Advertisements have always told us that by buying one new product, we can improve our lives. Increasingly, though, they’re promising something different. Now they suggest we can buy our way to maintaining the lifestyle we already have, armed with products made from new materials (steel straws, hemp T-shirts) or redesigned so they don’t belch offensive exhaust (electric vehicles). The status quo, they promise, can stay — without so much ecological damage.
“Make It Revolutionary” joins this tradition and helps us to see its blind spots. It’s no accident that Zhao gives more screen time to pickups than any other car, even though Ford’s first electric pickup doesn’t go on sale until next spring. In America, the company’s F-series pickups have outsold every other vehicle, of any type, for 39 years running; pickups constitute around half of Ford’s total sales, and probably an even higher percentage of its profits. They are what Ford customers want. But that doesn’t mean they’re what customers should have. Pickups are, by most accountings, a menace. Compared with sedans, they’re more likely to hit pedestrians and more likely to injure or kill those they hit. (Ditto for S.U.V.s.) Even when powered by batteries, they will use more energy than electric sedans (energy that may still come from fossil fuels), and their larger batteries will use more scarce minerals and generate more chemical waste. A recent ad for the forthcoming electric GMC Hummer “supertruck” seemed to celebrate this outsized impact, featuring C.G.I. footage of a Hummer falling from the sky and smashing onto a city street, creating a huge crater.
Internal-combustion engines, like coal plants, single-use plastics and so much else, need to go away, on a timetable faster than any yet proposed by any American company. Increasingly, though, experts agree that this should just be the start — that any vision of an environmentally sustainable future will have to involve many fewer cars, and smaller cars, and a great deal less driving, period. Similar transformations can be expected across the economy, and in all our lives. Any future we can believe in will be desirable less for what it shares with the past and more for how it veers in new directions.
To get there, it will not be sufficient to simply replace our current purchases, and our current lives, with slightly more efficient ones. We will have to let many old habits slip away and replace them with new ones. This is, by definition, a revolutionary idea — just not one you’re likely to hear in a car commercial anytime soon.