When Brian Brawdy goes camping in his recreational vehicle, he doesn’t have to search for an electrical outlet.
He hauls his own power with him.
Brawdy, a self-described adventurer and explorer, travels the United States in a “green” truck camper – a unit that he developed as a showcase for what humans can do to protect the outdoors, according to the Kansas City Star.
Looking for a way to harness the energy that nature provides, he went to work to fabricate an environmentally friendly RV.
Much sweat, many hours and many dollars later, he came up with a futuristic vehicle that features solar panels, a wind turbine, rain gutters and a water-filtration system, and biodiesel fuel.
The energy that he stores in four 100-amp batteries is enough to power an air conditioner, microwave, refrigerator and television – without hurting the environment.
“This is my mobile base camp,” he said while leaning on his green RV at the recent Outdoor Writers Association of America national conference in Grand Rapids, Mich. “With this, I can camp anywhere.
“To me, it’s a vision of the future. When I was a kid, I always wanted to be an astronaut and build my own spaceship.
“This is my spaceship.”
Brawdy started by purchasing a Ford F-350 topped with a Lance camper. Then he went to work to turn them “green.”
His adventure began in 2007, when he was diagnosed with a form of skin cancer. Doctors were able to remove tumors on his lip, but he was unable to speak for a month.
As he recovered, Brawdy did some soul-searching.
“It was a very humbling experience,” he said. “I got to thinking: I am 48 and my gig is half over.
“This was a wake-up call. It was time to go for the things I really wanted to do.
“I had loved the outdoors, but I wanted to do something different. I wanted to take adventure to a new level.”
Brawdy, a former police officer in upstate New York and television reporter in Chicago, found that niche in his RV.
He went on an extended road trip, living fulltime in his RV and traveling the country. He hit every one of the lower 48 states, covering more than 60,000 miles.
During his “Conservation Through Exploration” tour, he endured everything from 140-degree heat in Death Valley to camping next to alligators in the Florida Everglades.
“I slept 320 nights in my camper last year,” he said. “This is my home, my new address.
“It’s my mobile base camp. I have gone mountain climbing, hiking, kayaking, backpacking and mountain biking in places I never thought I would be camping.”
Brawdy had developed a passion for the outdoors more than 20 years ago after his dad committed suicide. That experience was hard on Brawdy, but he found peace in the outdoors, off by himself.
Many years later, he drew on that passion when he developed his green RV. He admits that coming up with such a unit wasn’t cheap: He estimates that he put $140,000 into it.
Still, he considers the RV a bargain. He points out that he saves on the cost of campground fees. And he has no utility bills in this home.
“I think there could be a future in this,” he said. “Companies like Lance have shown an interest in manufacturing a green RV.
“For me, this was a way of proving that we can enjoy the outdoors without depending on an outside source. I am concerned about the environment and what we’re doing to it.
“I wanted to do more than just recycle old newspapers. I wanted to do something different.
“We have the sun, the wind, the rain. Why not put it to good use?”
Officials at national parks across the U.S. are trying to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by cleaning up their own operations, with the help of federal stimulus dollars, according to Associated Press.
“We know we have to green our own house,” said Sonya Capek, the Pacific West region’s environmental program coordinator. “It’s part of our mission to protect and preserve the resources.”
The National Park Service and the Environmental Protection Agency have started the Climate Friendly Parks network program to help parks address climate change. Parks must measure their amounts of emissions, come up with plans to curb them and educate the public on what they can do to help.
Seventeen parks, including the Everglades in Florida and Fire Island National Seashore in New York, have already created plans. Sixty parks are developing their own plans.
National parks, like other federal agencies, have already been under orders to reduce energy and gasoline use. But the Obama administration has pushed greening parts of government further, including replacing government fleets with more fuel-efficient cars and trucks.
Parks are turning down thermostats and sealing windows, providing loaner bikes to employees and installing food composting and recycling bins.
One recent morning at Mount Rainier, workers climbed atop the park’s emergency operations center and installed 48 solar panels to provide energy to the building. They have also added dual-flush toilets that reduce water use and use electric vehicles to pick up trash at campgrounds.
“The goal is really to knock (down) our carbon footprint,” said Jim Fuller, the park’s energy coordinator.
Each year, Mount Rainier creates greenhouse gas emissions equal to about 1,100 households. Visitors to Mount Rainier account for two-thirds of the 12,170 metric tons the park emits each year, mostly in driving to the park and inside it.
Federal stimulus dollars are giving national parks a boost in their efforts. Of $750 million for national parks, there’s stimulus money for energy-efficient windows at Alabama’s Russell Cave, wind turbines at Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic and solar panels at Georgia’s Cumberland Island.
Visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park may soon hop on hydrogen-powered shuttles, while those visiting parts of Golden Gate National Recreation Area will find mostly organic food grown within 30 miles rather than shipped from across the country. Rocky Mountain National Park runs shuttles so backpackers don’t have to drive to trailheads. Other parks such as Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands National Lakeshore are asking visitors to do their part with tours, education programs and public awareness campaigns.
“We’re basically trying, without hitting people over the head, to say this is an issue,” said Bob Krumenaker, Apostle Islands’ superintendent.
Rainier acting superintendent Randy King said the park doesn’t want to discourage visitors. “It’s very important that people enjoy the parks and make a personal connection.” So the park is looking in-house first to conserve where it can.
“We need to set a good example and do what we can,” he said.
Roger Scott, from Southfield, Mich., said he’s noticed solar panels at several national parks he visited since retiring last year.
“Parks get used an awful lot and they’re going to get used even more,” he said, adding that now is a good time to start thinking about human impact to the parks.
It’s unclear whether parks can realistically become carbon neutral through conservation alone or without buying offsets, but park officials say the expectation for now is get as close as possible.
“It’s OK to have a difficult goal,” King said. “It’s important that we take it seriously.”