Tuesday, April 17, 2007

eco: depressing do-nothing attitude

On a post about VW re-attempting a 235mpg car, user rgseidl commented, and many people agreed with the sentiment:
... no consumer wants to be the goody-two-shoes sucker that cuts back or pays more while the neighbors continue to live it up in their Chelsea Tractor (aka the free rider problem)
It's actually not that dire a quote because it's in the context of an impractical expensive engineering demonstration, but it captures so much of what's wrong with US (and British? — "Chelsea Tractor" is a Britishism for a SUV in the city) attitudes:
  • It asserts an untruth (in fact lots of people spend more/cut back to a Toyota Prius or Honda Fit) without any evidence to back it up, but it seems plausible as an emotional argument.
  • If just one neighbor has an SUV, it's an excuse for doing nothing.
  • It touches on the crazy demand that higher MPG and low emissions should pay for itself. (Do fancy wheels or rear-seat electronics pay for themselves?)
  • It asserts that particularly American demand for everyone to "play fair" before doing the right thing. Yet Americans resist any taxes, cap-and-trade systems, and incentives that impose fairness.
You would think that anyone who despite all this negativity does the right thing (what a concept!) is a brave unconventional hero. Nope. Environmentalists already get accused of being smug self-fart-sniffers, and are attacked for any slip from an unattainable perfection ("You drive a fuel-efficient car but I see you wear leather!!"), now they're "goody two-shoes suckers".

Dinosaur US business interests and befuddled right-wingers may want you to feel helpless and resentful about environmental problems, but you still make hundreds of choices every day whether to help or hurt the environment. The miasma of negativity surrounding doing the right thing doesn't absolve you of personal responsibility.



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