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.

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