Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Carbon of Convenience

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how I and we got here in the current predicament that we are in with global warming, growing obesity and increased garbage of our world today. One theme that kept repeatedly coming up is that we don't live lives so much of instantaneous wants, but instead we lead lives of decision avoidance. This decision avoidance is enabled by the increasing convenience our lives demand. And at the risk of circular argument, we want convenience because we don't want to decide until the last possible minute for many things of our lives.

For instance, one of the primary drivers of carbon emissions is transportation. The faster we go, the more we emit. More power, more carbon. One way of looking at this is that faster travel allows us to stick more into out limited time by compressing travel. The other way of looking at things is that because we don't have to decide or choose until the last minute, we don't and because we know that we have this faster form of travel, we take it. When I take a good hard reflection on my life, much of the time I spend at home before heading out, instead of taking mass transit is just sort of sitting there or reading. Stuff I could do just as easily on mass transit. The cost of last minuteness, of convenience drives up my carbon count.

Or take a look at disposables, we have paper cups at our coffee bars because it saves us the trip of going to our cube and grabbing our mug. This is a failure for us to plan, if you have a cup of coffee everyday, it seems the habit is that you could bring your cup from your car on your way in. But no, your habit is to grab a new cup each day. Convenience is a code word for lack of planning in many cases.

For some reason the case for convenience is that it works on a system based on consumables, we get disposables into our system and then we drop them off to be removed somewhere else. Out of sight, out of mind. For some reason, we can't build convenience into out systems cost effectively. For instance what if we only had mugs at our coffee stands, and then we washed them and returned them. Restaurants do that, but the cheaper the restaurant the more the consumables. Ironic isn't it. If your poor you can't afford to keep things because you have no money, if you are richer you can't throw things away because you have too much. It gets worse, you keep shipping the new paper cups from far away places all the time, emitting carbon continuously. If you take a little inconvenience and reuse, you ship things locally saving both on the emissions of transport, but also the emissions of manufacture.

The mechanized world of convenience has a direct link to our carbon production, either in emissions or waste. Is our carbon conundrum a casualty of our desire for convenience?

2 Comments:

At 4:57 AM , Blogger Heather @ SGF said...

Great post! I completely agree. We only have our farmers market twice a week and I can only get to one of them on my bike (so for me once a week). That requires a lot of planning (both time and menus) when it would be easier to just buy stuff at the grocery which is a few blocks from my house. However, the "easy" way would mean more packaging, less freshness and nutrients, less community building, etc.

 
At 11:39 AM , Blogger Melissa said...

Like Heather, I've seen this most often exhibited in terms of food. If I don't plan a menu, I buy something quick and prepackaged, or at a restaurant (and take out is one of the most wasteful things out there!) The problem is, it's often also cheaper to not plan. Crappy food often costs less.

 

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