Wednesday, August 17, 2011

'Going green'

This came by email from an unknown original source, but is appearing all over the internet now. Please keep in mind my previous comments about how we increase demand for resources when we learn to use them more efficiently – we expand our use electricity, fuel and another resources in ways we never dreamed would happen.  Also, here is some background reading on the ineffectiveness of 'green' shopping bags.
In the line at the store, the cashier told an older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren't good for the environment.

The woman apologized to him and explained, "We didn't have the green thing back in my day."

The clerk responded, "That's our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment."

He was right -- our generation didn't have the green thing in its day.

Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.

But we didn't have the green thing back in our day.

We walked up stairs, because we didn't have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn't climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.

But she was right. We didn't have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby's diapers because we didn't have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts -- wind and solar power really did dry the clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that old lady is right; we didn't have the green thing back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house -- not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana.

In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn't have electric machines to do everything for us.

When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, we didn't fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she's right; we didn't have the green thing back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water.

We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But we didn't have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service.

We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn't need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But isn't it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn't have the green thing back then?


  1. Hi

    " about how we increase demand for resources when we learn to use them more efficiently"

    shouldn't that be "how we learnt to make them move available and make production more efficient and cheaper"

    if we were using it efficiently we would not waste it. Does an engine which is efficient consume more power? I don't think so

  2. Economic efficiency and engineering efficiency are two separate concepts.

    In economics, efficiency = productivity (getting more for less)

    Also, you shouldn't read that because we can consumer more resources we are wasting them. We are satisfying more human needs (desires?) than ever with fewer resources. In your engine analogy this is the engine producing more for less. It is just that humand desires are limitless and the power this new engine can bring allows us to use it to satify desires that we previously couldn't?

    And if you argue they are not, you need to provide a pretty good explanation of why humans have any desires for greater incomes. Especially after our basic needs are met. Could it be that we have unlimited desires?

  3. I suspect that the application of Economics without a framework within which to work is like jacking up the cars wheels and attempting to drive. No motion.

    I suspect that you are right that there may be no limits to the potentials for human desires, but that question is not one which can be (or should be) answered with economics (any more than hammers be used to open eggs to make an omelet). While I see that different economists may have different views (*for instance do you agree with Keynesian views) there are other significant factors at work in undertaking meaningful social examinations.

    I see that efficiency in economics is related to that in engineering, you get more power for less energy or the same power for less energy, so I'm not entirely certain what is different about that. None the less having more does not mean that one needs more.

    I agree entirely that economics is not the measure of needs (or desires) but equally it does not follow that economic efficiency MUST lead to greater consumption. That it can be observed to be does not make that the factor at work any more than does the correlation between the stork population and the human one.

    Wholistic analysis must be employed for the analysis of some problems, otherwise you reach "academically sound conclusions" which are just flawed.

    It is true I can use my greater economic effectiveness to earn more (and consume more), but it is equally true that I could use that effectiveness to reduce the time I need to be employed so that I can spend more of that with my family. Thus it seems hard to QED that greater economic efficiency therefore leads to higher consumption without accepting that greed and desire are an important external consideration.

    To introduce another point I am not seeing the environmentalist component of your perspective here.

  4. Good comment.

    Yes, you could take the gains as leisure and that would stop the increased use from efficiency gains. I have suggested this in the past. But we haven't done this as a society throughout most of human history (although we do work s shorter fraction of our life now).

    There is also a coordination problem for the individual seeking to take gains in productivity as leisure. I suspect this is the main reason we don't.

  5. Sorry, the environmentalist component, which I have written about before, is that if we want to conserve resources we need to conserve them at the source by implementing planning controls or quotas on the extraction of the resource of concern.

    Want to reduce GHG emissions - stick a quota on coal extraction. Want to stop over fishing - don't choose as a single consumer to not eat fish, put a quota on fish (which is what has been done in many areas).

    Then, if we improve efficiency we cannot compensate by increasing the consumption of thos resources because there have been limits places on their extraction.

  6. Cameron

    my take on it is that rather than a coordination problem its a combination of a few factors; which includes "keeping up with the joneses". I'm now working 80% in my position (you know how Govt based jobs can be) and using the 1 day liberated to do work around the house and be with my family. It pays me handsomely in more quality time with my wife and getting things done which would cost more money to have done than if I put my personal time in to do it (like my solar floor heating project, which is really doing very well).

    I like to hear your fusion of economics and environmentalism, I don't think it should be disparate from your other posts but should be as much integrated into your thinking as is other aspects. Aristotle is credited with suggesting that "the whole is more than the sum of its parts" and so while as an engineer I will work in a reductionist manner there are many occasions to which the application of this sort of systems analysis will fail to appropriately explain the subject.

    Lastly humans are seldom economic creatures, do you have kids? If so, can you properly justify your decision to have them in terms of economics?

    always lovely to have a conversation. Have a good weekend mate.


  7. ohh ... and I just yesterday (after much hunting) bought a push mower. We have a "typical" urban block and just can't really justify a $700 mower (which my wife struggles with) keeping fuel in the can and all the hassle that goes with a petrol one.

    In fact the push mower is easier to push around our yard than is the bloody annoying and loud petrol mower.

    Do you wear hearing protection when using your petrol mower?