GOOD

Is Buying a Prius Really Good for the Planet?

New Yorker writer David Owen alleges we negate the energy savings by splurging on similarly energy-intensive pursuits.


In his book, The Conundrum, New Yorker staff writer David Owen ruffles the feathers of energy-efficiency advocates with his argument that living sustainably often means living, in his words, “pretty much the way I live right now, though maybe with a different car.” He argues that no matter how many Priuses, LED bulbs, and vegetarian entrees we buy, we won’t save the planet, because we’ll negate the energy (and money) savings by spending them on some other energy-sucking activity.

Owen’s argument rings true to anyone who’s rationalized leaving the extra-efficient lights on when rushing out of the house (guilty) or eating a hamburger after a few meat-free meals (guilty again). But there’s plenty of evidence that consumption justified by sustainable choices doesn’t eat up all the energy saved. A new bit of research makes that case for the Prius, a quintessential green purchase.


CO2 Scorecard, a nonprofit research group, enlisted Yale professor Ken Gillingham to help compare the driving habits of Prius owners and everyone else. The researchers found Prius owners in California drove only a tiny bit more—an average of 0.5 percent—than other drivers, despite their lower gas bills.

That makes sense for a few reasons. First, plenty of people buy fuel-efficient cars like the Prius to save money, not to save the environment. Both my parents own hybrid vehicles, but they don't go for joyrides under the theory they've saved so much gas that they've got some to burn. They drive the same way they always did, enjoying the cheaper gas bills and the knowledge that they’re not using as much gas as they would be otherwise.

Using the same amount of gas as they did before they owned a Prius would required spending a lot more time in the car. As Matthew Kahn, an economic professor at UCLA, wrote in The Christian Science Monitor last month, “Behavioral responses to price declines are not that large. The reason for this is that we often need to use our own time when we use a product that consumes electricity.” My parents would have to change their behavior dramatically— to go on long road trips every weekend, for instance—to reinvest all of the money they've saved, but they don't have time to do that.

So California Prius owners might not have increased their driving, but what if they spent that extra gas money on plane tickets, gigantic steak dinners, or other similarly environmentally unfriendly expenditures? There’s some disagreement among energy-efficiency experts about how large these rebound effects can be. But only a handful think that all the energy saved is sunk back into other energy-intensive pursuits. The case isn’t so clear for, say, backyard chickens, another green “fad” Owen takes issue with, but it's safe to say Prius owners are doing their part to improve the planet.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user Tiger Girl

Articles
via YouTube / Real Time with Bill Maher

Two great thinkers who agree America has it wrong about race appeared on the October 18th episode of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher," philosopher Thomas Chatterton Williams and astrophysicist, author, and "Cosmos" host Neil deGrasse Tyson.

While both people come from separate disciplines, each agreed that the basic concepts of race that are deeply ingrained into American culture are inherently wrong.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
via Asim Bharwani / Flickr and Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Isn't it rather arbitrary that men and women both have nipples and a man's can be seen in public but a woman's cannot?

Is it because women's nipples have a function and men's are essentially useless that we can see one and not the other? Or is it because since the beginning of time men have policed women's bodies and have decided that they are sexual in nature?

Yep, that's the reason.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
via Shoshi Parks

Climate change means our future is uncertain, but in the meantime, it's telling us a lot about our past. The Earth's glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, but as the ice dwindles, ancient artifacts are being uncovered. The Secrets of the Ice project has been surveying the glaciers on Norway's highest mountains in Oppland since 2011. They have found a slew of treasures, frozen in time and ice, making glacier archeologists, as Lars Pilø, co-director of Secrets of the Ice, put it when talking to CNN, the "unlikely beneficiaries of global warming."

Instead of digging, glacier archeologists survey the areas of melting ice, seeing which artifacts have been revealed by the thaw. "It's a very different world from regular archaeological sites," Pilø told National Geographic. "It's really rewarding work.

Keep Reading Show less
via Law and Crime News / Twitter

In August, Anne Sacoolas, 42, the wife of and American intelligence official, collided with motorcyclist Harry Dunn on the road outside the Royal Air Force base in Northamptonshire, England.

Sacoolas was driving on the wrong side of the road and said she had "no time to react" to Dunn coming down the hill. The teenager died at the scene of the accident.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

On Tuesday morning, President Trump tweeted about some favorable economic numbers, claiming that annual household income is up, unemployment is low, and housing prices are high.

Now, just imagine how much better those numbers would be if the country wasn't mired in an economy-killing trade war with China, bleeding out trillion-dollar-a-year debts, and didn't suffer from chaotic leadership in the Oval Office?

At the end of tweet, came an odd sentence, "Impeach the Pres."

Keep Reading Show less
Politics