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Green Building Curmudgeon

Are We Doomed As a Society?

Or, How a car commercial got me all depressed about the world

Sometimes I think that we are like the frogs put in a pot of water set to boil, when we need to act more like one that is put into a pot of hot water. We are happily flowing along, not realizing the danger we are in.

I saw a commercial the other day for Ford vehicles that promoted their “Drive Green” initiative, in which they stress various sustainable attributes of their vehicles and company. Being a natural skeptic, I expected a fair amount of greenwashing and unsubstantiated claims in their marketing, and, in fact, I was not disappointed.

I was able to locate a fact sheet on this program and while they are, like most car companies, improving their MPG throughout their product line, their marketing is mostly focused on alternative technologies like hybrid gas/electric, all electric, and hydrogen vehicles. Ford is by no means particularly evil as far as car companies, or even large corporations in general. When compared to General Motors, which worked hard to eliminate trolley systems so they could sell buses and cars, and pretty much perfected planned obsolescence in their product lines, Ford looks (almost) saintly.

Ford’s Greenwashing and Cool Technologies

While I recognize that Ford has to focus on making products that they can sell profitably, they are still making primarily cars and light trucks, which, no matter how efficient and sustainable they are, will only continue to help degrade the environment and diminish quality of life as traffic continues to worsen. In the midst of this, the “green” benefits they promote include soy-based foam and “compostable-type” plastic in car seats, flex-fuel vehicles that allow us to use corn ethanol in their tanks, plug-in hybrids, and improved gas mileage throughout their lines.

After a quick Google search, I found a TED lecture video by Bill Ford, who seems like a nice, genuine guy, talking about the future of transportation. He goes on about his commitment to the environment and how Ford is working to make things better for us. Various efforts he discussed mostly focus on advanced technology including communicating and/or driverless cars and advanced reservation of parking spaces. All kind of cool, gee-whiz sort of stuff, but nothing that really smells like real solutions to our transportation problems.

It All Goes Back to Our Behavior

The big piece of the transportation problem that was nowhere to be seen was a combination of mass transit and human behavior. Right now, disregarding the occasional, or even frequent, traffic jam, driving is pretty easy and cheap. With the exception of some major cities where driving is miserable, parking expensive, and effective mass transit exists, jumping in your car and driving to wherever is, for most people, the simplest solution.

I know – I do it myself, although I do tend to walk more often than most people I know and I do, occasionally, use mass transit. There is a lot of talk, and federal money, going towards high-speed rail and other regional and local transit projects, but we won’t be able to wean ourselves from cars until driving becomes so expensive and inconvenient that the alternatives look better in comparison.

This will take more than just financial and infrastructure changes. It will take a willingness to accept a little less control over our destinies – we will have to deal with it taking longer and being less convenient to get places.

Just Frogs Boiling in a Pot

To me, this reinforces my belief that our biggest obstacle to real change, whether in energy efficiency, transportation, or just sustainability in general, is human behavior.

I have come to the conclusion that we have become a lazy society. We seem to be unwilling to do anything even remotely inconvenient that we don’t have to. HVAC systems run in perfect weather because we won’t take the time to open our windows. We drive around the block (myself occasionally guilty) because we don’t want to take the time, or get sweaty or cold walking. We build big, poorly constructed houses and buy too much cheap stuff to fill up the space when we would be better off with smaller, better-built ones that cost less to furnish.

If you put a frog in cold water and heat it to a boil, it will die, but if you put it in a pot of boiling water it will jump right out. I am afraid that our society is like the frog in the cold water, we will just happily hang out until we ultimately die off when what we really need to be is thrown into a pot of boiling water so we can figure out that we have some problems.

6 Comments

  1. michael anschel | | #1

    lazy frogs
    I expected more doom and gloom from the curmudgeon. Have you gotten lazy and complacent in your edgy blog writing?

