Friday, April 25, 2008

This Car Takes Food From The Mouths Of Children

Following on from yesterday's posting, I just read a Time magazine article about the problems of ethanol production with regards to increasing food prices. From my readings on the subject it seems ethanol, corn ethanol especially, is not to be a very efficient source of fuel anyway (in terms of energy put into making it per unit of energy out -- pick your favorite units). Hemp ethanol, because hemp can be grown on "waste" land, would be a better choice.

Conservation, in particular an increased use of mass transit, a return to urban centers, reduction of packaging waste (a lot of packaging uses petroleum derivatives), and a decrease in frivolous / waste spending (fad products, overbuying, etc.) seems a more effective route while less deleterious renewable fuel sources are researched. Part of the problem is a financial system which values short-term stock price over long-term, sustainable production and income.

The environmental issues of our day are directly related to a system of finance which rewards transient and often phantom value (the Internet bubble, and the redux of the Internet bubble in the form of Facebook, YouTube, Google, etc.) over needs-based value (food, housing, etc.), and which requires constant increase -- of market share, of new markets, etc. -- in order to generate value. Rather than competing on the basis of actual long-term value to customers, companies now use various marketing and PR tricks to (sometimes fabricate and) spike short-term markets and then move on. This constant barrage of the new has created an environment in which customers aren't willing to pay for things like maintenance and service that used to provide revenue for companies with a long-term view. Constant newness leads to wastage.

I have a long-term, slow-burn project to write a book about certain issues facing our society from an economic perspective, so responding to these postings is your chance to try to convince me of your perspective on these things.


hatsumi said...

I spend extra for service and maintenance contracts because I prefer my stuff to last forever. I realize that I just traded in a 2005 car for a 2008 car, but that's not something that I would normally do. My grandpa always told me that you shouldn't just throw stuff away. So, I keep my cellular phone until I absolutely can't hear out of it anymore. I was still playing video games with a console hooked up to a Commodore 64 monitor until very recently because it finally died. I always get all cranky at my friends for replacing their phones, cars, and computers every time some new cool thing comes out. My parents had a stove that came with their house that they bought over 30 years ago. They took good care of it and they only had to replace it last month. The microwave was 37 when they replaced it. (Honestly, that probably should have been replaced a long time ago. I don't want to know what kind of freaky radiation was coming out of it...) I think that I've had and still have excellent role models when it comes to this kind of thing.

One of the big problems with our disposable culture, I think, is the fact that the younger generation (including myself) don't really have any first-hand experience with what it feels like to really need for things to last. The people I get my values from lived during two world wars, the great stock market crash, and various other events that really impacted a person's ability to HAVE things. A friend of mine used to kind of complain about her dad a lot because he was excessively thrifty. There are these tea bags that you put loose tea into. You can buy a pack of 50 for a dollar. He would rinse them out, put them on the dishrack to dry, and then re-use them. He grew up in a time where you didn't just throw things out. You kept them until they weren't usable anymore.

It's tough. We live in a world of plenty now. I'm not sure if the older generation isn't reminding us to be more thrifty and responsible or if we're simply not listening. Maybe it's a little of both.