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Are Toyota Prius Owners Environmentally Friendly or Just Complete Tools?

Stocks in this article: TM AAPL P

Dig this data: Caldas said he sold something like 20 cars in December; 19 of them were Prii. (The plural form of Prius officially embraced by Toyota in Feb. 2011.) A week after I bought mine, I saw the same model parked in front of my house with the same Toyota of Santa Monica plates and temporary registration.

My friend Manoj Rao of Media 11:11 , who co-produces TheBeach on TheStreet , saw Lisa Ling buffing her brand new Prius at a Santa Monica gas station last week. You can't walk a half block without seeing multiple Prii.

When we went out to tape "b-roll" of Santa Monica Prius saturation, it took 30 seconds to see six Prii parked on one side of one city block, including three in a row. And then, as we were shooting a parked Prius, several conveniently drove by. I promise we planned none of this. That's just how it is here and in parts of Hollywood, San Francisco, Berkeley and elsewhere.

For goodness sake, most of the cabs in Santa Monica are Prii.

I plan on following up on this introductory piece by diving into academic literature on the subject, but I have working theories that (a) many folks buy a Prius because it serves the do-gooder self, as if somehow the decision makes them better than a non-hybrid owner; and (b) If you're even slightly sanctimonious about Prius ownership, you're a complete tool.

I developed these suppositions empirically, particularly as a cyclist riding alongside all types of vehicles, driven by all kinds of people. I wish I had written them all down, but, over the years, I think I have collected enough observations to say, with scientific significance, that, as a cyclist, you're better off in the company of an SUV driver than you are your standard Berkeley liberal navigating a Prius.

Listen. This isn't a joke or a lame attempt at humor: I really believe a meaningful chunk of Prius owners think they're better than the rest of us ( wait! I am a Prius owner now) because they made the decision to Go Green.

But that's a crock.

They think the rules of the road don't apply to them. As if hybrid ownership comes with a free pass. Like you're providing a public service if you drive a hybrid.

There's lots of stuff online that says exactly what I have thought all along and believe even more strongly after nine days of Prius ownership. This entry from the Freakonomics blog sums my stance up nicely:

Whether at home or abroad, the fact remains that more and more of us are developing an environmental ethic around the idea that "consumption itself has environmental value if the energy using devices it depends upon are 'green.'" It's been deemed "the Prius Fallacy." According to David Owen, the fallacy leads to "rebound creep," thereby resulting in the very opposite of what the technology was billed to accomplish in the first place: reduce energy usage. Rebound creep could happen with a Prius in any number of ways: you might use the money you've saved on gas to buy a ticket to the opera, located in another city; you might draw upon the virtue you've banked by purchasing a Prius to justify not riding your bike to Whole Foods when it rains; you might decide to drive to the gym during rush hour because Terry Gross is on, and your Prius is a quiet place to sit and be left alone. No matter the scenario, the end result is that the supposedly ameliorative form of consumption -- the hybrid -- leads not to greater efficiency, but to easier, more comfortable, and greater rates of energy usage.

Bingo. As a guy who comes fresh off a decade of not liking cars much, I sure dig connecting my Apple (AAPL) iPhone, via Bluetooth, to the Prius's entertainment system and rocking a crystal-clear stream of Pandora (P) that I can actually hear because this beauty barely makes a sound.

All the while, I'm probably getting better gas mileage than the cats next to me (wait, they're all driving Prii now!).

But, I'm not that easily duped. That's why I rarely sign petitions, give money to political parties or take everything Rachel Maddow says as gospel.

Shockingly, the academic research in this area is thick. I'll follow up this rant with the gist of what it has to say later in the month. Make my article history a daily habit, if you will.

In the meantime, I can endorse the purchase of a Prius. Awesome car. Great experience at Toyota. Just don't get all pious as you cruise out of the lot in EV Mode.

-- Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

Rocco Pendola is TheStreet's Director of Social Media. Pendola's daily contributions to TheStreet frequently appear on CNBC and at various top online properties, such as Forbes.
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