A one-time school project gone terribly, terribly wrong.

05 April 2008

How to Reduce the Impact of Poverty: Go Green!

Slave to the Dogs left a cogent comment on my last post, it raised a number of issues that I feel need to be addressed rather more broadly than the comment-thread format allows:

For myself, I agree completely. I know I can do more to contribute and try to do so.
For the general population, I disagree. I think technology is what ultimately will solve the problem
I agree that technology will help. But irrespective of any advances in technology, if you don't like living in a polluted environment, the best way to reduce that pollution is to stop making it.

If you are struggling to make ends meet, pollution and energy use is going to be pretty low on your priority list. You buy cheaper lightbulbs because you live paycheck to paycheck [...] Reducing your individual energy output is a benefit we priveleged have.
(Forgive my bunging together two quotes from different paragraphs, but they speak to the same issue).

There's a misperception that environmentally sensible behaviour is somehow solely within the reach of the rich. In fact, if you're struggling to make ends meet, you're exactly the person who should be thinking about the environment. Environmentally conscious and responsible behaviour saves the person practicing it money.

Using your the example: I can choose to buy an incandescent 60 Watt bulb for my home. It'll last anywhere up to about 2,000 hours. For those 2000 hours, it'll use 120 KW and cost roughly $14.40 assuming 12¢ per KW/h.

Lifetime costs:
Bulb: 30¢
Power: $14.70 or so.

In my home, I'm slowly converting to compact fluorescent bulbs. I don't like the "60-Watt equivalent 13-Watters, they're too dim for me. So I use a 23-watt "100W equivalent". They cost about $5.00 apiece when I bought them (and they're cheaper now). Wal-Mart had 23-Watters on at $3 last year.

Lifetime costs:
Bulb: $3
Power: $22.08
Total: $25.08

What? Why would any sensible person go for that? Ah, well you see, if I'm buying an incandescent bulb, I had to replace it four times over that compact fluorescent's 8,000-hour lifespan.

I had to spend $57.60. If I'm struggling to make ends meet, I think I could scrape up the initial $5 (or $3) to make an investment that'd save me $25, no?

You make your '91 high emissions car last as long as it possibly can.
In California, rich and poor alike must pass the smog tests, yet the poor still drive.

You can put the gas guzzler taxes et. al on new cars that get sold. How many poor folks can atually afford to buy a new car?
All used cars begin as new cars. If the environmental costs of new cars, built to a higher standard for consumption and economy are recouped at the plant, or through the initial buyer, sooner or later that cleaner car will be a used, but still cleaner-running, car. And the people who buy them used will still save money on gas!

But wait, as Mr. Popeil says, there's more:

To return to our lightbulbs. Compact fluorescents are a little more energy-intensive to manufacture than plain old incandescents--but last four times as long and consume less power. So factories need make only about a third as many. Smaller, cleaner cars (and I'm talking something like a Ford Focus, not the Tata Nano, here) generate less pollution and burn less fuel. But in manufacturing, they take less energy to build. And both these options require less mining--one of the filthiest industries on the planet. They also require less power to make, less oil extraction and refining, and take a smaller toll on road infrastructure.

Those Chinese factories would belch less pollution if we stopped buying crap, too, making a serious difference to the people of China, and saving North Americans in the lower tax brackets cash as well. Mme Metro likes the "Regal" catalogue's hot dog toaster as a prime example of crap you don't need, but there's a hell of other examples. Recycling what we have, and making a genuine effort to slow consumption and economic "growth" for its own sake will save money, environmental waste, and lives.

Recycle? They don't do it in your hood.
So you take the time and make the effort to do it yourself. There are certainly costs associated with individually responsible choices, but most of them aren't actually monetary. Take the cans to the recycling center (and whether or not your city has centralized collection, there's someone recycling plastic, paper, and steel somewhere nearby) while you're driving your cleaner car to Wal-Mart for some compact fluorescent bulbs. It'll help offset the cost of the trip.

In fact, I believe waste and poverty in the industrialized world have a great deal to do with one another. But it's a long story. Perhaps I'll post it.

And here's a big bonus: A healthier environment will save us millions in health costs. Excess power capacity should mean that the price of energy drops a bit, too.

In other words--we all save money! The poor, who of necessity will save a greater proportion of their income, should be 100% greenfreaks.

And the changes don't have to be draconian--incremental change will do and even the poorest of us can start right now: Drop your hot water thermostat a degree or two, lower your home heating by two degrees, try to take the bus twice a week for the commute, or walk, or carpool. Take 5-minute showers instead of 7-minute ones ... my point is, if one person does it, the effort is futile. If a population of thirty million does it, you'll see some changes.

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At 10:33 a.m., Blogger Spencer Smith said...

I think you have to take into account that people living in poverty are not the people that think ahead and reason things through.

