Thursday, April 10, 2008

Tire pressure and the environment

I once heard an avidly 'green' radio commentator, talking on the subject of climate change, advocating to her listeners how they should regularly check the tire pressure of their cars because the right pressure helps run the car efficiently, thus helping reduce global warming. However well-intentioned, the suggestions came across as ridiculously lame. How about suggesting that people simply not drive as much as they do?

You don't have to be a physicist to reckon that when you move up from not driving a car (i.e., taking public transit or simply avoiding the trip) to driving a car, you undertake a quantum leap in the amount of energy you consume and effluent you release. On the other hand, the difference in energy use/effluent between cars with correct and incorrect tire pressures is simply a matter of degrees.

I have since adopted the term 'tire-pressure approach' to mean an approach to a problem whereby you avoid a difficult or unpopular solution in favour of one that is easy and palatable, even if ineffectual.

You can see it in action all around. Think of the tire-pressure approach when you see General Motors (the maker of some of the largest and more inefficient passenger vehicles on US roads) using the green pitch to sell its 2008 Chevy Tahoe - "America's first full-size hybrid SUV" (if you have already decided that you want a monster the size of a bedroom smoking up 320 horsepower to ferry you around, does it really matter whether it runs on petrol or electricity?). Think of the tire-pressure paradigm when your neighbor (who drives a car) chides you (a public transit user) when she sees you carrying a plastic grocery bag (she uses paper, duh). Think of the tire-pressure approach when half of America self-righteously replaces its incandescent bulbs with fluorescent bulbs while their gigantic houses hum along merrily on gigantic AC units and furnaces.

I found Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth to be a sincerely-made documentary, no matter what I think about the facts, but I fell off my chair laughing when the post-movie text rolled up on the screen. Instead of urging patrons to make any lasting lifestyle changes aimed at better stewardship of the environment, all Gore did was throw tire-pressure tidbits at them (last week, Al Gore launched a three-year, $300 million advertising campaign aimed at pushing America towards cutting its greenhouse gas emissions).

When it comes to the environment, the argument that some action is better than none at all is compelling, but so is the contention that tire-pressure approaches only breed a false sense of complacency and delay effectual action indefinitely.

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