The A-hole and the Prius

Just last week, an a-hole cut me off.

You see Officer, I was driving down Milwaukee Ave, which would be wide enough for two lanes if it weren't for the meters. Well, there's this cheeky move where you sneak up the "right lane," squeezing between the real traffic and the parked cars. When the light turns green, you step on the gas, cutting the whole line. While I will admit to pulling this move on rare occasions, I try to keep my road aggression to a minimum. I do believe in driving karma.

But apparently, this guy did not. He passed everyone, rolled up next to me, started moving before the light even changed, and boom - off he went.

Why did this surprise me? Because this a-hole was driving a Prius.


Eco-friendly products are the hottest ticket in town. They are showing up in every possible store, and every conceivable industry. Companies are creating new business models left and right based on our newfound desire to curb global warming.

And these days, there's an eco motivator for everyone. That woman might be buying organic milk because she wants the cows who produced her beverage to eat grass in a happy field. Or because she doesn't want her kids drinking bovine growth hormone with their cereal. Or maybe, just maybe she lives in a nice part of town, makes decent money, and knows that shoppers around her will note her organic choice. Come on, you know you look at what other people put down at the checkout.

But now, there is an even more compelling reason to go green. Eco-conscious products are finally paying off for consumers like us. Those compact fluorescent lightbulbs might be a couple bucks more at Wal*Mart, but my god, will you save on your electric bill. It's called ROI, baby, and it's convincing even the stingiest cynics to start reducing, reusing and recycling.

Now here's the thing. Lots of people have been making eco-conscious choices for a looong time. These people are the "true believers." They are kind, giving and selfless. They have been inconveniencing themselves for years by recycling, wearing organic cotton, composting their trash and carrying lunchboxes. These folks don't get refunds for bringing their own canvas shopping bags. They don't get tax breaks for biking to work. In their hearts, you will find only generosity. They are doing it for the children, the planet, the future of mankind.

But suddenly, a ton of newcomers have jumped on the LOHAS bandwagon. And you might say some of the true believers are, well, quietly ticked. It's kind of like when your favorite indy band gets on the radio. It's equal parts "this is mine, don't take it away from me" and "I told you so."

And sure, the new eco buzz is not all genuine. Greenwashing is everywhere and lots of companies are focusing on the perception factor, rather than the real deal. Debates run rampant as to whether hybrid cars are actually better for the environment, whether it's more important to buy fair-trade or local, and the countless definitions of the word "sustainable." Is Wal*Mart conserving gas because it's responsible, or because it's cheap?

I say, who cares? We finally have a growing pool of products that are actually good for the planet, while also being - gasp! - good for our bank accounts. Hybrid cars come to mind. And I have no problem with someone buying a Prius, not because they give a damn about the earth, but simply because they want to save a buck at the pump.

Now I'll admit, the Prius driver pulling a move on me was surprising. In my stereotyping monkey brain I assumed that anyone driving a Prius was making daisy chains in the car while singing along to Peter, Paul and Mary. Obviously, I stand corrected.

But you know what - I think it's great. I hope more scrooges with road rage buy Priuses in the near future. Because we are only going to make a dent in the climate crisis when everybody gets on board, and we just don't have enough nice guys to fill the ranks. We need the a-holes, too.


Mario Vellandi said...

Hi Sara,
I agree that the overall trend toward green buying is better than nothing, since it represents an attitude change that will affect your behavior everyday.

Unfortunately, the green terminology is very subjective. If you ever read or listen to Michael Pollen's "The Omnivore's Dilemma", you'll see the breadth of the word "organic" in practice. My concern is that certain green terms will become generic and consumers will end up purchasing 'only slightly modified or sustainable'

sara said...

Mario, so true. Loose terminology standards are probably hurting the cause more than helping it (though again, the fact that so many companies want to be associated with the word "organic" is still a good thing at the end of the day).

We either need stricter regulation on labeling, or consumer-friendly explanations of what the labels mean and don't mean.

Even if green terms become generic, I can see the whole scale shifting. The extremely-eco end of the scale will probably be even better than it is today, while the other end will have moved over a notch or two.

I've heard that book is super. I'll be sure to check it out.

Nancy said...

As a daisy chain-making, Peter, Paul and Mary-singing Prius driver, who has carried canvas bags to the grocery store for 20 years, I am overjoyed to see anyone sitting up and taking notice of global warming. And even more overjoyed to find people willing to do something about it, whether small (changing light bulbs, adjusting a thermostat a degree or two) or big (buying a hybrid vehicle). Great post, Sara!

Jessie said...

I think we need to applaud ANY and ALL changes that people are willing to make, and not slap their hands if they choose to take a step in the right direction, even if what's required to save the planet at this point is a leap by everyone. Just think of the difference and the slowing of the degredation if EVERYONE would make even one little change in their lives for the better - it would be amazing!

I made my change last week and finally switched over (kudos to you, nancy, for beating me by 20 years :) ) to reusable grocery bags from the horrid plastic ones. It always seemed like a lot of work, but it really wasn't that bad once I made the effort and bought the bags. And in my case I certainly couldn't say that cost was holding me back because I paid $35 for a set of 5 totes (they're cute, too! http://www.brightandbold.com/enflba.html), and according to everything I'm reading I'll be saving the environment 500 plastic bags per year.

We also made the switchover to compact fluoro bulbs last year. Now, if every family in America made those 2 changes in their lives... whether they buy pure organic hemp grocery bags or not... they're still taking the right step - congrats to myself and everyone else who is making that effort!!!

sara said...

Jessie, amen to that. We swapped our light bulbs out when Wal*Mart made their big announcement - that they were going to sell 100 million CFLs in a year. I never shop at Wal*Mart, but to support this goal, I made a special trip.

I also just bought reusable grocery bags, and they are fabulous. I bought these, and every time I load them up at the self-checkout, I see someone checking them out. They are sturdy, comfortable and roomy, and best of all, they don't scream "earth freak." They just look smart.

Hillary said...

we have a certain mutual friend who pulls that prius move. his name rhymes with derek dollohoe and he refers to the move with some racist nickname.

i didn't read all of this blog yet, because i realized that i should get back to work, but i read about these bags in teen vogue: http://baggubag.com/ they come in slightly awesomer colors than the ones you linked to, sara.

sara said...

Damn, those are awesomer colors. And their Shop site is so simple and visual.

Mutual friend? Racist nickname? I have no idea what you're talking about.


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