    Is society doomed? probably not. Is America on a path away from prosperity? probably. Is the US heading down a bizarre self delusional path that includes the right to a job, subsidized industry, and environmental impact denial? I think so. When the country takes someone like Bachman seriously enough to be considered a candidate for president, you know something is out of whack.

    Frogs in a pot? Sure. But what is missing from that analogy is the aftermath. The frog that leaps from the boiling water is forced to continue to leap to avoid one dangerous situation after another. That frog lives in constant fear of being eaten by a frenchman, having an involuntary sex-change, or getting smushed under one of Ford's hybrid SUVs.

    In today's world I think most folks would rather be lazy frogs and die with their Budweiser and TV, than realize their predicament and get working.

    BTW. I like driving and I like to do it in a way that drives my MPG rating through the floor!

  2. greenophilic | | #2

    Bill Ford TED Video
    I saw that Bill Ford TED video, and I was really disappointed. This guy sounds like some ridiculous 12 year-old, who thinks that everything in the "future" will be "smart". As if cars talking to one another will solve traffic jams or as if not having traffic jams solves the serious doodoo we find ourselves mucking about in. BUT I will add that his anecdote about the traffic jam in China in 2010 that stretched for 100 miles and took 10 days to clear, was pretty terrifying. I mean, did they bring people water? Either way, if you watch an hour of television, you come to realize pretty quickly that every corporation in the world is trying to convince us that they are doing the right thing for the planet and for your family. It is a flippin' joke.

  3. user-869687 | | #3

    Zero Gas
    There's a billboard for the new "zero gas" Nissan Leaf that faces a busy street here in Portland, Oregon. This street has heavy bicycle traffic, with dedicated lanes and bike signals at intersections. The billboard's message just seems silly to a passing bicyclist, as if this were a huge technological achievement, to get around town without gasoline. I joked to a friend when riding past the sign, wow if only we could afford to buy a Leaf and be gas-free.

    People talk about getting to "carbon free" as if this is a futuristic milestone, but if you think of it, absolutely everyone was carbon free between about 1850 and the beginning of time. It's just hard for many people to imagine that they are currently accustomed to a lifestyle that can't last and won't continue much longer. The current bonanza of old-energy consumption is just a bubble phenomenon.

  4. user-659915 | | #4

    Froggy tales
    Hey, I can curmudgeon with the best of 'em: http://www.snopes.com/critters/wild/frogboil.asp

  5. Expert Member
    CARL SEVILLE | | #5

    To Quote Liberty Valance...
    "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend".

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056217/quotes?qt=qt0356190

  6. EJ Palma | | #6

    Interesting blog along with
    Interesting blog along with all of the comments. It has been obvious for the past 35 years of my life that knowledge does not necessarily spurn change when it comes to human behavior. Carbon, greenhouse gas emissions, ozone depleting chemicals, combined with a grocery list of nefarious other pollutants that degrade our atmosphere, and poison the air that we breathe and the water that is necessary for all life, is not a new concept. The scientific community has attempted to warn us for the past 4 decades of the consequences of our actions. Many have not been listening or have chosen to ignore these warnings, because it affects the comfort zone of the majority of our population. I agree that society ( and that includes all of us) have become lazy. Many are "consciously ignorant" or as Pink Floyd put it "comfortably numb" regarding these issues.Ignorance is not an excuse , and lack of action is selfish and self-centered. It takes intellectual and emotional effort and a sense of conscience to think and act communally regarding ones' personal contributions to these global problems. Every one of us owns a piece of these problems as we are all contributors. We have become a "disposable society", concentrating on the acquisition of wealth and material possessions. The mantra of our society seems to be "I've got mine so screw everyone else".Our elected representatives and leaders (party does not matter) pander to corporations who continually rape, plunder, and pollute our living environment for massive profits, without a thought for the future of all living species. As Michael previously stated, when people like Michelle Bachman are considered credible choices to lead our country, we are in big trouble. The idealistic side of me believes, that we as a global community can come around and drive the change that is needed to combat the problems that we have all contributed too..

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