’d like to visit and plan a place and season that will make your observations interesting and useful–as opposed to, say, just more photos of Mallards and Canada Geese (popular in my area).

Make your vehicle as efficient as it can be. You may or may not be able to afford an all-electric car, but keep whatever you’re driving tuned up so that it is as efficient as it can be.

If you’re still feeling guilty, donate. It might be a cash donation to a local environmental group, participating in a clean-up event, or whatever works for you. Consider inviting a local student researcher (or two) to join you, providing them with transportation and you with a knowledgeable guide for your trip.


There’s a huge amount of value in observing the urban nature as well! Little neighborhood parks, riverbanks, and empty lots are always under-observed, but can sometimes be refuge to remnant populations of rare and endangered species. Finding them and recording their presence could have very important implications for their preservation and survival.


if you make lots of photos to post, you’ll be prevented from taking long drive for at least a day because it can take so long to process and post them all.

That made me chuckle because it’s so true… so true.

Also the part about fighting depression. The time I spend in the car with my husband traveling to state parks, wildlife refuges, scientific and natural areas… then walking around finding a new plant or insect… watching the sky change over the day… getting away from the city and all the worries of the world… driving slowly along refuge roads listening for cuckoos… stopping to stalk a butterfly fluttering along the road… that’s balm to my soul. There has been lots to try us in the last two years and I’ve lost the ability to do much of what makes me happy. This is the one thing I can still do and stay distanced and safe and be happy.

Traveling to new places and investigating what is there - and what endangers their existence - has actually educated me and made me a more ardent advocate of conservation. I recently visited a site endangered by silica mining and did a fair amount of reading on the situation. And I hope my observations help as well whether it’s by finding a particularly invasive plant that wasn’t known to be in my state or documenting the observation of a critically endangered bee.

As many have said here, everyone finds their own comfort level in matters like this. I’m just sharing where I am at this stage of my life. I’m aging (dang, I’m aged!) and I want to be in nature as much as I can in the time I’m given here on earth. And, living as long as I have, I can attest to how the natural world has changed (declined) over the last 60 years and I believe that - in the upcoming decade - we may be seeing a fair amount of species for the last time.


So, we’re doomed.)