I have been in something of a theme with my current reading and when you are keenly aware of a topic it is hard not to notice an aggregation and honing of ideas starting to happen both within me and in the world at large. And since it is Blog Action Day and the both the topic of this year’s action and the one I have been immersed in are the environment, a post seems in order. I have been meaning to post on several environmental topics recently but now these will all just be jumbled into this one post.
Cradle to Cradle by By William McDonough & Michael Braungart is a great book I have had on my to read list for many years and really got me thinking about the way we make things. The mindset we have when we create (and ultimately purchase, use, and dispose of) things is crucial to starting to see the full life of that thing – far past its initial use.
I have just begun reading The World Without US by Alan Weisman (more on the book, with interviews) and it mirrors nicely with the last fiction book I read: Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake (which I highly recommend). Both deal with life after the fall of mankind, albeit in much different capacities.
Jason posted about green accounting and included a great excerpt:
When a majestic, 300-year-old red-wood is cut down and turned into picnic tables, the logging and picnic table-building activities add to the gross domestic product (GDP), while no deduction is made for the loss of that tree and all the nonmarket services it provides. When a paper mill dumps dioxin-laden wastes into a river, the paper-making boosts the GDP, but no deduction is made for the costs associated with the water pollution. Conversely, no addition is made to the GDP for the air and water cleaned by wetlands or old-growth forests.
It is long overdue that we start accounting for non-monetary assets in the way described.
Lastly, this article about bottled water really got me thinking. “We pitch into landfills 38 billion water bottles a year–in excess of $1 billion worth of plastic.” I drink bottled water, or I did, and never really thought much about it (typical brain-dead consumer). The amount of energy that it takes to make the bottles, fill them, transport them , and consume them (not to mention market them) is astronomical. The article tackles the issue of bottled water from many angles and presents varying viewpoints – it is worth reading. One of the facets of this topic that most interests me is the mentality that bottled water is somehow better than tap water in the United States and how the bottling and selling of water takes a large toll on the environment and that this tool, at least in the U.S. is mostly unnecessary, and as it turns out, very costly on a personal level, too.
In San Francisco, the municipal water comes from inside Yosemite National Park. It’s so good the EPA doesn’t require San Francisco to filter it. If you bought and drank a bottle of Evian, you could refill that bottle once a day for 10 years, 5 months, and 21 days with San Francisco tap water before that water would cost $1.35. Put another way, if the water we use at home cost what even cheap bottled water costs, our monthly water bills would run $9,000.
We do quite a lot in this country to make sure we have potable drinking water in every home, we pay for the infrastructure in taxes and when we build our homes. Why not make use of this resource and forgo the petroleum-based container variety?
I have a passion for consumerism that isn’t really very healthy. Just ask my (very understanding) wife. I like to think about different ways to buy things and sometimes even fantasize about creating and patenting the systems I think about.
It doesn’t take a visionary however to realize that the way we buy things is going to evolve. But how?
We will start to see more and more on-demand services. Using technologies that are available today we could already be viewing movies and TV shows and listening to music whenever we want it.
Here’s a scenario:
I’m driving and I really have a hankerin’ to hear that new Christina Aguillera ditty. Do I wait for 5 minutes until the radio station’s regular rotation fulfills my need? Hell no! I simply state the song’s title and it begins playing; right then, right there. This is how it’s going to be. The technology is here, or will be here, very shortly to allow this. But…
The problem is always in changing the way people think about purchases and how averse industries are to change. Do you think advertisers are going to like losing another way to reach you? Do you think the recording companies are going to be pleased about not selling CD’s? Well, no. But will they eventually have to?
Some alternative ways to think about purchasing this music might focus on rights being purchased to listen to that song. This could be accomplished by allowing for micro payments (something that will definitely be in our future) of a fraction of a cent per listening, or possibly by purchasing a lifetime license to listen to that song.
The mindsets are the first things that need to change. When it does, we will have the technology available to us to process these transactions and track the usage of copyrighted material.