The Green Hornet

When you have nothing to say against the actual arguments of your opponent–you know, her facts and inferences–you can always psychologize about her motives.  Cue the "you're just saying that because."  This, I think, would properly characterize George Will's response to any argument not his own (at least those which he doesn't straw man).  Today he enlists the help, as he often does, of a couple of fellows who say something he thinks makes his points about environmentalism, and by extension anything "liberal."  He writes:

In "The Green Bubble: Why Environmentalism Keeps Imploding" [the New Republic, May 20], Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, authors of "Break Through: Why We Can't Leave Saving the Planet to Environmentalists," say that a few years ago, being green "moved beyond politics." Gestures — bringing reusable grocery bags to the store, purchasing a $4 heirloom tomato, inflating tires, weatherizing windows — "gained fresh urgency" and "were suddenly infused with grand significance."

Green consumption became "positional consumption" that identified the consumer as a member of a moral and intellectual elite. A 2007 survey found that 57 percent of Prius purchasers said they bought their car because "it makes a statement about me." Honda, alert to the bull market in status effects, reshaped its 2009 Insight hybrid to look like a Prius.

You can read the original article at the link.  This article doesn't seem interested in the actual realities addressed by "the green movement."  Here's a taste:

Little surprise, then, that they would start buying a whole new class of products to demonstrate their ecological concern. Green consumption became what sociologists call "positional consumption"–consumption that distinguishes one as elite–and few things were more ecopositional than the Toyota Prius, whose advantage over other hybrid cars was its distinctive look. A 2007 survey that appeared in The New York Times found that more Prius owners (57 percent) said they bought the car because it "makes a statement about me" than because of its better gas mileage (36 percent), lower emissions (25 percent), or new technology (7 percent). Prius owners, the Times concluded, "want everyone to know they are driving a hybrid." The status effects were so powerful that, by early 2009, Honda's new Insight Hybrid had been reshaped to look like the triangular Prius.

Of course, for many greens, healing required more than a new kind of consumption, however virtuous. In The New York Times Magazine's 2008 Earth Day issue, Michael Pollan argued that climate change was at bottom a crisis of lifestyle and personal character–"the sum of countless little everyday choices"–and suggested that individual actions, such as planting backyard gardens, might ultimately be more important than government action to repair the environment. Pollan half-acknowledged that growing produce in your backyard was ecologically irrelevant, but "there are sweeter reasons to plant that garden," he wrote. "[Y]ou will have begun to heal the split between what you think and what you do, to commingle your identities as consumer and producer and citizen."

And so forth.  One can always find someone who participates in mass action whose motives are not directly in line with the goals of the mass action.  But hey, that doesn't say much.  Some Nazis, after all, were just in it for the chicks.  That doesn't make their Nazism any less horrible.

2 thoughts on “The Green Hornet”

  1. George gets his ideas from watching South Park (episode: Smug Alert) “Hybrid cars don’t cause smugness, people do.¬† Look, hybrid cars are important. They may even save our planet one day. What you all need to do is just learn to drive hybrids and not be smug about it.”
    I’m not sure I understand his overall point. Is he concluding that we shouldn’t “go green”? Or is he simply stating the obvious fact business¬† “going green” businesses are getting their customers using the old Argumentum ad Superbiam? The Marines are doing too, but that does not mean that they are not needed.

  2. “57 percent of Prius purchasers said they bought their car because ‘it makes a statement about me.'”

    As compared to what percentage of Hummer owners? What percentage of Corvette owners? What percentage of Camaro owners? Mustang owners?

    On this subject, I completed a survey a while back about for Toyota, and they appeared very interested in how the appearance of a hybrid vehicle (e.g., would I prefer a vehicle immediately recognizable as hybrid vs. badged as a hybrid but otherwise looking like a non-hybrid counterpart) would influence my interest in purchasing it.

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