My apologies: it’s rather pompous to refer to myself as Dr, but I have a lot of Asian PhD students, and I really enjoy them, and one of their common traits is that they really prefer to show you respect by using your title, but almost none of them can linguistically manage all the consonants strung together in “Schweitzer”, so they usually wind up calling me Dr. Lisa, which I find wonderful and charming. It’s like being Dr. J!
My husband and I were briefly considering replacing our car, which is over ten years old and a two-door. One of my friends–a pushy one, who likes to think she gets to tell me what to do, said, “You SHOULD get a hybrid.”
She herself is a Toyota Pius driver.
I said that I was uncomfortable spending on a car what most hybrids cost. I did the calculation, even with higher gas prices. Given how little Mr. Miller and I drive, it would take close to 23 years to break even.
Why can’t we just get a small, cheap, four-door ICE and continue driving very little?
The pushy friend responds: “Well, but you’re supposedly an environmental professor!”
But I take the bus for 30 percent of my trips, walk for the remaining 50, and only have Andy drive for about 20 percent of our short trips. She has a hybrid, but she drives everywhere she goes.
Isn’t there a point where hybrids are like diet cookies? Yes, good job, lower calories and what not. But the cumulative effect can be the same or worse, regardless of what the marginal effect is.
(Economists call this concern the “rebound effect”. It’s cheaper to drive a hybrid so you drive more than you do with a car that costs you more per mile.)
I already did a major thing for the environment: I didn’t have any American kids. There are two less American kids in the world because Mr. Miller and I did not replicate ourselves.
In terms of numbers, that’s far more likely to save the planet gobs and gobs of environmental harm than anything else I do ‘for the environment.’ (This is not to say that nobody else should have kids. It is to say that not doing something is often just as good for the environment as doing something. Like not driving much versus driving a hybrid a lot).
Gabriel Rossman over at Code and Culture sends up a piece in Sunset magazine that has a pictorial of a concept for a dining car in an LA-SF bullet train. As he notes:
Instead, let’s think about the dining car itself. The pictorial shows a dwarf citrus tree in the car for passengers to pick fruit either to eat out of hand or for juicing. (As the owner of an orange tree, I can tell you that the pictured dwarf tree would make about two carafes of orange juice). Similarly, there is a “Self-Harvest Salad Bar. Snip and dress your own organic greens from a hydroponic vertical garden and choice of on-tap vinaigrettes.”
Do we really want people handling scissors on moving trains, just to cut their own lettuce?
My favorite part of the rant:
As I fumed about this, I realized that this isn’t just a really stupid idea for a train’s dining car, but a reductio ad absurdum of the whole idea of locavorism.
I love that line. It pretty much sums up the whole problem when people design to optimize on one dimension.
For many conservatives in the US, the bottom line is that all the enviro-babble surrounding us has lost sight of other priorities, like employment, freedom, economic security, and not giving people on bullet trains sharp tools with which to perforate themselves and others simply to satisfy some socio-cultural design notion of how/what people should eat. WTF? What if I don’t like vinaigrettes?
Wouldn’t it be better to not eat vinaigrette, since it’s not locally made?
And so on, to insanity.
How about we concentrate on some of the big environmental issues, instead of always creating narratives about *ourselves* and what *we* do–or don’t–for the environment?
3 thoughts on “Does it matter what car Dr. Lisa Drives? And Gabriel Rossman on the environmental silly”
I did the math when I purchased my last car and buying a Prius v. a Honda Fit or Toyota Matrix made no sense even if gas was $7/gallon and I drove 20,000 miles a year.
I think it makes a difference if you buy a Hummer or a big SUV- that would be hypocritical. But to buy a non-hybrid that gets good gas mileage is just a rational economic choice.
the funny thing about hybrids is that most of the benefit is from having a very lightweight car that turns off its engine at stoplights and has a CVT instead of an automatic transmission. the actual hybrid motor/battery adds almost $10K to the cost but has only a marginal impact on the fuel economy. rather the main benefit of having a Prius rather than a Yaris is that the former is a status symbol
of course you’re also right that miles matters as much as mileage. my daily commute is twice as far as yours and i always do it in a car, plus i drive to the valley or orange county about twice a month, but my car has the word “hybrid” on the back so i’m still a
bettermore sustainable person than you are.
Is there no end to your betterness than me, Rossman? Younger, smarter, fitter, father of an adorable person? Married to one of the awesomest women I’ve ever met? AND YOU DRIVE A HYBRID? CURSE YOU GABRIEL ROSSMAN!!
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