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Is ‘Stop Liking Men Who Drive Hot Cars’ Sound Climate Advice?

Richard Gray at the U.K. Telegraph reports that Sir David King, a University of Cambridge chemist, staunch global warming activist, and one of Britain’s top government scientists, gave the following advice to a woman who asked him what she could do to curb global warming:

“[S]top admiring young men in Ferraris.”

King’s larger point — that we should act individually to start a cultural shift that re-prioritizes gas guzzlers at the bottom of the desirability list — is probably valid. But broad assumptions about women liking hot cars (and the men who drive them) aside, the idea that one person’s decisions should be unrelated to his or her personal interests runs contrary to free-market models for achieving both personal and societally optimal results. In other words, trying to influence someone else’s consumer choices is far less effective than simply making those choices yourself. The woman’s goal — to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — would most efficiently be reached by taking direct action, like trading in her own gas guzzler for a hybrid, rather than indirectly signaling others to do so.

Not surprisingly, Ferrari owners are reportedly furious about King’s comment, with the Ferrari Owners Club responding that most owners of the cars are married (and thus aren’t driven to purchase them based on a desire to land women, the economics of which we’ve discussed before). In other words, they’re turning the discussion 180 degrees from King’s point, which is that individual consumer decisions can and do matter to global climate change. While King’s intentions were in the right place, he might want to rethink his methods of communication (not to mention his culturally limited decision to tell women that their biggest contribution to fighting climate change lies in encouraging men to fight climate change).

(Hat tip: Wired Blog.)