economics


From the Wall Street Journal, “A Consumer’s Guide to Growing Green,” Nov. 12, 2007.
The WSJ is only available with a subscription, but here is an excerpt I really liked:

We’ve become such a throw-away society. How do you fight it?

The EPA says solid waste, per person, has nearly doubled to 4.4 pounds a day from 2.7 pounds in the past 35 years — filling up landfill sites and wasting materials that could be reused to save natural resources and energy.

Although recycling is important, it isn’t as effective as reducing the use of materials from the get-go. One way to do this is to buy goods in concentrated, dry or bulk form to reduce transportation and packaging costs. Favor refillable or reusable items. Pick flexible packaging materials instead of rigid packaging, since flexible packaging typically takes less energy to make and transport. Pick goods with the highest ratio of product weight to packaging weight, when possible. Example: tuna in a foil pouch rather than in metal cans.


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There has been a great deal of talk about the promise of ethanol-based gasoline as an efficient renewable fuel; President Bush has pushed ethanol development in the U.S. recently, and Brazil is ready to cash in even more in this developing market. However, the production of ethanol consumes a great deal of energy, and releases its share of CO2 in the atmosphere (more about this to come).

Further, an article today in the San Francisco Chronicle highlighted a study released by atmospheric scientists at Stanford University concerning some other important risks associated with large scale ethanol production and consumption.

The study shows a significant projected rise in ozone-related deaths, as ethanol (specifically E85) is NOT a low carbon fuel and its byproducts when it is combusted pose serious threats, especially in urban areas. **ethanol releases ozone, as well as formaldehyde, ormaldehyde and acetaldehyde, plus benzene and butadiene** All of these are carcinogens (you may recognize the chemical formaldehyde as a preserving agent seen in many labs – one that you’re not encouraged to ingest for long amounts of time!).

A great deal of our greenhouse gas emitting behavior stems from transportation. It seems that ethanol is not the best choice for large scale public and private investment; we may do better to pursue fuel cells and other electric means of transportation that can ultimately be powered by renewable sources such as wind and solar – to reduce our dependence on nonrenewable, polluting resources as much as possible.

The full article.

The US Dept. of State on dealing with global climate change:

“In taking prudent environmental action at home and abroad, the United States is advancing a pro-growth, pro-development approach to addressing this important global challenge.”

Obviously and understandably vague – however… pro-growth, pro-development doesn’t really work if you are going to take prudent environmental action to reduce GHG…

One of the largest errors we have made as a society is to perpetuate the belief that the only acceptable approaches to greenhouse gas and climate change management are those that do not alter our lifestyles. Those two issues (our lifestyles, and climate change) are in direct conflict with one another and our planet is sending us a clear message to reconfigure the ways in which we live. I am not suggesting total, dramatic, change – but rather we need to be open to changing the ways in which we consume resources in our societies in order to succeed in our one world.

Another ecological economist quotation:

“I think the most basic thing to understand about our global economic system is that it’s a subsystem. The larger system is the biosphere, and the subsystem is the economy. The problem, of course, is that our subsystem, the economy, is geared for growth; it’s all set up to grow, to expand. Whereas the parent system doesn’t grow; it remains the same size.  So, as the economy grows, it displaces, it encroaches upon the biosphere, and this is the fundamental cost of economic growth. You give up what used to be there.”

– Herman Daly (ecological economist)

Economists don’t include all of the things that nature does for us for nothing. Some technologies would never be able to do what nature does. What would it cost us to take carbon dioxide out of the air and put oxygen back in, which all the green things do for us for nothing? It’s possible to do a crude estimate of what it would cost us to replace nature. Well, it turns out, one researcher estimated it would cost us $35 trillion a year to do what nature is doing for us for nothing. Now to put that in perspective. If you had added up all of the annual economies of all the countries in the world at that time, it would come to $18 trillion. So, nature is doing twice as much service for us as the economies of the world. And in the madness of conventional economics, this is not in the equation.”

-David Suzuki (geneticist and broadcaster)