Guilt-Free (or, at least, reduced)

April 5, 2008 at 8:49 pm (Economics, Environment, Family)

With the baby on the way, Heather and I are talking about getting a second car. I’ve resisted getting a second car for years, for a number of reasons, foremost being that I just don’t want to deal with the darn thing. I hate having to worry about maintenance, cleanliness, parking (especially in our neighborhood). On top of that, there’s the cost: Both the cost of the car and the high (and ever rising) cost of gas. As most of you know, I’m rather frugal (okay, I’m a cheap bastard), so dropping thousands on a car is not something I view with glee. Finally, there are the environmental benefits of not owning another car. I walk to the bus stop five days a week, and I like doing it. I like not contributing to global warming, and I like the exercise. It means I can’t stay late at school or party with my friends often, but I spin that as an additional savings, in both time and money. I’ve built a whole life around not owning a car, and I’m comfortable in it.

But the baby changes that. Heather needs her car for work, which means that, when she’s working, I’d be home alone with the baby. And neither of us wants me car-less in that situation, so we’ve been talking about what new car to get. Unfortunately, for all of the reasons listed above, I’m all about the reasonably-priced, gas-efficient sedans, while Heather is all about the 4WD SUVs. In fact, discussions about what sort of car we might get in the future have been one of the most significant sources of conflict in our marriage over the years, because we are both dug into our respective trenches: Mine of penury and responsibility, hers of luxury and enjoyment. She sees cars as an essential part of life, and a fun part, at that. I look at them as a necessary evil, the unintended result of social development that did not look at their long-term consequences. So, we don’t see eye-to-eye, to put it mildly.

In the interests of my unborn child, however, I’ve decided the soften my position. While I may not see a need to everyone in our society to own a car, the fact of the matter is that our society (or, more specifically, our city) has developed under the assumption that everyone owns a car. If my baby is sick or dying, I’m not going to run a mile carrying him or her, hoping that the last bus hasn’t already passed. I’ll even compromise on cost, because what’s the point of having money if I don’t spend it on what’s important, and what’s more important to me than my baby? What I do want, however, is a car that I don’t feel environmentally guilty about owning. This is the responsibility thing I mentioned above. And, since Heather’s heart is set on an SUV (by which I mean I’m not willing to pay the apparently cost to our relationship of refusing to ever allow her to buy one), I’ve been looking at the various hybrid SUV options, and have found a few with gas mileage that I consider rather reasonable (30 MPG and up).

The problem is, I’ve had this memory in the back of my mind of a report published a couple of years ago that showed the the actual costs of producing a hybrid vehicle were so high that driving a Prius was actually more damaging to the environment than driving a Hummer! I had always been a little skeptical of the report, but I think that was more resentment than anything. So, before committing myself to this hybrid push, I decided to do some more research, and find out what the current status of that report is. After all, if I’m going to be responsible, I’d better be REALLY responsible, not just fake responsible, right?

I am quite pleased, therefore, to learn that I actually had good reasons to be skeptical. This recent article in Slate supports the viewpoint that the original report was very skewed. The most interesting point, to me, also appeared in this early response to the report: Because the report divided the R&D costs of the both the regular and hybrid cars evenly over the total number of cars on the road at that point, and because the R&D period of the hybrid cars was so much shorter than that of the regular cars, each year necessarily brings with it a very significant drop in the cost per mile of hybrids that does not occur in the regular cars. And this means is that I can feel good (or, at least, better) about buying a hybrid SUV than a regular SUV. Which is rather important in helping me sleep at night. Which is very important, because everyone I see keeps telling me I need to store up as much sleep now as I can, before the baby comes!

1 Comment

  1. marystan said,

    You are so cute.

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