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.
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