Shame is an emotion with which we humans seem increasingly unfamiliar. Just look around.

That’s why it felt so weird when I was consumed by it last week: the little squirt of adrenaline, the flush of the cheeks, the reflexive anger directed at others, followed by the painful acceptance of my own shortcomings.

Shame: for when embarrassment just isn’t enough.

What had I done? I’d bought a car.

“Shame on you!” a reader emailed me after last week’s column on my 2020 Kia Soul. “The globe is facing a climate emergency and you’re buying a gas-guzzling car that gets only 27-33 mpg.”

Another reader’s email — published as a letter to the editor — linked my decision to buy a Soul to the wildfires raging in Australia.

When it comes to the planet, each of us believes we exist on a continuum, a line that stretches from “Powers his Hummer with coal and whale oil” on one end to “Lives naked in the woods and eats only bark” on the other.

I suspect we feel pretty good — smug, even — if our habits place us closer to “naked in the woods.” And that was my first reaction to many of these criticisms: You don’t know me, man! I recycle! I take the Metro! I’m cutting back on red meat!

Besides, the 2020 Soul gets better gas mileage than the 2012 model it replaced: 27 to 33 vs. 25 to 28. That puts it slightly ahead of the average fuel efficiency of new cars sold in the United States: 24.9 mpg. And surely that makes me better than someone who drives the nation’s best-selling vehicle: a Ford F-150, the various models of which average about 16 mpg.

But better is not best. Some readers asked why I hadn’t purchased a hybrid, such as a Toyota Prius or a RAV4 hybrid. Or why not a totally electric vehicle, such as the Kia Soul EV?

The simplest answers: I don’t like the looks of the Toyotas. And I don’t think an EV would work with my lifestyle and driving habits. And I felt I couldn’t afford them — although, actually, I bet I could.

In other words, I felt that making a different decision would have inconvenienced me. That observation — thrown at me by readers, some in hectoring tones, some gently curious — felt shameful.

And I guess that’s where my little episode becomes symbolic of what faces all of us these days. How much short-term pain — a vehicle that is slightly disappointing — are we willing to endure for the greater good?

Our woke older daughter suggested the best thing people who care about the planet can do is vote for candidates who believe in anthropogenic climate change and embrace environmentalism. That shouldn’t be too hard come November.

In the short term? I feel bad, but not so bad that I’m going to eat the monetary hit I’d take from trading my new car in after a month. I’ll try to do better next time.

The shame has passed, followed by its more benign cousin: sheepishness.

Key club

Other readers focused on a feature a lot of new cars have: keyless entry and push-button start. Secrete the magic key fob about your person, and you can unlock the car and drive away.

A reader who asked that I not print his name said this makes cars more prone to theft. “Basically what happens is that the thief gets an electronic signal repeater and uses it to echo the electronic signals between the car and the wireless key fob,” he wrote. “This makes the car respond as if it’s talking to the key fob, and makes the key fob respond as if it’s talking to the car. Once the two are talking, the car can be unlocked, started, and driven away.”

This reader said that when his fobs are not in use, he keeps them in a metal Altoid tin to block the signal.

Another reader, Coryn Weigle, described how she dropped her husband off at a gaming convention while on a trip to England, then drove their rental car to a nearby town for tea. She was about to turn the engine off when she realized she didn’t have the remote key. Coryn drove back to find her husband but was afraid to turn the car off.

“So I enlisted the police officer nearby to watch my running car while I went in search of the oh-so-vital key,” Coryn wrote. “When I got back, neither she nor the car were where I had left them! Luckily, before I panicked completely, she drove up and explained she’d had to drive my car around the block to let a large truck get where it needed to be. Two ways this could have turned out badly, but luckily, didn’t.”

Twitter: @johnkelly

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