Green Energy: Where Politics and Advertising Meet
This morning, Breitbart News posted an article on environmental researcher Ozzie Zehner’s latest findings that posit, from construction to destruction, electric vehicles are more harmful to the environment than standard gas-powered vehicles.
Zehner’s findings suggest looking at the damage to the environment a car does comprehensively–from its beginnings as a manufactured piece of metal to its eventual resting place in a junkyard. When taking all of these factors into account, one must consider the impact of disposing the car batteries and the frequent charging, which draws power from sources that are fueled by, among other things, coal. To that end, buying a Chevy Volt, for example, will be more harmful to the environment than a Hyundai Sonata. The economic benefits of the latter–alongside this newfound suggestion that a Sonata is also more environmentally friendly–offer very little real purpose for the electric car outside, of course, the stigma that comes with being “green.”
Zehner furthers this point by looking at what Justin Beiber’s manager, Scooter Braun, said to him when Bieber was given a car on his 18th birthday: “We wanted to make sure, since you love cars, that when you are on the road you are always looking environmentally friendly, and we decided to get you a car that would make you stand out a little bit.”
Certainly the narrative trumps the facts. Consumers who drive hybrids, notably the Prius, are the same as the ones who drive jacked-up trucks in the city. It’s a statement.
In reviewing Zehner’s blog and a Huffington Post book review, it appears that Zehner himself isn’t against the use of alternative energy. He is more concerned with the market forces that are imposed on the energy market via government intervention:
“It’s what I call a boomerang effect. When we subsidize wind power or any other energy technology, this exerts a downward pressure on energy prices, and demand subsequently strengthens. We return to where we started — with high demand and so-called insufficient supply. Taller or more efficient wind turbines are just another way of throwing [the boomerang] harder.”
When government subsidizes energy, particularly green energy, it’s hiding the true cost of energy. Demand strengthens because price has been artificially lowered. It’s not truly changing consumer habits, but it is changing how much taxpayer money is pumped into the system.
In fact, Zehrner’s bottom-line thesis is a cultural one. He suggests the rate at which we procreate “happens to be a rate that is appropriate for the aggregate ecological endowment for our planet.” Fewer consumers on the planet simply correlates to less consuming.
My bottom line thesis is a little different: Green energy has become a message and an advertisement. It’s the chicken and egg theory. I don’t quite remember if it was first a phenomenal advertising speil to get consumers feeling good about how they consume energy or an idea propagated by media types (a la Gore). Either way, I’m a little scared that green energy is simply an advertisement co-opted by a media as an irrefutable factual platform.
Think about it this way: consumers buy Ray-Ban sunglasses because of the identity, status, and “coolness” associated with them. They obviously don’t buy them for price tag. And their performance as an ocular light shield isn’t substantially better than what one would find at Gander Mountain. They are buying the name “Ray-Ban” and the stigma associated with them, and that is great. Now, let’s substitute some key terms and see how it translates.
Consumers buy a Toyota Prius because of the “greenness” associated with it. They obviously don’t buy it for the price tag. And its performance as a green machine isn’t substantially better than what one would find on a cheaper gas-powered car. They are buying the name “Prius” and the stigma associated with it, and that is…scary. We’ve reached the intersection between dogma and stigma. I can only imagine how happy Don Draper would be to have the cooperation of political pundits and government officials to push products that he represents.