Friday, September 30, 2011

Postenvironmental dilemma, II

The Indian author, Siddharta Deb, has an interesting op-ed piece in the New York Times, "Behind the Wheel, Moving Up". This piece addresses another environmentalist dilemma, which is the drive for upward mobility in developing countries.  The main role in Siddharta Deb's short story is a Mitsubishi SUV, Red Panjero. The protagonist , J, gets divorced from his wife because he does not fulfil his marital duties, which are, of course, making the family part of middle class. He only owned an old Ford:

But perhaps there is no such thing as just a car for aspirers. J certainly seemed to think so that evening as he told us the story of his failing marriage, recounting the vacations he took his wife on and the money he gave her and her family. Now, he said, she was accusing him and his relatives of harassment. She had claimed he was incapable of fulfilling his “marital duties,” a charge he denied indignantly. “She was aspirational, you know,” he said as his story wound down. “She told me she wanted a red Pajero.”
 This light-handedly written piece unmistakably points at the futility of any attempts to prevent a large part of humanity from buying (or dreaming of) a car. You need to be already middle class to abstain from buying a Red Pajero, right? That's why Nordhaus and Shellenberger once announced the "Death of Environmentalism", and that's why both skeptics and alarmists should again study (and improve)  the Hartwell paper. Our mental energy shouldn't get completely absorbed by debating the subtleties of climate change in Greenland (which is an important question, no doubt). But there are some other huge problems to be dealt with, too. And the question of how to bring together yesterday's piece about Vermont and this one about India is a challenging one, too; managing to to do so would already be an important step forward in theorizing the challenges of climate change from a post-environmental perspective.


Zajko said...

Unloved at Any Speed

"Instead of conquering India's roads, the much-hyped Tata Nano -- the world's cheapest car -- is struggling to find buyers."

Werner Krauss said...

Indeed, very interesting, Zajko. It confirms that cars are not only for driving, but also for climbing - up the social ladder.

"But the biggest blunder made by a company with as much experience with Indian consumers as any may well have been the most elementary, and confounding: the hype about the Nano's low cost ended up making it less attractive to its target audience -- people seeking to climb a rung up the social ladder from two wheels to four. "In communications, it's gone out as the world's cheapest car," says Hormazd Sorabjee, the Mumbai-based editor of Autocar India. "There's a kind of stigma attached to it, as though you can't afford anything else."