'Cause you're giving your neighbors asthma, you jerk

Terry Box wrote an piece in the WP the other day about how despite the melting glaciers and rising gas prices, he's not giving up his muscle cars. Terry, I have to admit that I love cars. I always have and always will. The thrill of a powerful car or truck can get your adrenaline going and put a smile on your face. For those of a mechanical bent, it's also a source of wonder. That said, I'll also have to admit that, Terry, you're a complete jerk.

Juliet Eilperin wrote a response to Terry in yesterday's WP, but I think it only partially hits the mark by only focusing on the selfish part. There's a lot more going on here and reflects how our society has yet to automatically equate pollution with health.

Reader, you have to admit that Mr Box's bluff attitude is charming in it's own way. He can get this in because he is mistaken about what his car choice is. It's a bit easy to say "I don't care about the glaciers, I'm driving my car". Let's make it real, though, shall we? Terry, your choice is contributing to emergency room visits by children who can't breathe and panic stricken parents. Your choice is contributing to high ozone making the great outdoors unsafe for the eldery, the sick, and children. Your choice is making us more dependent on foreign oil, making us less safe and tying our diplomatic hands.

Now, if you're still willing to make that choice after having thought about the consequences, I'll say it again: You selfish jerk.

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Just yesterday one of my readers protested that he would take care of his own grandchildren, not some politician, and they better not tell him what car to drive, what kind of lightbulbs to buy, what breed of dog to own, etc. A fine philosophy if you live on an island, completely isolated from even remote consequence-sharing with others.

And not caring about glaciers is to say to people in Bangladesh; "I don't care if you drown".

Terry Box's article is about love.
Not all love is healthy.

"I have to admit that I love cars. I always have and always will."

And that's the crux of the matter, though not a genuine problem.

People like cars and, by the same token, they like meat.

Luddites who would have us give up both to save the planet are, to bastardize a term from the environmental movement itself, asking us to act in a "psychologically unsustainable" way.

However, there's no reason we can't have our cake, or cars or meat, and eat them/drive them too.

Our focus should be on making cars that are carbon neutral and meat that minimizes both resource use and suffering (vat-grown if that turns out to be possible), not on giving up the things that we like.

Because, unless one is by personal philosophy a stoic, why should you? And even if one is personally a stoic, why should the rest of us be asked to live that way?

There's nothing inherently wrong about wanting a personal vehicle, or a tasty dish, or any of the other hundreds of things that currently have negative environmental impacts. We're just doing it wrong, and there's lots of potential to improve as 21st century consumers, rather than as neolithic cavemen.

By Jason Failes (not verified) on 13 Aug 2008 #permalink

what gets me about the "they're not gonna tell me what i can drive, or where i can drive!" meme is that "they" ALREADY tell us what and where we can and cannot drive

don't believe me? you don't have to: it's objectively demonstrable. just take your snowmachine onto a highway, or take your Chevy for a drive on the closest school athletic field. go ahead, i'll wait here. and when you get back from court, do please email me and let me know i'm right

we're not allowed to drive, say, a surplus Sherman tank on public streets. this is for the common good. likewise, mandating that (just for example) all cars must get at least 40 MPG would also be for the common good. seriously, what's the difference?

The average "muscle car" enthusiast drives the object of his or her affection about once a month on crystal clear days a distance of about five miles.

These cars represent less than one tenth of one percent of the autos registered in the US and as I said above are driven very infrequently, if at all.

The fact that you actually think they present any danger to the earth is evidence of your irrationality. That you would call be people that engage in this harmless hobby "jerks" that are endangering children is evidence that you are a shameless demagogue.

I'm going to be gentler than Lance, but he's basically right. All those guys with their lovingly restored vintage cars actually drive them very little, and are not thus contributing significantly to the air quality problems, the oil dependency problems, or global warming.

Poor people in older and badly maintained cars who are stuck with driving them everywhere anyway are a much bigger source of pollution, but they can't much help it. They'd happily drive newer and better cars if they could. The best solution to that is probably to lower taxes and other impediments to (especially small) business, so more of those people could find better jobs or start businesse and could then afford better cars.

Furthermore, with regard to Mr. Box's article itself, he's even more benign than all that. The musclecar he's talking about not giving up is a 2007 Mustang, which has to meet the exact same emissions regulations as any other 2007 car. When he takes down to get it smog checked, they don't say "OK, it's a musclecar, so it gets to pollute more"; for CO and NOx and all the other locally harmful pollutants, his Mustang has the same limits as everyone else. So in that, AT, your title and post are actually factually wrong. The only effects are (a) it does consume more fuel and thus does contribute to keeping us more dependent on oil, and (b) it does then thus also generate more CO2, thus making a bigger contribution to global warming.

Both of those effects are worth considering, and he may be fairly criticized for those. But adding on additional effects he's NOT having, and criticizing him for those, is incorrect and unfair.


By Phil Boncer (not verified) on 14 Aug 2008 #permalink

Sorry, but I don't have any use for muscle cars. I used to own a fast car, and all it netted me was a suspended license and higher insurance premiums. For me, a car has only one purpose - getting me from Point A to Point B in safety and some relative comfort. Far be it for me to speculate, but sometimes I wonder if guys who own muscle cars aren't compensating for something. . . .

Actually, my favorite kind of car is. . . a rental.

