Environmentally aware, or simply a “show off?”

Back in 2007 I bought a Civic Hybrid.  At the time I “ran the numbers” and decided that the purchase made both economic and environmental sense.  I wrote about it on my blog, and explained why I believe the true environmentalists are conservatives.  At the time, I wrote:

I couldn’t bring myself to buy a Toyota Prius like our good friend Fleshy. I am not sure if it is because I don’t like the “cramped” look of the car, or simply that Fleshy, and so many liberals, wear that car as a (tight fitting) badge of good liberalism.

I was clearly aware that some people drive the Prius simply to show that “they care.”  Recently Freakonomics Radio (brought to you by the same guys that brought you the books Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics) discussed the concept of “Conspicuous Conservationism” — that is, people that try to enhance their status by showing that they are being “altruistic” — even if they aren’t really effective.  For instance, in the story they talk about how the “greens” in San Francisco are putting solar panels on their roofs, and regardless of which side of the house is best for the sunlight, they put them on the side facing the street.

But I wanted to discuss another quick area: Real Efficiency.

I am hearing more and more people push towards Hybrids in an almost “knee jerk” way.  They feel that a hybrid is simply better for the environment than a purely internal combustion engine.  But here’s the question:  If I have a vehicle that is extremely efficient and is solely gas powered, is it worse than a hybrid on the environment?  Let’s say they get equal fuel economy.  Is one “better” than the other?

This is an interesting question.  If they are both generating the same number of miles for every gallon of gas consumed, are they not both being efficient?  And even if the burning of the fuel is somehow slightly more polluting in dangerous gasses than the hybrid cars, what is the environmental impact of these heavy metal batteries that, once they fail, must be handled as hazardous waste?

As consumers, we need to take more time to  learn about the full environmental impact of our decisions, and make choices not only on the status our choices will convey but the actual improvement in our environment that we will receive.

Please, let’s all work to make real environmentally aware decisions, and not ‘made for appearances’ choices.