I was having a conversation today in which somebody pointed out the very high environmental cost of buying a new car — any new car. Every time you purchase a new automobile, the global chain of production is pushed in the direction of rolling more new cars off assembly lines. And the process of manufacturing each of those new automobiles has an extremely large energy footprint.

Yet lots of people are very excited about the prospect of buying and owning an “ecofriendly” car like a Prius or Tesla. Particularly in the case of the Tesla, there is the promise of hitting two key social goals in one stroke: (A) Showing the world that you can afford a fancy high status car, and (B) Showing your friends and colleagues that you are caring and eco-conscious in your purchasing choices.

In truth, over the period of time that you would typically own a car, it would be far “greener” to buy a used car, whether gasoline or diesel. Alas, you will get no social points from most of the people you know for tooling around in a ratty looking old used car, even if it is the more ecofriendly driving option.

I wonder how many other examples there are of “ecofashion” — people making lifestyle decisions that privilege the appearance of helping the environment over less trendy choices that actually would help the environment.

3 thoughts on “Ecofashion”

  1. While it is controversial, I think one of these ‘eco friendly but unpopular’ choices is nuclear power for our electricity. The argument falls down in a number of ways – especially depending on how you do the discounting of the waste stream – but I think it is an example of these kinds of choices at the macro/social level, and how they are reflected / repeated in the micro (Tesla) level. Many would argue that we need to have a system/ecosystem point of view, but then the debate founders on what is included and what isn’t and what the time-scale should be. Even worse, of course, is that decisions aren’t necessarily made on the basis of rational or scientific conclusions, even if we could agree on all the parameters.

  2. This has actually been measured, in a study of solar electric panels on houses in some town in California. They looked at the probability of putting the panels on the visible side (closer to the street) or the invisible side, as a function of which was south-facing and therefore got more sunlight. A surprising (at least to me) number were on the visible side even when this meant they would produce less electricity.

  3. I’ll chime in here as well…electricity has to come from somewhere. All well and good if the Tesla charging from solar panels…but some electricity comes from, yanno, coal burning.

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