What Trump's election can teach us about green lifestyle choices

Donald Trump
CC BY-SA 2.0 Flickr

On January 20th, Donald Trump will take office as the President of the United States of America.

Many, many stories have and will be written about the environmental consequences of this event. And that's as it should be. In addition to consequences, however, there are also lessons. And one of them has to do with which car I should buy next.

Bear with me.

Living, as I do, in a car dependent city in a car dependent region in a car dependent nation, I've been pondering the purchase of a new car. And I would very much like it to be at least a plug-in hybrid. A friend of mine got to asking about the relative benefits of keeping an old car versus buying a new one, and I told him that most of the emissions are related to driving, so switching out an old one for a significantly lower emissions model usually comes out as an environmental positive.

But I also argued this was the wrong discussion to be having. Focusing only on the immediate impact of our choices can cause us to ignore leverage. And leverage is really important. Impact suggests we choose whichever option has lowest immediate carbon footprint. Leverage suggests we choose whichever option takes us closer to the future we need to see. And this is where the election lesson comes in.

You can think of voting as an act of personal expression/virtue. That's the philosophy that led many people vehemently opposed to Donald Trump to vote for candidates they knew had zero chance of winning, or to stay home entirely. Or you can view it as an act that helps tip the system one way or the other, and make a tactical vote to bring about the outcome that's preferable.

The data suggests that the election was decided by voters who stayed home. I suspect many of them did so because they felt neither candidate adequately represented their values. What if they had simply asked which future is preferable, and which candidate is going to get us closer to it?

Buying a new plug-in car will shift us closer to a world where oil companies lose their political clout. And when oil companies lose their political clout, infrastructural priorities will change. When infrastructural priorities change, it won't just mean cars go electric. We'll also move closer to a world where car ownership becomes less dominant. Most auto executives believe we are well on the way to that future already.

I've been making this argument for a while: To win, the green movement needs to understand leverage, not just impacts. That's a lesson that's relevant to all of us, regardless of whether we voted or who we voted for.

So yes, I am still hoping to buy a new car. I hope it's the last one I ever need to own.

Tags: Activism | Car-Free | Electric Cars | Electric Vehicles


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