Car A gets a fuel efficiency of 46 miles per gallon. Car B gets about 50 miles per gallon. Car A is called the Toyota Prius and is hailed by environmentalists as a step towards solving global warming. Car B, a new car called the Tata Nano unveiled by an Indian company, is reviled by environmentalists as disastrous for global warming. The New York Times devotes an entire editorial condemning the Tata Nano. Columnist and author Tom Friedman calls for the Tata Nano to be “taxed like crazy.” The reason for this extreme criticism? The Tata Nano is cheap – very cheap. It is a revolutionary new car design that will cost only about $2,500 and will bring car ownership within reach of millions of new people in the developing world.
Now, I don’t dig Shome’s post in its entirety, but I will say this: the No Impact, tighten-your-belt approach clearly doesn’t apply in the developing world. That is to say, I won’t be going to India or Kenya and bragging about reducing my impact.
Here in the United States, where we waste resources to the point of making ourselves unhappy and unhealthy (remember my quality of life vs resource use curve), focusing on impact reduction through reduced consumption may well be part of the equation. That doesn’t follow where consumption hasn’t even begun and people are still living on that part of the quality of life curve where increased resource use will make them happier (again, see the curve).
That’s why the investment in the development of new and the implementation of existing renewable energy and technology is so important. Because I sure ain’t going to be the one to tell the Indians they shouldn’t have cheap cars. Besides, think of the jobs we would have created for the American economy if we innovated a car like the Tata Nano that did even better on emissions or maybe didn’t even run on gas at all? There’s no reason we shouldn’t have.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not turning my back on the importance to American happiness, health and security of wasting fewer of the planetary resources we depend on–reducing consumption. And I’m also not a fan of the automobile. But in this case, the problem is not Indian entrance into consumerdom, but the United States’s non-entrance into sustainable development.