Orion > Orion Magazine > Current Issue >Bill McKibben > Small Change

Watch that dashboard!

Interesting observation by Bill McKibben on the new ‘hybrid car’ obsession: Milage and energy consumption should be way more visible and transparent. Then it will be all about numbers and conscience — it’s all about a change in behavior. Bill McKibben also asks in his article:
So what if your electric meter were mounted in your kitchen where you could watch it spin? And what if your thermostat gave you an updated oil consumption readout every time you went to turn it up? What if your faucet showed you how much water you’d used in the last day, and how it differed from your annual average? Would you change your behavior? I think you likely would — right on!

Orion > Orion Magazine > Current Issue >Bill McKibben > Small Change MY MILEAGE IS BETTER THAN YOUR MILEAGE

An all-American idea for getting Americans to take gas consumption seriously

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And it turns out that I’m not alone in this mild obsession. Almost from the day the first hybrids came off the boat from Japan, drivers have found themselves pushing to get the maximum mileage. Their crowing fills one webpage after another. John Johnson in Michigan, for instance, bought his two-seater Honda Insight not for environmental reasons but simply because it was the latest cool thing. Now he calls himself “Insightman” and his vanity plate reads IGO ECO. He reports that on those days when other cars are scarce and he can really slow down going up hills, he can break 80 miles per gallon. “On the first leg of my 82 mpg personal record fifteen-mile round trip to work,” he writes, “I achieved an amazing 91.1 mpg!”

Congress rejected a plan that would have increased average fuel efficiency to 36 mpg by 2016. (Thirty-six mpg! Ha!)

What does all this prove, except that driving is so dull that even keeping track of fuel consumption can liven it up? It proves that measurement changes behavior, one of those maxims dear to dieters, stock analysts, and advocates of standardized tests for schoolchildren. If, as with most cars, you have only the dimmest notion of how many miles to the gallon you get, it’s no wonder that fuel economy ranks low on your list of priorities. The minute you start measuring mileage, though, you start caring about it. You can’t help yourself — it’s like an itch. Your driving habits begin to change: no more jackrabbit starts, not ever; it’s too easy to see the toll they take on your gas tank. You develop a light foot, learn how to hold a steady 65 on the highway without any yo-yoing up and down.

And when you go to buy your next car, I wager you won’t accept anything less than the mileage you’ve been getting. Not because you’re an ecofreak. Because those numbers are on your mind.

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