Make meaningful choices!

Living Almost Large wrote a blog post questioning whether a Prius is a good deal or just a status symbol.  She compared mileage for several different cars to the Prius, and found that driving 12K miles per year, it would still take at least 6.5 years to make up the difference.

Some people questioned her methods (was she comparing to the right class of cars, how could she think that people only drive 12000 miles per year, etc.) and a few threw out the classic, “Maybe people are doing it for the environment and not to save money!” line.

I’m sure that some people buy a hybrid car because they hear it uses less gas and because they think that would help the environment.  This is because most people don’t ever bother to research anything and simply swallow whatever information is given to the public by the manufacturers.  After that, it becomes very hard to shake people’s faith in said information.  Especially if they’ve already bought the product and bragged about it to their friends.

I discovered a similar effect when I wrote my posts on organic food.  Even in the face of scientific proof (or no proof of difference), people aren’t willing to give it up.  There is a “gut feeling” that foods made without chemicals must be better for our bodies and for the planet.  Anything that says otherwise is a conspiracy from the big farm lobby.

Truthfully, I say buy whatever car you like, buy food from wherever you like.  Just be informed about it.  And don’t think that throwing your money at a problem is fixing it.

First of all, good luck buying a used Prius.  I.e. you’ll be buying the car new, which goes against the best environmental advice: reduce, reuse, recycle.  Worse is the report that says a Prius does more environmental damage than a Hummer.  (I’m not here to debate the merits of the report.  I have read the article and a bunch of other articles support or decrying its content.  I don’t doubt that there are plenty of things wrong with the original study, but the combination of the nickel in the battery (which no article attempting to refute the original study ever brings up) and other factors mean that I have doubts about its environmental benefit.)

If you commute 25,000 miles per year, you could buy a hybrid car to lessen your environmental impact.  Or you could live closer to work.  You could downsize your house in the process.  Sure, you’ll be crammed into a condo with only a little space, but that condo will take less energy for heat and electricity.  You could even live close enough to walk to work.  Now that’s what I call lessening your impact!

Most people will find a million excuses not to do this.  They need more room, living close to work is too expensive, the schools are better where they are.  Ergo, they throw money at the problem, buy a Prius, and brag about it to their friends who drive perfectly reasonable sedans.  They don’t have to give anything up, they don’t have to change the way they live.  All of the smug bragging rights, none of the effort.

Similarly, my problem with organic food has never been that I think it’s bad.  Mainly, I just don’t see how it’s much better than conventional.  Truthfully, if the organic lettuce at Trader Joe’s is green and the regular is sort of yellowish, I buy the organic.  And vice versa.  But even if organic tomatoes have 5% more flavanoids than regular (which was suggested by a recent study), what is that going to accomplish?  Your problem isn’t that you’re eating conventionally-grown produce and geting 5% less flavanoids, it’s that you’re not eating the right kinds of foods.  If you drink 5 Cokes per day, it doesn’t matter if it’s made with HFCS or organic cane sugar.  Being healthy takes effort, and no amount of fish oil or supplements are going to do better than eating properly. (Full disclosure: I can often be heard complaining about how fat I feel as I eat a slice of cake.  I am the very thing I’m complaining about.  Doesn’t make it untrue.)

It’s easy to throw money at a problem.  It’s harder to make meaningful choices that will have a much greater impact.

Do you agree?  Or do you think that people won’t make the big effort so we should just be glad they make the smaller ones?  Of it’s the latter, should they still be allowed to brag about it?


14 Responses

  1. Thanks for the mention! Something you should say, is a lot of commentors make excuses. When I put up actual size numbers, yes Toyota calls the Prius a midsize sedan! It is substantially smaller interior, 20 inches shorter exterior, it is NOT a midsize sedan. It is PRICE wise a midsize sedan, but otherwise it’s a COMPACT car with a hefty price tag.

    I do not think it’s wrong to buy a Prius. But I could easily look down on everyone driving one because I don’t drive to work. Thus whose the more environmentally friendly person? Me who uses public transit or a Prius driver?

    Not a very tough call hmmmm? My carbon footprint is a lot smaller since I also live in a smaller townhouse closer to the city so I can use public transit AND I have less to heat. Again choices.

    I also posted a link showing that the EPA average 12k/year on average for drivers. People who drive 25k? Well I drive like 1k, so there’s your 12k average!

    But people don’t like to hear things like that. They don’t like to hear that it would be cheaper to stick with their older paid for car.

    I mean I’ve had people like Boomie from the Wastrel Show actually say “Oh you are driving a corolla and getting only 30 mpg, you should get a newer more fuel efficient car!” HA! My car is paid for and the difference it would cost to buy a newer car is STUPID. My car runs fine.

    But maybe the Prius shouldn’t be called a status symbol so much as a statement symbol.

    • I had someone tell me to buy a Prius to replace my Corolla – and mine is only 3.5 years old!

      Honestly, I think that it’s a nice thought to buy a hybrid. I just hate being made to feel like I’m a spendthrift/environment destroyer because I bought a practical non-hybrid car!