When one's immediate needs are constantly in the forefront, one tends to do what it takes to address them, not what it takes to address global need. I know, "Global needs are their needs. If only we could educate them so they would see this!" Unfortunately, when a stomach growls and you can get 5 boxes of hamburger helper and cheap ground beef to eat for a week, or a small piece of organic chicken, the fact that the steroid laden beef fat and chemical production of the box meal hurts the environment isn't going to convince someone they should do without.

Bottom line, being green costs the individual more at this point and until that changes people will continue to follow the pocket book in favor of their immediate interests.

Being green can't be just as easy, it's got to be easier to succeed.

At 6:42 p.m., Blogger Metro said...

Well I have a whole 'nother post about poverty in developed nations.

However, I know from my early years at minimum wage, sharing a clean-but-dingy hotel room with two other bachelors, that I would gladly have sprung for something that would have saved me the price of a pack of smokes ...

And really, my point is that the changes need be neither drastic nor expensive.

If your immediate needs include heat, and you're living month to month, how hard is it to put on a sweater? We did it as a society through the fuel "crises" of the '70s and early '80s. Why not now?

However, I feel that there also needs to be political will to embrace potentially-unpopular changes, and the political patience to inform and to educate.

It's not rocket surgery, a few simple commercials on FOX would probably reach even the least of us.

Good luck with that, thinks I.

At 10:46 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm very much looking forward to the next time you come to the Big Smoke, so you can take my recycling down to United We Can. They ran me out of there the last time I tried to take anything in.

While I see your point and agree with you in general, the fact is that recycling businesses prefer NOT to locate in extremely low-income areas, precisely because they don't like to deal with binners. And neither do I, after the attitude I got last time. Things are not made easy for the critically underfinanced. And anyone who can afford to run a car doesn't fit into the category.

At 3:52 a.m., Blogger Metro said...

Ah, RC, you've hit the nail on the head.

Anyone who can run a car should be able to make the basic minimum changes with hardly any disruption in their lives.

Now how many people is that?

However, this is where I gear up for my rant on "poverty" in North America.

At 8:35 a.m., Blogger Slave to the dogs said...

And anyone who can afford to run a car doesn't fit into the category.

That comment has to come from someone dwelling in a large city.

In most small towns and rural areas in North America, public transportation is not an option. It either doesn't exist, it's not frequent enough, or it's not close enough. One must have a car if one is to make it to their job to feed themselves and theirs.

And when you're poor, it's really hard to justify the additional up-front cost when you're living paycheck to paycheck. I grew up as a poor person in a poor area, Metro. I know of which I speak. Your idealistic view on the matter is skewed by, well, your idealism.

At 8:46 a.m., Blogger Slave to the dogs said...

And my point about the poor and autos is - I suspect that if you do analysis of the least fuel effiecient autos being driven today, a majority of them would be older cars. And who do you think drives the older cars? Whether they pass emissions or not, fuel efficiency is a big component of the issue.

At 9:45 a.m., Blogger Metro said...

You're right. In many small towns and rural areas (and not a few cities), public transport isn't an option.

The luxury choice in this case is being able to afford a car and live in such an area. In most other places on earth, people have to leave those areas and move to the cities because a car is an unimaginable luxury.

However, the efficiency of public transport and related systems will grow if people want it to.

As to the fuel-efficiency question: My point is that the higher the standard at the factory door, the better those cars will perform as used vehicles, saving the owners gas money and the public the tailpipe emissions. I think we're coming to the same point from different directions.

Living paycheque-to-paycheque is all well and good, but I'm not talking about major expenses here. I'm speaking of minor tweaks that cost a couple of extra bucks, not hundreds.

In the case of most "poor" people in North America, we're not talking about deciding whether the kids get to eat lunch this week or not. We're talking about skipping a trip to the mall.

Here's a thought--How much better off do you think we'd be if, instead of buying cars, people in rural communities joined car co-ops?

Some economist or other once said (I paraphrase): "Idealistic means I want to see something tried that other people would prefer not to think about."

My ideas are every bit as practical for the poor on this continent as for the rich.

I admit that they might not (might) work in Mumbai, or Port-Au-Prince. But those people don't generate a lot of waste per capita, generally.

At 4:41 p.m., Blogger Slave to the dogs said...

Re: new cars and fuel economy, yes, I do think we're on the same track. But it will take time to have the desired effect.

And as far as the few bucks a month go, I have to agree with spencer smith. Many people who suffer from economic hardships are in such positions because of their incapability to act reasonably and responsibly.

At 4:56 p.m., Blogger Slave to the dogs said...

Oh, and I think car coops are extremely cool. I'm not sure how you'd implement them in rural areas though. The only one I know of is Zip Car, and from what I can tell, it operates mainly in cities and college towns.


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