Saturday, July 26, 2008

Are we our cars,

Lost feelings return
So now maybe I can learn
To stop the world of a lie
This time around

Are we, are we, are we ourselves
Are we, are we, are we ourselves

Because seen through these eyes
We lead a double life
No one would know
So check it out

Stepping out
Here I go

Are we, are we, are we ourselves
Are we ourselves
And do we really know

- "ARE WE OURSELVES" -- The Fixx

The 80s band "The Fixx" are on tour again and lose lyrics popped into my mind upon reading this NYT Sunday Magazine piece on the American love affair with the car. I've blogged a lot about the signaling effect of our possessions, and perhaps no more one item expresses the American psyche than our cars. All this extreme lavishness put on our public selves.

So much of our economic models focuses on making green technologies cheaper, to make the technology and being green available. However the following passage gave me great pause:

But even as they compromise on size, some drivers are still spending lavishly on looks. Vinnie Mandzak, a brand manager at Mercedes-Benz of Beverly Hills, said customers are spending as much on customizing cars with metallic candy colors, leather interiors and “goofy wheels” as on the car itself. And at the higher income levels, he noted, no one is getting rid of their bigger cars.

Not all automobile experts think a sea change has taken place. They maintain that Americans will always prefer big and showy automobiles if they can afford them. “What doesn’t change is the American psychology,” Dr. Rapaille said. “When do you have enough money? Never. When is your car big enough? Never. As soon as I have the money, I’m going to get a bigger car.”

Perhaps the APLS (Affluent Persons Living Sustainably) need to make being green not about simplicity but being ostentatious, expensive and publicly so. That said maybe I'll be putting a deposit down on a Tesla Roadster this afternoon (OK, maybe not since I also live in the cult of personal finance blogs as well). So being green needs to looks hip, cool and sexy. I never understood why being a fat cat was desirable, since ehmm, most fat cats are er fat. Most greenies I know who live simpler lives tend to be in better shape. Perhaps, we need to emphasize that APLS are exclusive, we need to create a sense that the green life is not hard out of self denial, but that it's hard in the same way that getting into a hip club is hard.

Is being eco too much about "budgets" and not enough about aspirational things that are out of the budget. Human nature being what it is, this may be the ticket.

So much of green living is becoming an expert, Yahoo Personal Finance's Laura Rowley explores our financial fears (in full disclosure, I work for Yahoo! but this is an interesting post) that features this excerpt:

In his new book "High Wire: The Precarious Financial Lives of American Families," Peter Gosselin argues that the burgeoning sense of financial insecurity is more than "a nation of whiners" in a "mental recession," as former senator Phil Gramm put it earlier this month.


Safety nets that supported working families in previous generations -- employer-provided health benefits, affordable housing, college and retirement savings -- have steadily eroded, Gosselin explains.

"Many of risks have been handed over in ways that people didn't notice, and requires them to do jobs that are spectacularly complex," explains Gosselin. "We need to be our own investment bankers for retirement and college savings, insurance brokers to understand our homeowners' policies, and lawyers to understand all the documents that get handed to us. It's not that we can't do these jobs -- but people have lives to lead and don't do lots of these jobs."

We have lives to lead, and most people even the most devoted of us cannot verify everything that we purchase. So much of our lives are based on assumptions of what is safe and what is not. We need to find a way to make being green in a way that is invisible and trustworthy. However we need to make it cool too.

An economist who I can't recall studied public goods, that is publicly visible goods, did research that women who buy makeup do make choices about the quality of the makeup they buy. For goods that are put on in private they get the best value, but here's the kicker for cosmetics that are put on in public they spend a lot more than their privately applied goods. So a disproportionate amount was spent on lipstick, since you apply it publicly.

So how do we signal ecologically without going broke. Not sure, but want to figure it out. Perhaps, tricking out a Prius so that its the super Prius may be part of the solution, you have to make sure everyone knows that it's a choice not because you don't have one.


At 2:09 AM , Blogger Melissa said...

I think you're describing the fundamental difference between somebody who is green and somebody who is greenwashed. I think the person who is green keeps their ten year old car (or has none at all) and the greenwashed person is the one who trades in their one year old car for a prius because they believe being green is that easy. Of course, the distinctions aren't always so clear, so we've got to be on our toes all the time!


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