Sunday, September 20, 2009

Summa Contra Prius


Andrew Sullivan engages in a different form of apologetics:

From this month's Harper's Index: "Chance a U.S. household that owns a Prius also owns an SUV: 1 in 3." Ryan Sager is unsurprised:
It would surprise you, if you didn’t read this blog and already know that we’re constantly calculating the trade-off between being able to see ourselves as good people and the cost of engaging in all that non-advantageous goodness. Already own an SUV? Soothe your conscience with a hybrid. Already own a hybrid? You’ve been good! You deserve that SUV! Welcome to being human.
Sure, I could see that. It's also possible that such people have a Prius for everyday driving --- back and forth to the grocer, back and forth to work, etc. -- and an SUV for rarer situations where a larger, more off-road capable vehicle is needed -- when snow and ice are thick on the ground, for the camping trip in which you're carrying extra people and cargo, etc.

The latter hypothesis drops the armchair psychological twaddle and replaces it the admittedly dicey assumption that some people actually match vehicle characteristics with driving need.

Not that I'm against armchair psychologizing. Upon becoming a Prius owner, you soon become a smug asshole aware that you have entered an odd species of socio-philosophical-political argument -- odd for the conversational standards of the USA, I mean -- in which friends, family, neighbors, and even perfect strangers feel the need to argue against the Prius. I wouldn't try to count the number of people who have volunteered their explanation of why they did not buy a Prius the last time they bought a car, and it never sounds like the real explanation -- it's either that the Prius can't possibly meet their demanding off-road driving needs (the USA being so tragically underpaved), or that the Prius is too small for their three-person family (evidently these people are larger than they appear when not seen in my Prius's side mirrors), or that the Prius lacks the safety characteristics they would drive paralyzed in fear without (if we counted up every instance in which crash rating made the top five reasons for choosing car X over car Y in the minds of real-world car buyers, would it exceed the average Civil War veteran's post-war finger count?), or the Prius is actually bad for the environment under one or another exotic calculus (e.g., this or this).

And, therefore, for these reasons and similar reasons, they bought a Dodge Avenger or an Acura TSX instead. Their hands were tied.

Look, if you recently purchased a vehicle but it's not one of the most fuel-efficient models currently available for the kind of vehicle you need, you are chucking excess carbon into the atmosphere needlessly. Maybe you don't care. Maybe you care but not very much; maybe performance, style, status, or something else outranks your concern for carbon emissions. Fair enough. It's a free country, but I wouldn't be a smug asshole playing what I take to be my proper role in this Prius vs. Anti-Prius argument if I didn't say that your children and grandchildren will be ashamed of you.

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