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February 27, 2008

Comments

Brian Duffy

I think that you have to consider that people are motivated by cash-flow and convenience. My decision to drive an SUV was based on my economic circumstances.

Our primary vehicle is a Honda Pilot SUV, which we bought for two primary reasons. First, I'm 6'5"/300, and this is a comfortable car for my size. Second is that it has room to haul stuff around when needed.

Gas for me isn't really a factor. I don't live in California where economics forces me to live 100 miles from work. My wife and I carpool with a commute distance of around 10 miles. We drive around 3,000 miles for working, another 3,000 for essential errands, shopping, etc, and about 14,000 for discretionary trips. (Drive to Florida or the Carolinas for vacation, etc)

That's about 20,000 miles a year @ 20 MPG @ $3.50/g, or $3,500 in gas. If I bought a Prius and averaged 50 MPG, it's $1,400... a $2,100/year difference. If we took the bus (2 x $25 monthly passes), we'd pay about $50 more (since my wife has free parking) and increase our commute time from 15 minutes to about 45. (A loss of about 10 person-days of free time annually)

That 2% is about 1.5% of our gross income -- not alot of money. Plus, I'm going to have to waste alot of time or money when I buy my plants for the spring, and I'm going to have to rent a car or fly twice a year for vacation. When I buy a piece of furniture, now I'm paying for delivery.

By the time the extra expenses that I'm going to accrue are factored in, the savings for driving a small car are marginal at best. I think that your POV on this is skewed by living in the Bay Area. The average driver drives 15,000 miles a year -- more like me. I have a former associate who works in NYC and lives 90 miles away in the Hudson Valley -- his economic reality demands that he "goes green" and takes the train to work every day.

Anonymous

I personally think the only thing that matters is correcting the externalities around pollution. At a basic level, that means a high carbon tax. Slightly more broadly, that means eliminating subsidies on polluting industries and substantial taxes on all types of polluting emmisions.

Individual cutbacks may make us feel good about ourselves, but do nothing to correct the broader problem. To change behavior, we need to price pollution at its true cost.

Amit Patel

I think for things like bottled water, SUVs, etc., I agree with Anonymous that we need to correct externality pricing. I also think some of the thinking around these things is far too simplistic. For example, with bottled water, if the oil isn't used to manufacture the bottles, what would it be used for instead? Is it better to be in a bottle in a landfill or to be in our atmosphere? With SUVs too, I think the SUVs may actually be better for the environment than most cars, once the system effects are accounted for. (Chris, let's get together and chat!)

Short term vs. long term thinking is a separate problem. I think businesses (especially privately owned or family run businesses) are more likely to make good decisions. But in the anti-business environment we live in, society assumes all business decisions must be bad. I think the alternative, decisions made by individuals, are often worse. At the same time, I think individuals are making better decisions than the rationalists think. They just have a different value system. People would rather believe anyone unlike them is stupid or bad than to believe that someone else just has a different set of values.

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I think the SUVs may actually be better for the environment than most cars, once the system effects are accounted for.

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