The New American Road Trip is an 11-day, more than 2,900-mile journey in an electric vehicle from San Francisco to New York’s 10th Climate Week and the One Planet Summit. Its purpose is to deliver the Call to Global Climate Action issued from the Global Climate Action Summit and to discuss its implications with the public. By Nick Nuttall, Global Climate Action Summit. 

Road Trip Update: Grassroots Projects Assisting Migrants, Cleaner Transport, and a Socially Conscious Bus Factory on the Edge of the Mojave Desert

Sept. 16, 2018—After a star-studded launch of the “road trip” at the end of the Global Climate Action Summit, graced by actors Aidan Gallagher and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, we had an overnighter in West Sacramento.

Our sights were now set on the next leg—Lancaster on the edge of the Mojave Desert, via one of the most polluted areas in the United States: Bakersfield and its environs.

The leg was to be taken in our light-blue electric compact, decked out in the road trip branding that would be some 365 miles, often through the drylands of the San Joaquin Valley. Our goal: to meet some of the amazing people implementing projects to try to make electric mobility affordable while generating new, decent jobs in the low-carbon transition.

The car was already triggering interest at our hotel as we chatted with people in the breakfast room about our vision and our journey through 13 states with close to 40 stops.

JC Coccoli, our traveling comedian from Pittsburgh, got us limbered up with an impromptu yoga session, and we were off to tell—and listen to—stories across the states.

Bakersfield—Live Smart Fair

Chris White of Frontier Energy, the consulting company handling our logistics—and, as she terms it, our “trail boss”—explained at the wheel some of the challenges in and around the San Joaquin Valley.

A predominantly farming region, many of the workers live below the poverty line, far from public transport and with little or no easy access to schools, healthcare and grocery stores. There is also the challenge of many old—and fuel-inefficient—pickup trucks.

One solution, among many being developed to address the transportation challenges, is from Valley LEAP—the Latino Empowerment Action Project. The project coordinates rides over the mobile phone network via pay phones and often in person at facilities such as libraries.

The project, funded by California state grants, foundation funds and other sources, then puts cleaner and greener vehicles in the hands of the operators.

Chris, an enthusiast oozing knowledge and facts and figures, says the next stage is expected to be the gradual transition toward electric transportation as part of California’s push to EVs and other alternative transportation systems.

In Bakersfield we joined a whole raft of groups for the Live Smart Fair, as part of National Drive Electric Week, bumping into Linda Urata, president of Project Clean Air, while snacking on the fine local tacos and horchata beverage made from rice, condensed milk and cinnamon.

Erika Bjorkquist of the Center for Sustainable Energy explained how the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project works, providing $2,500 to people buying compact electric vehicles—and more for those considered low-income.

They also provide financial support, that amount also based on income, for plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles.

Lancaster—the Build Your Dreams (BYD) Motor Factory

Set against the arid edgelands of the Mojave Desert, BYD might seem the unlikely setting for an electric bus and social pioneering business.

But enter the assembly floor, and you are confronted with the next phase of the clean vehicle public transportation revolution that was also given a boost by the commitments of so many cities and regions at the Global Climate Action Summit.

Since opening its doors the company has brought on board 900 workers.

David Trimble, BYD’s senior project manager, said the company is selling electric buses to both “red” and “blue” states and that over 600 had been purchased since the factory opened in 2014—adding, “And it is really ramping up.”

He said that while the costs of an electric bus versus a fossil-fueled one were still initially higher, they ended up being less expensive over their lifetime of around 15 years.

Asked why cities and states were buying them, he was clear: “It’s climate change—we have all got to do something about this.”

The New American Road Trip is being organized by Purpose with support from foundations including Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Hewlett Foundation, the JPB Foundation, the IKEA Foundation and the ClimateWorks Foundation. Follow the progress of the road trip online here.

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