It’s Easy Being Green

George W. Bush doesn’t get it yet. But renewable energy is no longer the stuff of noble visions and pipe dreams: It’s available, inexpensive, and increasingly — normal.

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The more i surveyed my new car, the happier I got. “New car” is one of those phrases that makes Americans unreasonably happy to begin with. And this one — well, it was a particularly shiny metallic blue. Better yet, it was the first Honda Civic hybrid electric sold in the state of Vermont: I’d traded in my old Civic (40 miles to the gallon), and now the little screen behind the steering wheel was telling me that I was getting 50, 51, 52 miles to the gallon. Even better yet, I was doing nothing strange or difficult or conspicuously ecological. If you didn’t know there was an electric motor assisting the small gas engine — well, you’d never know. The owner’s manual devoted far more space to the air bags and the heating system. It didn’t look goofily Jetsonish like Honda’s first hybrid, the two-seater Insight introduced in 2000. Instead, it looked like a Civic, the most vanilla car ever produced. “Our goal was to make it look, for lack of a better word, normal,” explained Kevin Bynoe, spokesman for American Honda.

And the happier I got, the angrier I got. Because, as the Honda and a raft of other recent developments powerfully proved, energy efficiency, energy conservation, and renewable energy are ready for prime time. No longer the niche province of incredibly noble backyard tinkerers distilling biodiesel from used vegetable oil, or building homes from earth rammed into tires, the equipment and attitudes necessary to radically transform our energy system are now mainstream enough for those of us too lazy or too busy to try anything that seems hard. And yet the switch toward sensible energy still isn’t happening. A few weeks before I picked up my car, an overwhelming bipartisan vote in the Senate had rejected calls to increase the mileage of the nation’s new car fleet by 2015 — to increase it to 36 mpg, not as good as the Civic I’d traded in to buy this hybrid. The administration was pressing ahead with its plan for more drilling and refining. The world was suffering the warmest winter in history, as more carbon dioxide pushed global temperatures ever higher. And people were dying in conßicts across wide swaths of the world, the casualties — at least in some measure — of America’s insatiable demand for energy.

In other words, the gap between what we could be doing and what we are doing has never been wider.

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