A couple nights ago, watching News Hour, a segment on Obama’s decision to revisit the Bush-era EPA refusal to grant state air quality waiver to California (and how that may impact the auto industry) stuck under my craw and began to fester immediately. It’s taken me nearly two days to figure out why.
Of the two guests for the segment, one was a smarmy little prig who looked far more the part of high school junior varsity football team equipment manager than editor for automotive publication editor he actually presented himself to be. Evidently, being apologist for a dinosaur of an industry is far more of a qualification for magazine editor than, say, intellectual honesty or jounalistic integrity for a top job in car-related publishing these days.
Anyhow, his argument against granting California (and several other, mostly eastern states, watching the regulatory process in hope of following CA’s lead in ratcheting up mileage standards) the EPA waiver is twofold:
1) New technology takes time to develop. Hey, thanks for the news flash. The industry whose collective hoohah up into which your nose appears planted has chosen to ignore decades worth of lessons on the political destabilization of oil dependence, same for increasingly refined global climate science regarding the impacts of fossil fuel consumption. Cry me a river. The auto industry has had plenty of time, you’ve pissed the lion’s share of it away. Evolve or perish, asshat.
2) Efficient cars are not the cars that people want. Build them, no one will buy them.
And THAT is the one that really frosted my cheese. Let’s talk about the matter of what the average American wants.
What Do we want? And why do we want it?
There’s nothing about the desire for an oversized, inefficient, wasteful vehicle that arises organically as a necessary extension of the human condition. This quickly can go well beyond the automobile. The large majority of what passes for our modern economy is served by our collective role as “consumers” chasing after things to respond to wants that exist in our minds thanks to the manipulative magic of advertising. Manufacture the need, then build and sell the magical device that meets that need. End of story.
I’m not advocating end of choice. I’m not suggesting it’s bad to want, and therefore to acquire, things that we don’t necessarily need. But I’ve had it with the intellectual dishonesty of the auto industry as they justify their foot-dragging refusal to get with the program for far too long. If the average American doesn’t currently “want” a smaller, lighter, more-efficient, less powerful car, maybe it’s because the industry hasn’t done a damn thing to invest any thought and energy into presenting them as desirable.
But let’s just stop pretending that the “wants” of the “consumer” are naturally and organically arising human drives, shall we? People buy what they’re told to buy because they’re bombarded with the message that they need to buy it repeatedly until they give in. Perhaps that dynamic might be channeled to more productive ends for a change.