Thanks for sitting down with us. You work for an environmental non-profit, yes?
I do! I’m the Co-Coordinator of East Tennessee Clean Fuels, an organization that helps fleets and individuals switch from dirty-burning fuels like gasoline and diesel to cleaner, more sustainable, and often cheaper fuels like electricity, renewable natural gas, and biodiesel.
My work with ETCleanFuels fits really well with my overall goals. I’m a philosopher by training and, amongst other questions, I’ve spent the past fifteen years or so thinking about what it means to live a good and moral life; I don’t imagine I’ll be finished with that question any time soon! But, working for a non-profit that spends its time trying to ensure a clean and prosperous future for our planet definitely feels like one way to do this. It’s very rewarding work.
I also love animals and plants. My spouse and I spend much of our time gardening; we grow native wildflowers (Tennessee has some absolutely beautiful ones) and have some fairly robust vegetable beds, too. We share our home with two dogs, two cats, and many chickens! Inter-species relationships are fascinating and so important to understanding how we fit in with our planet.
Do the dogs like to ride in your EV?
We’ve got a Bluetick Coonhound who loves her “magic box.” She sees us walking her towards it and she knows that she’s about to go on an adventure with us!
Our little smart fortwo ED is a convertible, and she and our other dog, a Korean Jindo, can both fit comfortably in the rear area of the vehicle. They love smelling the air above them as we zoom down mountain roads.
Why did you buy an EV?
By far the number one reason I chose an EV was to help meet my responsibilities to our shared environment, and by extension, to the people, animals, and plants that I share this world with. It’s far from the only thing I can do to meet this responsibility, but it’s part of a holistic set of practices that I’ve tried to cultivate over time.
I’m also lucky to enjoy free workplace charging at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. So, a very nice added benefit of driving my EV is that I often drive my car for free. That definitely factored into the decision to choose this car.
And honestly, the third reason is that they’re just more fun to drive than almost all of the gas-powered vehicles I’ve had before. Even my little, relatively underpowered smart fortwo ED is a joy; I hit the accelerator pedal and it effortlessly takes off!
Why did you take a leap from owning an ICE to an EV?
My organization works with many different alternative fuels, so I had a few options to choose from when selecting a new vehicle. The electric car felt the most feasible from an environmental and convenience perspective. We could charge at home and at work with no additional cost for infrastructure, and Knoxville’s public charging stations are decent enough (and getting better).
I’m not really a capitalist, but there’s a capitalist analogy that’s pretty fitting, here: I can walk into the store and choose from probably 50 different kinds of shampoo. That’s consumer choice: the American Dream™! And why shouldn’t we have choices when it comes to the fuel we use in our vehicles, as well? Shouldn’t we have consumer choice for fuels, like we do for everything else?
In other words, it is literally the realization of American capitalism to embrace a multi-fuel reality. Down with gasoline and diesel as our only fuel choices! (It’d be pretty tough for a Big Oil Republican to argue with that, don’t you think?)
So there’s a political element to your support of EVs, then?
Only insofar as there’s this ridiculous debate about the reality of climate change. I still find myself stopped in disbelief from time to time that climate science is so controversial in our political discussions. We’re willing to accept the science on cancer research, computing, agriculture, etc., but for some reason we draw the line when it comes to data about our planet’s climate?
Come on… it’s absurd. I’m political about the environment and climate change (and, by extension, about EVs) because I have to be. Climate change is already demonstrably affecting people’s lives, causing droughts, famines, flooding, other severe weather. It’s literally a question of people’s lives. The politics here are between caring for others and not caring for others. It’s not a choice at all.
How do you use your EV?
Our little smart fortwo ED has a range of just 80 miles, so we aren’t taking a road trip to Florida in it anytime soon. But my spouse and I both commute to the University of Tennessee Knoxville, which is only six miles away from our home. It’s the perfect car for getting around town. It can take us anywhere in Knoxville and the surrounding area, and has enough cargo space for my spouse and I plus a load of groceries or other items.
There’s a common look of mild disappointment on most people’s faces when I tell them about the car’s range, and I understand that. It’s more limited than most other EVs right now (the current Nissan Leaf+ gets 220+ miles on a charge, for example). But since 80% of Americans drive fewer than 40 miles per day, it’s more likely than not that even this very small, short-distance EV will meet most folks’ needs.
What is the most frequent, or outrageous comment you’ve been asked about owning an EV?
