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July 7, 2011 / Mark Largent

How Automobiles Became a Moral Issue

Scientists Demand Improved Hybrid Performance From Automakers –

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which formed at MIT in the late 1960s around the issue of nuclear weapons, has released a report that is critical of automobile manufacturers.  The UCS has long claimed to be a moral watchdog for science, and has used that position to advocate for issues in which science, technology, and society intersect.

This week the UCS issued a report criticizing car makers for not moving quickly enough to make affordable, environmentally conscious hybrid cars.  Take a look at this short article and ask yourself:  how did cars become a moral issue alongside nuclear weapons?

Moreover, given that the average Prius has a larger carbon footprint than a Range Rover SUV (because of the tremendous transportation requirements of building its nickel batteries), is the hybrid-hype just another wrong-headed technofix?


One Comment

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  1. Daniel Kramer / Jul 22 2011 9:14 am

    OK, I’ll bite. When has the manufacture or purchase of cars, clothes, soap, shoes, soft drinks etc. not been a moral issue? Remember the boycott of Coca-Cola during the apartheid era? Or, Nike and sweat-shop labor? Or, Nestle and the issue of breast milk substitutes? This kind of thing has been with us for a while and seems to have picked up steam in the 60s and 70s with the advent of corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR is the idea that corporations have responsibilities beyond those dictated by law and beyond their fiduciary responsibilities to stakeholders. We expect more of citizens than just to obey the law – voting for example. If anything, our expectations for corporations might be greater given their ability to profoundly affect issues of public interest.

    P.S. While I am all for healthy doses of skepticism in regards to techno-fixes, the Prius versus Range Rover (or Hummer… choose your unfairly maligned victim) claim seems to be hotly contested. For starters, I’ll point you to an analysis ( by Slate that calls the claim “malarkey” and “unsubstantiated bunk.”

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