  2. No doubt, it’s easier to pop a pill than to eat a balanced diet, it’s easier to drive a Prius vs. really reducing your carbon footprint, easier to recycle vs. reducing excess trash. The way I see it, the easier route is usually better than nothing, (nickel batteries notwithstanding). I think many of us take the lazy route since we’re often too busy with work and personal commitments to make conscientious consumer decisions. But you’re right – we shouldn’t automatically fall prey to marketing gimmicks.

  3. It’s the same with Minis. Only that surcharge is for cool factor.

    I once had a mini-driving blowhard friend of a friend scream at me for my footprint. Turns out he commuted 60 miles a day, and I drive 60 a week.

    It’s the self-righteousness I can’t stand. At least Trent didn’t seem to have that. But in real life, I find these people baffling.

    • Exactly! I don’t care what you drive, so please stop bragging about it. You’re not special because you bought a car.

  4. Dang. And I was just thinking this morning about how much I’d love to have a Prius! (Not that I would get one anytime soon if I did…I plan to drive my Toyota Corolla for at least 10 years if possible, like I did my last one!) Excellent food for thought. Even those of us who claim to not be influenced by commercials and marketing definitely are.

    I commute 40 miles round-trip every day, and I do feel guilty about that sometimes. But I live in the city, which I love, and I work in the suburbs, and I’m just not willing to live in the ‘burbs. Especially the particular soul-sucking one in which my workplace is located.

    • I have a Corolla too! And I confess, I have looked at hybrids. If I’d been able to afford one right out of college, I probably would have gotten it.

      And I don’t think you’d be the kind of Prius owner I’m complaining about. 🙂

  5. Agree. The bragginess is annoying, but I suppose I’d rather they drive a prius 60 miles to work each day rather than a SUV.

    If I were truly motivated I could easily bus or bike to work… but I don’t. It is hard to make those choices and easy to buy something that makes you feel good.

    • Yeah, I could definitely be making better choices than I am. I mean, we carpool the 8 miles but it would still be better if we biked. I’m just not willing to do it.

      My hope is that I don’t seem like I’m bragging when I talk about the things I do right, because there are still so many things I do wrong…

  6. Okay, this post made me smile for a couple reasons:

    1. It reminded me of the South Park episode where everyone got a Prius and the city began having an environmental pollutant called “Smug” because everyone was congratulating themselves! Hilarious episode.

    2. I love that someone finally just said it: Organic or eco-friendly… You can make plenty of choices without always paying the surcharge. I love Farmer’s Markets and so will pay non-sale prices for the fruit. But if the fruit didn’t look good or there was a crazily good deal at a grocery store, I just couldn’t rationalize the strawberries etc. I prefer the farmer’s market, though, because then the farmers get to keep more of the profit.

    3. I know of one way that having a hybrid would quickly save some moolah: If you’re self-employed. I knew a gal whose husband was a wedding photographer. He had to drive all over on the weekends. And they got to use the standard deduction! Given how much less gas you’re using, I could see this potentially adding up to a nice tax break!

    Also, I’m a tad horrified that people honestly think it’s weird to use 12,000 as a commuting standard. It’s the one I’ve heard used. I use my mom’s car all the time, since we don’t have one of our own, and even with all our errand running and monthly trips down to the in-laws’ (50 miles each way) the car was used for MAYBE 10,000 miles.

  7. Could you chuck me a link to these posts on organic food? Can’t find them and am interested. I wouldn’t have thought they would be better for you per se – except, perhaps for foods which can contain relatively high levels of pesticides, the long term effects of which companies are strangely cagey about – but as far as I’m aware most are better for the environment/animals/biodiversity/their neighbours and the ones that aren’t (e.g. milk) do have other payoffs – and I’d say taste is one 🙂

    I’ve found that here in the UK articles decrying organic food tend to pick out extreme examples and their comparisons are often a bit dodgy. There’s been recent headlines about milk, chicken and tomatoes, which has been rather entertaining. Turns out if you grow non-organic tomatoes in the sun in Spain they use less energy than greenhousing organic ones in Kent. Who’da thunk?!

    I’d love to see a thoughtful article about the choices behind organic and fair trade food as they’re both relatively painless switches to make, I think, and I think these small details tend to mount up and change your attitude, perhaps making you more likely to take the harder path on large items (e.g. home insulation/transport/where to live).

  8. My dad gave me a book at christmas that argues organic foods actually have more pesticides in them, but they are manufactured by the plant as opposed to by man. But much of the book feels like it was written by agribusiness so I’m not sure how much of it to believe. Wait till you see the smug factor I have once I get a Tesla sedan, I’d love to have one. The problem is of course the batteries in it and the Prius come at a high environmental cost as well.

  9. I should I am puttering around in a 1999 toyota corolla. I also don’t really drive, on average between my DH and I we put on 300 miles/week (one tank of gas) and less in the summer when we bike to work 8 miles one way.

    And I get a discount for “Driving” less than 3k.year

  10. […] Obviously, one study is hardly conclusive proof. I did, however, call attention to this same thing in my post about making meaningful choices. […]

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