A Facade of Eco-Friendliness has Created Plenty of Skepticism
December 13, 2019
Sometimes it’s really easy to turn skeptical.
Take the electric-bikes/electric-scooters stuff. When JUMP first set up its bicycle rack on Ives Street not far from our Providence home, I was optimistic.
Hey, this’ll be great, I thought. People abandoning their gas-guzzling cars for this really, really cheap alternative.
When the electric bikes and scooters arrived, it looked like our hybrid car and our friend’s electric car were about to be upstaged by something a lot less fossil-fuel dependent. A lot more ethical.
But as I found myself stepping around scooters littering some sidewalks and watching small clutches of youth riding pirated electric bikes around town, things took an unexpected turn.
JUMP shut down. So did Lime and Bird.
I’d already become a bit skeptical about the actual environmental impact of these means of transportation. That’s not to say that my friend’s decision to ride a JUMP bike from Pawtucket to his office in Cranston instead of his car wasn’t a good idea, or that his decision to actually buy an electric bike wasn’t an equally good one.
But I wasn’t convinced, when I saw college-age bike-and-scooter riders zipping here and there, that they had actually abandoned anything. It had gradually dawned on me that it was more likely that a lot of the people who rented these vehicles were actually abandoning something more basic: their feet, or maybe a bus. In which case, these would-be eco-travelers weren’t improving things; they were actually making things a little bit worse.
My assumptions were echoed by the French branch of Extinction Rebellion, when its members recently disabled thousands of scooters, arguing that using the scooter still involved the emission of some 25 percent of greenhouse gases that would be emitted if the journey was made by car. The organization also argued that studies have shown that rather than replacing car journeys, people opt for e-scooters rather than going by foot.
Fooling ourselves, and being fooled, about our environmental moral stances is nothing new. Lela Kulkarni makes it pretty clear in a recent Motif article that Rhode Island’s recent decision to “ban plastic bags” involved representatives of the plastics industry pulling the wool over our eyes.
Chris D’Angelo’s close look at fossil-fuel supporters enlisting locals to prevent Brookline, Mass., from banning oil and gas infrastructure in new construction is another example of this, while another Huffington Post article revealed that “as far back as 1991, the Canadian arm of Exxon Mobil Corp.’s empire anticipated that a high tax on carbon emissions would be necessary to maintain a stable climate.”
Spend some time reading Rachel Maddow’s page-turner, Blowout, about the fossil-fuel industry since fracking took off, and you’ll get the full picture; it all reminds me of the deceptions by the tobacco industry decades ago, and, I guess, the vaping industry today.
The most frustrating part of it all is how little we can do about these fraudulent efforts to get us to give our money to people who do not have the planet’s best interests at heart.
Not long after I read that some automobile manufacturers were siding with California in its effort to keep the right to set its own fuel-efficiency standards, I wrote to Toyota to express my concern that they hadn’t joined VW, Honda, Ford, and BMW in this support.
A few days later, this is what I got from Phyllis D. at the Toyota Customer Experience Center:
“Thank you for contacting Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. Toyota is sensitive to the opinions of our customers, and we respect your position on this issue.
“Toyota remains committed to continuous, year-over-year improvements in fuel economy standards that deliver meaningful climate benefits, promote advanced technologies and meet the needs of customers like you. Joining this litigation does not mean we are taking any sides politically. Rather, this is a necessary step to ensure we have a voice in the debate over a complex set of legal and regulatory issues that have significant long-term implications for our industry, our business and affordability for our customers.
“We’re confident we can find a path that brings significant environmental benefits if we work together to develop vehicles and regulations that meet the needs and value proposition of the customer. Thank you for taking the time to provide your feedback. Your email has been documented at our National Headquarters.”
I wonder if she/they even read my email.
Oh, well. I’ll just keep on walking everywhere, watching the scooters (and bikes, if JUMP or somebody else returns) zip by, and bringing reusable bags to the store. For the life of me, I can’t find a good-guy gas company, so we’ll just try to drive even less.
And I guess when our Prius cashes it in, we’ll buy a Honda.
Nicholas Boke is an international educational consultant and freelance writer. He lives in Providence.
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