February 10, 2015

If You Could Drive Any Car...

Bugatti Veyron
Bugatti Veyron (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
How about a fun little off-topic thought experiment for a change?

You are minding your own business one day when a mysterious stranger knocks on your door with a deal that sounds too good to be true. The wealthy interests he represents will buy you a new car - anything you want without consideration of price - and cover all expenses associated with its use (e.g., fuel, insurance, maintenance, repairs) for a period of 5 years. Want that Bugatti? How about a Lamborghini? Whatever your dream car might be, you got it!

So what's the catch? Nothing major, but there are just a few details you need to know about before making your choice and taking delivery of your new car:
  • The car you select must be new (i.e., 2015 model year), street legal, and commercially available. No classics, experimental prototypes, or one-of-a-kind custom jobs that nobody else could buy.
  • The car you select must be your primary car during the 5-year period (i.e., you'll actually have to drive it).
  • At the end of the 5-year period, they'll take the car back so you do not get to sell it at the end.
As you think about which shiny new car you'd select, remember that your fuel, insurance, and maintenance are all covered. You don't have to factor any of these costs or the issue of reliability into your decision. At the same time, there is no monetary incentive in picking the most expensive thing you can think of since it won't be yours to sell at the end of the 5 years.

Have some ideas about which car you'd select? Fun to think about, isn't it? Now, here's the question: how many of you would choose an electric or gas-electric hybrid car?

Nobody? Yeah, me neither. Bring on the sort of high-priced gas guzzling supercars one sees on Top Gear, right? Absolutely. The more horsepower and torque the better. But we aren't a bunch of climate science deniers, are we? Don't we all believe that climate change is a serious problem to which gas guzzling vehicles are contributing? So why aren't we all jumping on the most fuel efficient car we can think of?

I submit that the answer is a fairly simple one: we're selfish. We're perfectly willing to put our own fun over the greater good. This hypothetical deal where we get to drive something we'd never be able to afford and not have to worry about any of things we usually worry about when selecting a car sounds incredibly fun. And as aware as we are of climate change and the manner in which our choices contribute to it, we're not about to let it get in the way of our fun. No wonder we're in the environmental predicament in which we find ourselves!

It is very easy to hate on the guy driving the Hummer. But if we're given the opportunity to drive our dream car - whatever it might be - my guess is that most of us would take it and not lose any sleep over how the environment would be impacted. This highlights the difficulty we have mustering the political will to do much of anything likely to impact climate change. Why should we be the ones to make sacrifices when others don't seem to be doing so? Getting ourselves to give things up that we find so enjoyable seems to require us to confront and overcome a part of our nature, and this is not an easy task.