Even RE Isn’t Free, and Other Thoughts

Beautiful berries---to ship or not to ship?

Beautiful berries—to ship or not to ship?

First, I just wanted to let everyone know that I accidentally hit “publish” instead of “save” on a partially-completed post yesterday, and then had to quickly delete it, but not before the program sent out the “new post” notices. So, if you got a “new post” notice with a bad link in it, that’s why. Sorry,..

Second, some thoughts on the packaging post. Mr. X had a really important observation that deserves mention. He agreed with the underlying ideas about efficient production, and to paraphrase his comments, “It would be better to grow strawberries in California and ship them to Arizona in self-driving vehicles powered by renewable power, and to put solar generation in Arizona and ship the power to California via high-voltage-DC lines…” But he took issue with my statement that the $2 price on the vinegar in the store reflects its entire cost, and he is indeed correct. That $2 price does not take into account all the costs that companies push off onto third-parties, the “negative externalities”. Whether it’s global warming from fossil fuel use, or downstream effects from plastic pollution, or abuses of workers through unfair labor practices, the jug of vinegar has costs that might not be reflected in its price on the shelf. Though, even if those hidden costs doubled the store price of the vinegar, my underlying point would still hold (and he agreed)—efficient production would be the least wasteful and therefore the most sustainable, within reason.

Again, this is another case where we need to focus on actual problems, and in this case the problem would be negative externalities, and the best solution for those is… good government. But, I digress…

A few other thoughts here. With regard to trade, packaging, and shipping—common sense still applies. The only way to get fresh blackberries in January in the US is to buy ones that have been flown up from South America. Despite the richness created in our lives when we can have fresh berries in January, it probably isn’t worth the cost. Even if the plane was somehow powered by renewable power, we need to realize that even renewable power has a cost—dammed rivers, land given over to solar farms, etc. So although using renewable energy is a goal, we need to balance it with the goal of reduced consumption.

The high-carbon way to get the berries...

The high-carbon way to get the berries… A 747 cargo flight in Anchorage, Alaska.

Related, while I think it’s better to choose packaged items over trying to make everything at home, it’s still a perfectly valid goal to strive for reduced packaging. And some home production can indeed make sense. An example in my life—it’s a bit of time and trouble, but brewing tea at home and taking it to work in my stainless water bottle still wins out over buying Lipton Pure Leaf unsweetened tea at the convenience store (the brand I usually buy when I fail to brew my own). In this case making it at home is cheaper (which is probably evidence that it is actually more efficient, all things considered), it saves quite a bit of single-use plastic (which doesn’t recycle completely enough), and it enables me to support Fair Trade and organic products.

And, my last point for the day—I’ve heard avid advocates of small-scale permaculture lifestyles and the like state forcefully that “we all need to be producers”. There’s a huge lack of understanding built into this statement—when we all go to our day jobs, we are producing. We produce goods and services for others, and then use the money we earn as a medium of exchange to trade for things we need. It’s more efficient this way, trust me. Again, these impulses toward self-production are sometimes misguided. And I’m a great admirer of permaculture; that’s not my point here.

So, thanks for the input from those who have talked to me about this, and keep your thinking caps on out there…

Top image credit: Shari’s Berries, “Strawberries in a bowl”, Flickr Creative Commons.
Cargo flight: Robert Stankiewicz, “Nippon Cargo”, 747 leaving Anchorage, AK, Flickr Creative Commons.