PRIUS PUNDITRY: Robert Samuelson has achieved the impossible. As an anti-sprawl crusader who staunchly advocates higher gasoline taxes, I never thought I'd read a column arguing for a $1-2 per gallon increase in the gas tax that is totally obnoxious and illogical. And yet, the Washington Post's Samuelson did just that in his most recent piece. Samuelson devotes seven paragraphs to attacking Prius drivers as self-righteous show-offs. He has no empirical data to support his nasty assumption such as a poll of Prius drivers as to why they buy those cars. But he does indulge in some perverse sleight of hand when he argues:
The Prius is, I think, a parable for the broader politics of global warming. Prius politics is mostly about showing off, not curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Politicians pander to "green" constituents who want to feel good about themselves. Grandiose goals are declared. But measures to achieve them are deferred -- or don't exist.
This makes absolutely no sense. Samuelson claims without evidence that buying a fuel efficient hybrid is about "showing off" and declaring grandiose goals while deferring measures to achieve them. But buying an efficient car is precisely a measure to achieve lower greenhouse gas emissions. Emitting fewer greenhouse gases is demonstrably what it does, while Samuelson's argument that the buyer's motivation is really "showing off" is just lazy conjecture. It's also irrelevant -- a Prius doesn't emit more CO2 if its driver has the wrong motivations.
And Samuelson totally buries the lead under his unfair attacks on the citizens who have chosen to do their part in slowing global warming. It turns out he's actually for sensible progressive policies to address carbon emissions, including the higher gas tax (to force people to buy more Priuses just like those prigs he can't tolerate) and an anti-sprawl measure to reduce average home size. But then he throws up his hands and says that of his proposals only higher fuel efficiency standards are politically plausible. Well that's very helpful.
So what is his conclusion? That, say, we need to convince the public to accept some lifestyle adjustments to make his other suggestions more likely to be implemented? No that would reek of the self-righteous "Prius politics" he just wasted newsprint deploring. Instead Samuelson says,
Deep reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases might someday occur if both plug-in hybrid vehicles and underground storage of carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants become commercially viable. Meanwhile, Prius politics is a delusional exercise in public relations that, while not helping the environment, might hurt the economy.
Well, that's helpful. So overall Samuelson contends that we could stop global warming but the public is unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices and we're doomed unless technology saves us. But since there's nothing we can do about the environment we should just focus on growing the economy and somehow, although he makes literally no effort to explain the mechanism at work, a handful of eco-concious consumers buying efficient automobiles will disrupt that. Maybe David Broder isn't the most inane columnist on the Post op-ed page after all.