Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Ending Your World, Part 1

Blue Eyes' comment in a previous post got me thinking about something. And actually, I was already thinking about this, even before my dad and I talked about it for twenty minutes the other night.

It's this: how on earth do we go about changing people's minds, especially large groups of people who passionately want to believe something else? Originally I'd been wondering how to resolve the crisis in the Mideast – you know, how could we convince radical Muslims that their teachings are flatly immoral, while maintaining their sovereign rights as human beings to think however they want to think. For that matter, how do we protect the right to religious beliefs while ensuring physical and intellectual safety from those beliefs? Laws against violence don't cut it – murder is illegal; we still have religiously motivated suicide bombers. Rational debate doesn't faze wild-eyed holy rollers – we still have the lunatic fringe right here in the U.S. Without resorting to massacre, holocaust-style, how do we eliminate dangerous behaviors built into religious and even political belief systems?

More to the point, how do we change thought patterns and behaviors that literally kill other people, and in some cases threaten the viability of the planet?

Driving a car is not as immediately personal as knifing someone in the throat, but the act itself, when multiplied, can kill us all. I'm not saying this because some movie opened my eyes – I'm no scientist, but it's only logical (hell, almost intuitive) that releasing poisonous gas into the air just might have nasty consequences. I'm saying this because it's been obvious all along, and those who dare point out the truth either get crucified politically or mocked personally. Stump speeches with well-crafted insults keep the audience laughing and win votes; neighbors who drive hybrids are called hippies behind their backs, as if the most traitorous thing a person can do is stop consuming oil.

So how do we convince people to stop driving? How do we convince industry to stop using fossil fuels as energy sources? How do we make renewable energy the preferred and primary source?

When people like Blue Eyes, who is probably a very nice person who really doesn't want to destroy the human race, refuses to believe that her behavior contributes to a global problem, how can I change her mind?

Short of truly horrendous environmental crises (Greenland melting into the ocean, massive food shortages, etc.), I think there's only one way to get through to people: money.

Hybrids are becoming popular because they reduce gas costs. Sure, sure, some people who buy hybrids do so for environmental reasons – thus the neighborhood hippie – but I'm willing to bet that the demand for hybrids lately is directly related to rising gas costs. I mean, my Economist-reading father, a firebrand and frugal conservative if ever there was one, is convinced that he'll buy a hybrid as his next vehicle. To his eternal credit, he's a conservative who doesn't let his loathing of Al Gore distort his analysis of the scientific data Al Gore presents.

The answer, then, is the market . . . at least for the environmental stuff. The religious stuff? No idea.

People need an economic incentive to change behavior (again, short of environmental catastrophe). If gas cost $10/gallon, I bet mass transit would suddenly be very popular. Given the nature of the internet, more people would try to work from home or simply live close enough to walk, ride a bike, or hop on that electric train (and the issue of electricity production is for another post). Car manufacturers would suddenly find high demand for vehicles with extraordinary fuel efficiency, which obviously helps emissions as well.

Should the government tax gasoline to the tune of 300%? Hell, should we encourage oil companies to charge $240/barrel and let them keep the profits? Well, it would hurt many industries. It would upset many people. It would be politically unpopular.

And as it turns out, it would be the right thing to do.

Update: I'm only kind of right, and very reductive in my analysis and proposed solution. Check out this essay and this opinion piece for a little light reading.


At 11:49 AM, Blogger Softball Slut said...

I have always thought my next car would by a hybrid, and with the rising cost of gas I will be for sure. Also because I am a psedo hippie and want to help save the earth somewhat

At 4:32 PM, Anonymous jonashpdx said...

i too made some half-assed sarcastic comment about living in my denial bubble, but it really was kind of a joke.

but i'm in the process of buying a new car and i consider myself-- if not a hippie, i'll leave that to the wife-- a fairly progressive guy. and i'm not buying a hybrid for a couple of reasons: the only ones available that are big enough for what i need (and we're not talking big, but we're talking 2 people, a 105lb dog and an eventual offspring) are only hybrids in the sense that they make people feel better about themselves in that they give more power for less emission, they don't actually improve gas mileage that much. oh, yeah, and they're hella expensive. but what we are doing is buying a smaller, safer car that gets an average 32/38 mpg. can you imagine what would happen to the world if EVERYBODY's car got that? i mean, it's really sad to me that my 91 honda gets better gas mileage than more than half the cars on the road. and the technology for gas-burning engines is obviously better than it was 15 years ago, right? or at least it should be-- the new car we're getting is at least as good or a little better in the mileage department than our old beater. but we americans have to have our bigger, our better, our 10 mile per gallon vehicles. sorry, gotta stop ranting now. but i don't think anyone would die if they suddenly outlawed the hummer as a street-legal vehicle.

and it's good to remember that the US STILL has pretty much the cheapest gas in the world.

AND, for another tangent you didn't ask for, my neighbor last weekend moved her huge-ass truck across the street in front of my house, left it running, went back inside her house and then promptly forgot that her truck was running. after about 10 minutes, once i realized she wasn't coming back, i turned it off for her-- i should have driven it around the block first just to freak her out. until you come up with a way to stop idiocy like this, we're all screwed six ways from tuesday.

At 5:20 PM, Blogger Trout said...

Jonashpdx -

I'm with ya on almost all counts. A third problem with hybrid tech is that it's relatively new, and resale value on these early models is pretty much nada. If you buy a hybrid, you buy it for life - it's life, not yours.

A new car is definitely on my horizon as well, and I'm leaning heavily towards a Subaru out of geographic necessity.

I guess the larger issue, so thoroughly explained in the second of the two links above, is that energy consumption (especially fossil fuel consumption) habits MUST change. This needs to happen within our lifetimes or our kids are absolutely screwed.


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