Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Green or Nothing

I was at an interesting forum a few years ago, where people were asked hypothetical questions, and then there was some time to compare and debate the answers people gave. One question that came around to me was: “What would you do with a $300,000,000.00 lottery jackpot?” I’d been thinking about the manufacturing sector at around that time, and was wondering if it would be possible to create a super high-tech manufacturing facility that would allow for domestic production, without a reliance on blue-collar labor that comes at a premium in the American market. Given 300 million USD, I answered that I’d experiment with the concept by trying to build a car company that would be both completely domestic and financially viable in the long term.

Everyone else who answered the question had their own ideas of what they’d do with that sort of money, except one guy – who decided that he’d spend the entire amount solely to sink my new car company. Turns out he thought that cars were such an environmental disaster that private ownership of motor vehicles should be banned. (Frankly I had been unprepared for the hostility with which this guy reacted to my idea. “Welcome to the Left Coast,” I thought to myself. What else can you say?) Something tells me this same guy is currently having conniptions over this new offering from India’s Tata Motors, billed as the world’s cheapest automobile. (Any bets on how soon you’ll be able to buy one from Wal-Mart, or a three-pack from Costco?)

Part of the problem with environmentalist concern over this car is that it in effect condemns people in the developing world to remain undeveloped until their entire development can be effected with “green” technologies. Which requires that said technologies become fully mature. And while this might (and allow me to stress might) be a laudable goal, what do people in India get out of it? They wait twenty years for ├╝ber-green technology to become perfectly viable, with nothing in it for them in the meantime? Good luck with that. I mean you can talk about long term environmental goals all you want, but why should Indians be any more inclined to think about the Earth their grandchildren will inhabit than Americans are?

If the environmental community wants to head off this sort of thing, then the onus is on them to produce an alternative that is attractive to both them, and the people whom they're trying to talk out of buying affordable cars. Simple hostility to cars (or privately-owned personal transportation in general) isn’t going to solve anyone’s problems. Simply declaring a lifestyle inappropriate because it is deemed unsustainable isn’t feasible.

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