Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Why do we drive more than necessary even though it harms the planet?

It all has to do with the fundamental evil of human nature.

Or, to be more specific, the urge for power regardless of the costs.

Achenblog (Joel Achenbach) explains:

If I could change one thing about myself it's the way I'm the embodiment of all that is wrong with America and the human species more broadly. Don't get me wrong - my self-esteem is in the normal range, but if I could tinker with my existence it would be to make myself something other than a detestable, oozing, suppurating lesion on the body of civilization.

Time constraints prevent a full accounting of what I'm talking about here, but let's take a look at just one example: I am a self-indulgent motorist.

On weekends I engage in countryside motoring as if it's a form of exercise. Worse, during the week, despite the availability of mass transit, I almost always drive to work, a five-mile jaunt on surface streets past one bus stop after another.

Why do I drive? Power. Raw, unbridled power, at my fingertips and toetips.

My Honda Accord is an empowerment device. It gives me the option of going anywhere on the spur of the moment without heed of bus schedules or fear of Metro delays. I could just start driving, and head West, across the continent, and then veer down through Mexico, and onward to Patagonia. Having a car is like sitting in a restaurant near the door. ...

Now, you might declare that global warming and energy insecurity, not to mention urban sprawl and pollution, have intensified the sin of indulging one's motoring desires. And I would not argue with that point. You're right. I am a bad man. And let us note that advertising campaign (I've seen it all over the place -- from some fossil fuel company I think) in which smiling people are seen thinking to themselves, "I will leave the car at home" or "I will take the bus more often" and whatnot. All this is good. But over the long term, if you want to develop a new transportation and energy policy, you'd probably want to err on the side of assuming that people won't change much. And it is human nature to like to be empowered.


LemmusLemmus said...

Not sure how tongue-in-cheek this post is, but taking it at face value, I'll say that I think the fundamental problem is that attaining a clean environment is a classic collective good problem: The individual incurs all the costs but his/her contribution is negligible for the outcome.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Not tongue-in-cheek at all.

Yes, the tragedy of the commons.

paul a'barge said...

Tuna is another example of our Tragedy of the Commons

Moose said...

"Honda Accord" - "Power. Raw, unbridled power". Clearly this guy leads a sheltered life.

If he was driving a '68 Camaro I'd be shocked. However, as venal sins go, this is pretty trivial...

Anonymous said...

Why do we eat more than necessary? Why do we buy more books than necessary (when we could all use the library)? Why do we make and see more movies than necessary? Why do we watch TV more than necessary? Why do we stay up later than necessary (thereby using more electricity than necessary?) Why are we online more than necessary?

In the end, why do we live more than "necessary"? Can't we all just live the necessary? Could you tell me what that amount is?

Unknown said...

Are you condemning Achenbach? Or leveraging his post to make the same point he is?

John Althouse Cohen said...

Leveraging his post to make the same point he's making.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Oh, reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest things superfluous."
-- King Lear Act II Scene 4

"Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?"
Twelfth Night Act II Scene 3

Feeling guilty about living well is a distinctly American luxury.

kjbe said...

Henry - we do all that, because we can.

Ann Althouse said...

Why does the planet deserve more than is necessary? Can it not do with less coastal lowland, ice cover, and so on? Necessity is an absurd test, since we don't need to exist at all and the joy of life comes mostly when you can rise above the level of pure need.

But if you'd like us to live at the basic need level, why not rejoice at our depletion of resources and screwing up of the climate? We'll get to need level eventually.