My last blog was too brief, I suspect, for the challenging idea it presented. So I will elaborate a little further.
The key point I want to make is that a dollars worth of any consumption good or service, due to the infinite interdependency of economic production, requires an equal amount of resources for its production. A dollar spent on a pair of shoes requires an equal amount of coal, oil, minerals and other natural resource inputs, as a dollar spent on an apple, a hybrid car, a haircut, electricity, motor fuel, a solar panel, and every other good currently being produced. A dollar spent on any good also stakes a claim on an equal amount of pollution.
How can all goods be equal? Surely spending a dollar on a massage is better for the environment than a dollar on fuel or electricity?
But let us run through the flow on interactions in each of these cases. You buy a massage. You mistakenly believe that the environmental cost is negligible because there are no material inputs. What happens to the money then? The masseur then spends that money on whatever they choose – food, fuel, furniture, and any other items. Then what happens at each of these purchases/transactions? The dollar divides further to pay for the labour costs, and the upstream material inputs and so on ad infinitum.
The dollar spent on electricity can be traced in a similar way. The wholesale costs as well as the labour and rents of the electricity retailer are paid for. Then these upstream intermediate industries use this revenue to pay for all of their inputs. Any profits made along they way get spent on other consumption items. This single dollar continues to divide and change hands until it is diluted amongst all natural resources that supply our modern economy.
If a dollar represents a claim on a proportion of the resource inputs into the economy, this paints a different picture for environmentalists. There are no ‘green’ alternatives. Which brings me to the solar panels.
A $20,000 solar panel will generate less than $20,000 worth of electricity over its lifetime. If all consumption requires an equal amount of resources, then it takes more coal to make the solar panel than is required to generate the electricity it is intended to replace. In energy terms then, the solar panel is also likely not to produce more energy than is required to manufacture it in the first place.
But then again there is no harm in going solar – you will just have less money to spend on other things (oh, and they aren’t much good for the environment either).