You don't have to have any use for them. But other people might. That's the beauty of a free society. Personally, I dig machinery, and I have no use for spectator sports. So, do I think the world would be a better place if we didn't waste all that time, energy, and money on professional ball-and-stick sports? Might be better for me, probably not for all those people that like that sort of thing.

And sure I could make up all sorts of snide psychobabble "explanations" of why sports fans are lesser beings, but that wouldn't help make the world a better place either.

The world is a better place when we all live and let live, and allow each person to make his own choices about his own life freely, provided that he respects the rights of others to do the same.


By Phil Boncer (not verified) on 15 Aug 2008 #permalink

Thank you Lance, and Phil Boncer for your rational perspectives. Living next door to Cambridge MA, I already get enough poorly thought out smug self-righteousness, as well-intentioned as it might be.

By Kerry Maxwell (not verified) on 16 Aug 2008 #permalink

Sorry...that's the way I feel when I see such articles. That was not the only one about a childish way to see the problems that face us and need a serious compromise of our lifestile. Try to read John Tierney's article on NYT: "FINDINGS; 10 Things To Scratch From Your Worry List".
Like a kid playing with fire...

Lance, It's not an argument about how much his emissions are; it's his attitude that's the problem. Anyone who says "I know I'm causing you a problem and I don't care" in my book is a jerk.

skyotter, I totally agree. We forget sometimes that we already have much of our freedom taken away for good reason. It's where to draw the line. A quote I heard from a teacher in 8th grade still sticks with me: "Your freedom ends where my nose begins".

Mr. Box's attitude was a bit over the top, but his point was that he was tired of people trying to restrict his choices and limit his freedoms and judge him, when he isn't doing much of anything wrong. I completely get this. It's a backlash against the aggressively self-righteous attitude of much of the environmentalist/global warming/anti-globalist/etc. movement, that runs around telling everyone that if we don't all give up everything that they don't think is good we'll all die soon.

As for lost freedoms, skyotter and AT, some of our behavior is proscribed for good reason, but a lot more of it is restricted without good cause. There are a great many laws regarding "victimless crimes" that are really nothing more than busybodies of various types who want to tell everyone what (and what not) to do. Yes, fully agreed that "[My] freedom ends where [your] nose begins". But my freedom does not end *until* your nose begins -- up that point I should be free.


By Phil Boncer (not verified) on 25 Aug 2008 #permalink

My husband has an old muscle car and only about once a month, does it get to see the light of day. Here is my issue...I live on a major road in northern Ohio where semi trucks go past my house quiet frequently. I like to have my windows open on nice sunny days and when these big trucks go flying past my house, I get the exhaust fumes in my living room and other rooms as well. There isn't another way to get to where they are going due to the way the highways are around here.I understand they have products to deliver, here is my issue, I have to take my 2003 Dodge Neon for an emissions test next year. Just how much exhaust fumes are coming out of that and also, why are government officials so hard on us working people when they could be going after big companies along with the companies transportation vehicles?
Sorry, just had to get that out there.

By L. Varney (not verified) on 30 Aug 2008 #permalink

"...why are government officials so hard on us working people when they could be going after big companies along with the companies transportation vehicles?"

Yeah, and they should go after airlines too, passenger and cargo and overnight delivery, the biggest fuel users and emitters per mile. All the transportation companies even. Because food, clothes, household goods, and airplane travel doesn't cost enough already.

By speedwell (not verified) on 03 Sep 2008 #permalink

s/b "don't". Pre-coffee grumpy, sorry. :)

By speedwell (not verified) on 03 Sep 2008 #permalink

Furthermore, with regard to Mr. Box's article itself, he's even more benign than all that. The muscle car he's talking about not giving up is a 2007 Mustang

Thats not really what most people think of as a muscle car. At 19/28mpg the mileage isn't total crap, but then again what will eat you is maintenance, insurance, and depreciation. So basically I don't care if Mr Box wants to be stupid. That he thinks having that owning that sort of car is standing up for American Manhood just makes me happy I'm not him.

I'm a big fan of fast cars. I would rather have to bike everywhere than be condemned to driving a Prius or a high-mileage econobox. I also consume relatively fewer natural resources than the average American-- despite my choice of vehicle-- but all that is just a red herring.

Our enviromental problems are not about individuals' choices-- they were not created by individual choice, and they won't be fixed that way either. They are systemic problems, created by poorly-thought-out systems and products, and compounded by haphazard regulation. So work on fixing the system(s), rather than getting upset at people who are not living ethically, according to your viewpoint. That's just screaming into the wind.

This post could have been a very productive discussion of new technologies that may soon allow us to have cleaner, better sports cars. Instead, you just made it into a personal attack. What's the use in that?

By Nancy Boi (not verified) on 16 Sep 2008 #permalink

You can still have muscle cars and clean air. And use no gasoline or oil(except in the crankcase).


Large engine displacement vehicles are perfect for this kind of fuel.

Personally, I'm worried about the fallout of this Army Chemical Corps operation that took place in the 1950's.


Just what were the adverse health effects of spraying microscopic particles of zinc cadmium sulfide across the US?

By robert kenum (not verified) on 17 Nov 2008 #permalink

I don't think it's fair that people can compromise our own health. If someone want's to make a unwise decision to live a unhealthy lifestyle that is their decision but we shouldn't have to suffer.