The little car that environmentalists love to hate

Tata Nano Standard

That would be the Tata Nano, just introduced in India for the ultra low price of just $2500. Environmentalists are shrieking about how horrible it that affordable cars have come to the Third World because, gasp, then people will be driving them.

The environmentalists’ hypocrisy is breathtaking. How can anything be criticized simply for being affordable? Tomorrow, if college education is made more accessible and affordable in India, will the New York Times denounce it on the grounds that college graduates tend to earn more and buy more consumer goods and hence enlarge their environmental “footprint”? The attitude of many environmentalists today is not unlike that of the Duke of Wellington at the dawn of the railroad era, who criticized the railways on the grounds that they would “only encourage the common people to move about needlessly.”

Goodness, we can’t have all those tacky Third World people enjoying the luxuries that we in industrialized countries have had for generations, now can we? Besides, they’ll be much happier long-term if they remain as peasants and abstain from materialism. As for solving global warming, well, we all need repent for our profligate ways and live in yurts, burning wood for heat and not use motorized transportation. That should solve things.

Oh wait, maybe there’s a better way. Massive research and development in renewable energy and clean transportation could create new industries and economies thus raising the living standard for all. Several billion people in China and India are currently raising their standard of living. They want electricity, cars, appliances, and the Internet. They will either power their new lifestyles with coal and the internal combustion engine or with clean energy and transportation.

What many environmentalists do not seem to understand is that if global warming is ever to be solved, it will be solved by human ingenuity, by technological innovation, by further human progress. The idea that the environment should be saved by severely curbing human ingenuity and human initiative is fundamentally flawed. While we should certainly seek to mitigate the negative side-effects of development, the emphasis must be on moving forward, on further human progress. Human civilization and development have been wonderful. People today live longer, fuller, lives, with more prosperity, freedom, opportunity, and choice, than ever before. How can this be a bad thing? The world needs more progress and development, not less.

Precisely. And here’s an example of how people are working towards solutions. The Systems, Cities & Sustainable Mobility conference starts tomorrow in Pasadena, CA.

Sustainability: Designing for the masses

Within the next 20 years, five billion people—representing 60 percent of the world’s population—will reside in cities. To meet the needs and aspirations of an increasingly urban society, design will play a crucial role in helping to anticipate and create the solutions which will enable these complex systems to function sustainably.


  1. We’re running into a fundamental problem here: carrying capacity. Some say we’ve already exceeded it, others say it is close. But we’ve known for a long time that the world cannot support 6 billion people at the American standard of living– burning up resources, creating waste, emitting various types of pollution. The only way we in the West manage to survive at this level of luxury (and waste) is by keeping the majority of the world in poverty. 50% of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day! Unfortunately, gains in efficiency have so far been sucked up by growth in population– the condition of the vast majority of the poor has not changed.

    The natural course of things would be for population to stabilize when the carrying capacity is reached. By this, I mean the disturbing reality that food and water shortages, severe weather, disease, wars over resources, and so forth will act rather brutally to limit population. Thus the introduction of the Nano is perfectly consistent with capitalist economics: the market (and in this case the planet) will regulate itself.

    We stand at a time of possibility: will we as a species choose to limit population so that technology may actually benefit the majority? Or will we continue along the Malthusian path and force nature to do the job for us? Because unless we find ways to limit population growth (and its effect on the planet), the promise of technology offers little hope for real forward progress for most people.

  2. Both points of view conflict and have validity … inovation will save many of us or our children, and the rest would have managed very nicely except that we forced them into our world by stealing their invironment and leaving them scaps, poisons and garbage heaps to live on … if a moral force exists, we will be punished for this … if not, half the world will suffer to oblivion, leaving the surviving half to battle over the who is most deserving of the remainder, probably down to the last man/woman.

    If only we had a new world to start over …

    Obviously I’m suffering the letdown after so massive a high over Obama’s election … let’s hope we aren’t too late.

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