I drive a smart fortwo ED (a little two-seater), and so the most common exclamation is along the lines of, “oh my God, that’s so cute!”
On occasion I answer, “thanks! And my car’s pretty great, too, don’t you think?”
Do you currently have any concerns about current and future EVs? If so, what are they?
I think a lot about ethics, and in particular I think about the question, “what do we owe to others?” It’s a huge question, obviously, but the environmentalist in me always answers that I’m responsible for doing what I can to ensure a clean, safe, and prosperous environment for my community right now and into the future.
There’s no question that EVs are cleaner and more efficient than gas-powered vehicles, but there are still some environmental challenges to be overcome. Current battery technology uses materials that are relatively rare and involve intensive mining to acquire; when a battery has finished its useful life, there are often issues surrounding how the materials inside the battery are recycled or disposed of.
Not to mention, depending on the composition of the power grid an EV is pulling from, an EV can still have significant lifecycle emissions. If you’re pulling from a grid that’s mostly coal, for example, the overall emissions profile of your vehicle will be much dirtier than if you were pulling from clean renewables like solar, wind, or hydro.
But my eye is always to the future on this: in addition to driving an EV, we need to advocate for a cleaner power grid and for better, less environmentally costly battery technology, and the only way that will happen is if the public demand is there. From an ethical standpoint, then, I owe it to others to be an advocate for the continued improvement of EV technology.
And the good news is that we’re moving in that direction. In Tennessee and the surrounding region, the Tennessee Valley Authority reported that only only 12% of its power generation needs were produced by coal over the first few months of 2020. This is the first time in more than six decades that Tennessee produced more renewable power than coal! It is a small victory, but incremental progress is still progress.
Does your spouse love this EV as much as you do?
My spouse generally doesn’t like to drive, but this is the first car that she’s actually excited about getting behind the wheel of. She likes it so much that she is now the “default” driver of our EV.
Our other car is an old Toyota Sienna minivan (I know, I know), and though we don’t use it too much anymore, whenever we both need to be in different places at the same time, I know which vehicle I’ll be driving…
Most EVs have one unique character. What’s yours?
The smart fortwo ED is such a compact little beast! When I’m driving it I can get into such tight spaces and maneuver it so effectively. This probably reveals my inherent geekiness, but when I’m driving it I like to pretend that I’m piloting a shuttlecraft from Star Trek. Who needs transporters when you can get around in style like this?
What do you think the future of EVs looks like?
We are going to electrify our transportation system; the momentum is there and, from my perspective, it’s only a matter of time. In fifteen years the majority of new vehicles sold will be EVs; in thirty years, internal combustion engines will be the realm of collectors and enthusiasts.
But to be honest, I’m less interested in thinking about the future as “what’s going to happen” than I am about thinking about the future as something radically open. It’s the unknowability of the future that keeps hope alive. We don’t ultimately know what will come: that’s what makes the future the future. It’s pure possibility. No matter how sophisticated our predictive modeling techniques may get, the future is always what is radically, monstrously to come.
It’s pretty clear to a lot of us that ours is a world in crisis. I’m deeply dissatisfied with our world as it is right now. Our environmental, political, and social issues seem overwhelming and perhaps even insurmountable. But the new always comes. It won’t necessarily get better, but it will be different. Our job is to jump, and envision new ground upon which to land.
One of my favourite thinkers of the crisis is Ian Alan Paul. This quote in particular has stuck with me:
Never trust anyone who tells you about “the future” in the singular. The most powerful in the world expend all of their energy to maintain even the faintest appearance of order, and even the most extremely regulated and controlled corners of the world are constantly threatened by the arrival of any number of unknown, improbable but possible futures.
Hope in the present arises from the insight that the unknowability of futurity is perpetual and ineradicable. To not know precisely where we are headed is to remain open to the possibility of arriving where we couldn’t possibly have planned to, and in refusing the present we also invite what cannot presently exist within it.Ian Alan Paul, “Ten Preliminary Theses on Resistance”
Daniel Siksay is an environmentalist, a feminist, and an accelerationist Marxist currently living in Knoxville, Tennessee. He holds a Masters in Philosophy from York University. He currently works as the Co-Coordinator of East Tennessee Clean Fuels, where he collaborates with fleets and individuals across the state to help speed the adoption of cleaner and more sustainable transportation options. He lives with his spouse, pets, and gardens on a half-acre homestead. He is an avid collector of fancy perfumes.
The opinions expressed in this interview are solely the positions of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect any official position of DriveElectricTN or any of its partners.