No, Jesus would drive a second-hand beater
I have to laugh at Brendan I. Koerner’s recent article over on Slate arguing that manually shifted transmissions are better for the environment than automatic transmissions. While in a sense, he answered the question correctly (though not completely, as Martin Schwoerer argues over at The Truth About Cars: Koerner completely disregarded the fuel efficiency of a spate of new transmission technologies – CVTs, DSGs and automatic clutches among them – that have cropped up in new cars over the last several years), he missed the entire point.
Sure, buying a manual trans car may be better for the environment, but what’s best for the environment is not buying a car at all, and if you do have to buy a car, it’s still best not to buy a new car. Regardless, Koerner’s suggestions seem to come back to buying a brand-new car. Only once does he seem to say otherwise:
This calculation, however, doesn’t include some less obvious benefits of manual transmissions. The brake pads on stick-shift cars, for example, tend to wear out less rapidly than those on automatics. And manual transmissions are relatively cheap to fix and replace, so you can wait longer to buy a new vehicle. Manufacturing auto parts is energy-intensive, so anything that can be done to curb their production has to be a plus.
Bingo. Study after study shows that just as many pollutants go into the atmosphere during the manufacture of a vehicle as during the vehicle’s lifespan once it leaves the factory. But at no point do we hear Koerner or any of the greenies advocate buying a used car. Instead, in marketing-fueled America, the message is to buy green – whether it’s Toyota’s emphasis on hybrids, Chevrolet’s emphasis on E85-powered cars or any number of consumer products (shrink-wrapped in plastic and entirely non-biodegradeable) that claim to be better for the environment.
When I was a kid, the environmental message was “reduce, reuse and recycle.” In that order. It occurs to me now that we almost never hear that from the current environmentalism movement – neither the slogan nor the message behind it. In fact, the first two parts of that message seem to have been discarded entirely, leaving the least important of the three as what many people believe will save the planet.
Of course, neither reducing or reusing much benefit corporations. If I’m happy with walking to work (reducing the amount of gas I use) and hauling a load of mulch in my 1987 pickup (reusing the pickup rather than letting it go to the scrapyard), then that means I’m not out there buying a brand-new pickup and supporting any corporation.
Recycling, however, benefits every corporation that manufactures a physical object. It not only allows the corporation to put a “made from 13 percent recycled content” happy face on their product, it reduces material costs – not that any of those savings will get passed on to the customer.
Now, I know somebody will argue that new cars have increasingly better pollution controls and old cars are therefore dirty. Ignoring gritty details for a moment (the state of tune of an engine contributes more to pollution than age, older cars aren’t driven as much as newer cars and thus spend less time polluting, older cars are oftentimes lighter than the newest cars and thus consume less fuel), and even arguing that a car’s lifespan is lengthened by buying it used, the amount of pollutants not released into the atmosphere by not yet another new car is still better for the environment.
I also know that some wiseacre is going to call up the post I wrote last year urging Americans to buy American cars. By no means am I saying that an environmentally conscious person should never buy a new car. Old cars aren’t the end-all, be-all solution to our environmental problems. But neither are new cars, and believing that we can buy our way to a happier place will only make the situation worse.
And yes, my 1987 pickup has a manual transmission.Written by Dan
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