Today's ruminations are inspired by this cartoon in a recent issue of the New Yorker (click fast, this link will expire once the cartoon moves into for-sale status in the NY's Cartoon Bank). I liked this on several levels.
First, it brought together NASCAR and the green movement, in its own way: two groups which the media tends to stereotype into polar opposites. (You might be surprised to know that NASCAR is actually seriously considering switching its cars to ethanol, which has led to numerous jokes about the racing series returning to its roots as a moonshine-based competition!) After all, if you think about it, NASCAR (or any racing series for that matter) in its own way is all about fuel efficiency: a car that can get that extra lap around the track out of a gallon of gas has a marked advantage over the rest of the field.
Second, it highlights how climate change is entering the daily conversation, moving from Important But Distant status (e.g. avian flu) to Part of Daily Life (e.g. trash recycling). Bringing up global warming during a 6-second pitstop is a wildly inappropriate action, but the joke is funny because the action is (just barely) within the realm of possibility.
And third, it makes a related point about consciousness: we'll probably crack the climate change problem once we all become more aware of the consequences of our energy choices, not only within a political and social context, but in the environmental sphere as well. It's not a lot of work, for example, to take the 30 seconds on a Saturday morning to think "I bet I can combine this errand with two others today, and reduce three trips in the Volvo to one."
And that is what, in a way, the AXP is all about: promoting consciousness and awareness. Awareness that there are powertrain options out there that drivers might choose, awareness that some of those efficient and green vehicles are actually pretty nice-looking and well-equipped! Other actors will work on public awareness of greenhouse gases in their own ways (e.g. schools can educate, the media can raise the alarm, NGOs can -- sorry to put it this way, but I think it's true -- harangue us all). But the AXP can make the whole process of gaining awareness about these choices actually fun and exciting. Race observers will be asking not just "How many grams per mile of CO2 does this car generate?" but also "Who will win this stage of the race? Do you think the team from Korea can fix their broken car in time? What is the mysterious power source the car from the University of Southern North Dakota is running on?"
Let's face it, humans and especially Americans love a race. The Oklahoma Sooners driving their wagons to grab new farmland (much to the dismay of course of the displaced Native Americans), the railroad crews striving to win the Golden Spike that connected the transcontinental train lines, the explorers sledding to both North and South Poles, and of course Lindbergh heading for Paris -- all captured the American imagination. "Go West, young man!" would not have been as powerful an exhortation if the young men didn't think that maybe someone else might get there ahead of them!
The AXP aspires to match the excitement of these races, and maybe, at the risk of the sin of pride, to match their importance in terms of transforming public opinion. The Sooners showed that anyone could stake out and own their own farm, the great railroads showed us how the entire country was finally forged into one economic whole, the polar explorers taught us about the relentless curiosity of the scientific human mind, and Lindbergh showed us that aviation could work for all of us, not just barnstormers and dogfighters. And maybe the AXP will show us that clean and efficient cars can really make a difference in the struggles for energy independence and a cooler climate.
Not much in common between the Nature Conservancy and NASCAR? Well, now that we think about it, maybe more than we knew.