Sunday, July 27, 2008

Environmental Dogmatists

This is silly. You don't win the environmental crisis by saying "we gotta recycle everything" or making it a war of convictions. Those of us who don't share Andy Posner's convictions are left to deal with the tradeoffs of the real world and really do live the environmental crisis on the margin.

Oh, and by the way, things like recycling and environmental regulations aren't free lunches. Recycling glass for example, uses more energy than just manufacturing it, and is therefore less of an impact on the atmosphere and resource use. [CORRECTION: RECYCLING GLASS DOES USE MUCH LESS ENERGY AND IS A HELP TO THE ATMOSPHERE. THE TOTAL ECONOMIC COST (INCLUDING LABOR COSTS) IS STILL GREATER THAN PITCHING THE GLASS. I ALSO APOLOGIZE FOR NOT DOING BETTER CHECKING.] And environmental regulations and trying to impose sanctions on poor countries who don't yet see the environment as much of an immediate concern as, say, eating today is paternalistic and unethical. Maybe instead of preaching "the margin" I should make my point in more drastic and judgemental terms (like the lunatic fringe does):

ENVIRONMENTALISTS WANT THE POOR OF AFRICA AND ASIA TO DIE OF STARVATION.

Less (and less) bad is good because it is progress, and before long the inverted environmental "U-curve" will eventually begin to let environmental damage wane.

3 comments:

  1. Anonymous28/7/08 16:35

    Recycling glass instead of using virgin materials saves enormous amounts of energy. Simply Googling "glass recycing saves energy" would reveal that recycling a ton of glass saves 42 KWh of energy and 315kg of CO2 output.

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  2. I'll concede that point on energy/co2 because I don't have the most recent cost-benefit data for recycling. In terms of economic costs, recycling does use a nontrivial amount of extra resources, mostly labor, relative to virgin materials. See "In Economic Terms, Recycling Almost Pays" NYTimes, May 29, 2008, or "Recycling is Garbage" NYT, June 30, 1996.

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  3. Do the 315 kg of co2 and 42 kwh of energy account for the energy spent at the household level rinsing said glass?

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