My grandfather had an interesting technique for gauging the health of the economy. He loved Hershey chocolate bars with almonds, and over the years, he noted an uncanny correlation between the sentiment of the US economy and the number of almonds in his candy. Lots of almonds meant a booming economy while relatively few almonds meant troubled times.
I have discovered an equally non-scientific barometer for public sentiment: taxi drivers. Some cab drivers love to strike up conversations with their passengers, and these talkative cabbies must converse with dozens (if not hundreds) of people each day. After so many interactions, these drivers develop an encompassing exposure to prevalent news, opinions, and trends in American culture.
I jumped into a taxi yesterday and found myself in conversation with the driver. In my experience, Joe America seems poorly educated on renewable energy. So, I was quite surprised when the cab driver segued from conversation about the weather into asking me if I had ever considered putting solar panels on my home. It turned out that for several weeks his passengers bemoaned the price of gasoline and the impact of fossil fuels on global warming. So, he decided to explore renewable technologies for himself. Over the course of the drive we discussed fuel cells, plug-in hybrid cars, and hydrogen. The level of expertise displayed by this cabbie was extraordinary; I felt like I was speaking with an engineering colleague at MIT.
Coincidentally, USA Today ran a green energy story yesterday, “Doing right thing isn’t easy, even for those who want to”. This article indicated that 60% of Americans think global warming has affected the climate, and most believe more individual effort is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, the article also cited a poll suggesting that 58% of Americans could not identify a source of renewable or sustainable energy (i.e., solar or wind). This mixed result suggests to me that the will to change exists, but the public knowledge base has not yet caught up with this desire.
I suspect that given his access to so many people, my cab driver was ahead of curve with respect to knowledge on renewable energy and global warming. Nonetheless, he serves as an indicator of the forthcoming wave of public action to reverse America’s fossil fuel gluttony.
Hopefully predicting the future using a taxi driver is more accurate than counting almonds in a chocolate bar.
For more Design News blog opinions concerning global warming, check out “Global warming is just a media scam, right Chuck?” by John Dodge and “No, global warming is not a ‘media scam’, John” by Chuck Murray.