I was reading through the Star Tribune comments section on an article about LED lights. It was a good article, if you happen to be into that, and in all fairness, it does deal with issues outside the realm of what I’m about to write about. That being said, the comment section left me shaking my head at our misguided ideas about being both economical and environmental. The most glaring being a rebuttal comment to the writer’s small jab at the Toyota Prius:

[...] I drive a 2005 Prius. I bought it used with 3000 miles on it. I know have 200,000 miles on the car and drive 80 miles a day. My average gas mileage is 54 miles per gallon. This is finest and most ECONOMICAL, reliable car I have ever owned. I don’t understand the dig in your article. I would buy another Prius in a moment but have never had too. Just sets of new tires!

Let me offer some insight: nothing about driving 80 miles a day is economical or environmental. 

We have a major disconnect in this country on what is and what isn’t economical and environmental.If you really want to make an impact on your wallet and the environment, there are a few simple things you can do (and no, buying a Prius is not one of them).

1) Where we live. What would be more economical than driving 80 miles in a Prius would be to drive 2 miles in a Chevy Suburban (or better yet, walk or bike). Living close to work is one of the most economical decision you can make. This is what I call the David Owen / Ed Gleaser argument [by the way, David Own has a new book out that deals with this very issue].

2) The places we build. I don’t want to lament on the suburbs anymore than I have to (it’s a dead horse), but we’ve tricked ourselves into thinking we can make it green. Here’s an example from a local developer’s website:

A half-empty big box parking lot fully illuminated during the night? This makes as much sense as putting a small voltage electrical vehicle charging station miles from anything that matters [the best defense I've read of this is LID and NU].

3) Don’t eat meat (as often). I don’t think vegetarians are vegetarians because they are cheapskates. Not eating meat, or eating it less often, is a great, and easy, way to help your pocketbook and the environment. Meat consumes tons of resources – environmental and otherwise – and cutting it out just one or two days a week would do as much as buying any new green gadget.

The key to making a difference (economically and environmentally) for yourself or some greater existential good, you need to not change what we are buying, but how much we are buying (and not what you are living in, but where you are living).

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