The most annoying argument an environmentalist can have

Nissan Leaf photo
CC BY 2.0 janitors

The other day, I got into a discussion with a friend:

"Electric cars will never take off until their price comes down. I can get so much more car for the same price as a LEAF."

Here's the thing though: you can't.

For some reason, my friend seemed to think it was perfectly rational to assign monetary value to things like a high-end stereo system, trunk space, leather steering wheels and electric cup holders—yet it was irrational to assign value to how much, or how little, a car contributes to the degradation of our collective heritage.

This drives me nuts.

Yes, people care about comfort, conveniences and bling. But they also care about their children's future. They care about the image they present to the world. Heck, they also care about how many times they have to go to the gas station. And all this points to a very obvious, but oft forgotten, fact:

The concept of value is almost entirely subjective.

We choose how to value a rare metal we dig out of the ground. We choose how to value the celebrity status of a four-year-old reality TV star. And we choose how to value clean water, a stable climate, robust ecosystems and a resilient food and energy infrastructure.

As I argued some time back in my post on why masturbation is an economic act, the very notion of a monetary economy is itself a very limited subset of the true economy.

From carbon taxes to assigning monetary value to ecosystem services, there are plenty of structural interventions we can make in the economy to recallibrate our money with what we truly value.

But in the meantime, it's up to all of us to remind our fellow human beings that value is not ordained from above by "the markets", Consumer Reports, or Kelley Blue Book. It's up to each of us to choose what we value, and to communicate those choices with those around us. In doing so, we shape their concept of value too.

Tags: Economics