I recently befriended an entrepreneur, environmental activist and truly innovative person through my association with planet.betterplace.com- a California start-up trying to rewrite the book on adoption of EV culture.
My new friend, Jeannie, it turns out is quite the forward thinker. She operates on a grass-roots level, and can be found in Santa Cruz running a startup called The Scooter Stop (http://www.scooterstop.org/index.htm) promoting electric cycle/scooter transportation.
Here's a little bit of what we've discussed of late...
As for thoughts on consumer behavior, you'll agree there's no substitute for the sheepish nature of consumerism. We've proven time and again that we'll buy just about anything, junk or not, if everyone else is doing it AND if the seller makes it easy enough. Take a typical Ford, GM or Chrysler... given the right incentive, we happily purchase a vehicle with low buyer satisfaction rates, high recall and service bulletin rates, and poor safety ratings. I'm not saying I think it's smart, or even necessarily right, but it is what it is. Basically, no one likes being left behind. Truthfully, this is really part of the problem as well. In our quest for more stuff, we've leveraged our spending power to the brink of implosion (and some say we've already imploded). This behavior also fuels the race for cheap knock-offs, driving down the value, true quality and perceived quality of a group of products. Of course, this represents just the profit "p" of the triple bottom line. Consider the planet and people "p"s as well in terms of the environmental impact of the entire "materials economy"- see www.storyofstuff.com
Where does more, new stuff fit into the picture. I think it needs to be new "smart" stuff, where smart is defined by being initially designed and built knowing that it will ultimately be reabsorbed (recycled) into the system. Reduce, reuse, recycle, restore.
Where do free markets fit in to all this. They are the driver. But the evil byproducts, (namely greed and fear of losing our "stuff") cause acts of desperation. That desperate behavior, unfortunately, leads us down the path we've been traveling.
And free markets aren't necessarily allowed to freely operate in our society. Take government "incentives" (call it "welfare" if you want to put it in a negative light, and "tax credits or breaks" if you want to put it in a positive light") for instance... both of these cause markets to act irrationally, leading to an unsustainable feeding frenzy. Ethanol and biodiesel are prime examples. The production incentives drove investment in infrastructure, but not in sustainable process/operation. 90% of plants were built to operate on the easy money- corn or soy. Very few made any effort to invest in new feedstock technology. Now at the mercy of commodity markets, farmers (there's a whole other can of worms) went hog-wild on corn, when the price skyrocketed, plowing under soy fields to do so, leading to a shortage of soy, and causing the price of soy go up and out of control as well. Greed all around.
Another example, energy markets- California is all too familiar with the Enron fallout. Who wins? The trader. Who loses? The rest of us.
Free markets always go for the easy profits, the path of least resistance. That's their nature, and their shortfall. Greed. Now you can argue that this actually works, where the strong survive and the weak fall aside. But the wake, the contrail, the aftermath is the real measure of success/failure and whether or not something is really a "good" or "smart" idea. Just because we can do something doesn't necessarily necessitate that we should do that something.
The more people learn to act smart (taking initiative to research, learn and make smart decision rather than blindly accepting the status quo), take responsibility for those actions, and hold our elected leaders accountable for their part, the closer we'll come to having truly free markets.