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?