Editor’s Note: The consumer’s environment


Weather permitting, he can often be found working in his open-air office outside his home in White Hall, where he’s lived for 23 years. Photo courtesy Pete Myers. Weather permitting, he can often be found working in his open-air office outside his home in White Hall, where he’s lived for 23 years. Photo courtesy Pete Myers.

In 1965 Ralph Nader published Unsafe at Any Speed, destroying the unimpeachable authority of The Big Three and American manufacturing by tugging on a loose strand, the accident statistics of the Chevrolet Corvair. Nader became the voice of the American middle class and rode a wave of consumer advocacy to national prominence. Maybe for the first time, the Mad Men had to answer to angry men and women armed with scientific data.

In 1965, Ford Motor Company released the first Mustang, a product heavily influenced by a young and aggressive executive named Lee Iacocca, who famously said, “People want economy and they’ll pay almost any price to get it.” The Mustang’s success as a profit engine was the result of big styling, a low sticker price, and lots of optional accessories. It was a Ford Falcon dressed up as a fighter plane and sold with enough toppings that Serge Gainsbourg could sing about it. Nader and Iacocca were messengers, one with a whistle and the other a trumpet, announcing a new world order: There was nothing to fear but fear itself, and then there was fluoride in the water, and then, suddenly, it was all plastics.

I care about the environment and about the potential effects of climate change, but I also wonder what the hell to do about it. We’ve streamlined curbside recycling so it’s just like taking out the trash. As American consumption rises exponentially, so does mine. China, Brazil, and India are cutting down forests, leveling mountains, contaminating rivers and saying, ‘We learned it from you, Dad.’ Just because I wear silk-screened bamboo T-shirts, break down my cardboard, throw my coffee grinds in a bucket, and appreciate the value of free-range chickens doesn’t make me feel like part of the solution. Neither does the fact that my old sweatpants and tennis shoes make it onto a container ship bound for Mombasa.

That’s where this week’s feature comes in. Pete Myers is building an army and he wants you to sign up in the name of science. You’re a consumer and you want economy… What price will you pay for the truth?

  • Jonathan Rintels

    Dear Mr. Morris:

    Re: your “Read This First” Column

    In your “Read This First” column, the Chevrolet Corvair is portrayed as a car that is “unsafe at any speed” based on the evidence contained in Ralph Nader’s 1965 book of the same name. This indictment of the Corvair is oft-repeated but untrue. In 1972, the U.S. Government released a 143-page report that exonerated the Corvair from Nader’s charges, saying “The 1960-63 Corvair compares favorably with contemporary vehicles used in the tests,” and, “The handling and stability performance of the 1960-63 Corvair does not result in an abnormal potential for loss of control or rollover, and it is at least as good as the performance of some contemporary vehicles both foreign and domestic.” As the owner of a Corvair who has been profiled in the local media (The Hook) for my novel in which this Corvair controversy plays a key role, I thought you would like to know and hopefully find an opportunity to tell the rest of the story. [References and Hook article linked below].


    Jonathan Rintels




  • jeff bezos

    @jonathanrintels:disqus — Nice plug for your novel. Now you owe Cville $200.

  • Bruno

    As to the Corvair, the case I’d argue is more complex than Mr Rintels allows (see wiki on “Unsafe…” and “the Corvair”. No thanks, btw, to Nader for his Fla. presidential run that gave us (by drawing off Democratic votes) “Baby” Bush, his war and 100,000 Iraqi and American dead.

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