Sunday, December 12, 2010

Environmental consciencious choice is the cheapest choice

Crude oil burning is considered a main contributor to global warming and destined to melt icecaps that will flood and kill 100s of millions of people.  It also damages air quality, and is a scarce resource which needs to be diversified from.  While humans have a collective incentive to minimize such huge costs through simple and obvious national taxes on oil and gasoline to curb and shift demand to other sources of energy, sects of people can profit substantially from drill baby drill, and burn it baby burn it.

Environmentalism can confuse and oversimplify "all oil based products are bad".  First, oil is extracted for its gasoline, kerosene, diesel and heating fuel contents.  Oil refining separates these components out of crude oil.  Plastics are produced from a lesser byproduct of fuel extraction.  Since plastic does not emit greenhouse gases (I'm not positive to what extent that is true), and is essentially produced from permaculture/recycling principles on oil, vilifying plastic on anything but its potential carcinogenic properties has the same tenuous misplaced objection as vilifying leather for the murder of suboptimal calorie and protein production vehicles.  Both are mere byproducts of industry that persists without the byproduct existence.

Polyester and spandex are oil based plastics.  Cotton is a natural renewable plant based fiber.  Cotton's price has spiked substantially recently.  Cotton production displaces food production, and price spikes cause it more-so.  I don't believe there is a morality argument when choosing between cotton and polyester.  Rather purely a choice on fiber value.  A natural fiber's only benefits is that health properties have had millennia to be investigated/understood and non-toxicity can be more safely presumed.

Hemp and bamboo are prodigious plants capable of supplying vast amounts of textile and wood materials.  Strength and weight properties make these materials suitable for even bicycle frames.  They are not so perfect as to replace all wood and textiles, though they certainly have superb ecological properties, and deserve promotion on those grounds.  Other woods grow more easily in certain locations, and as a result of past investments, are harvested and processed in large scale, and are closer to North American markets.  The most ecological choice short term is to use what is available near by, now, and most cheaply.  Shipping small batches of bamboo product from Asia is economically disadvantaged because it is economically and ecologically expensive to transport.  It is thus important to understand bamboo as having long term ecological sustainability while realizing that today's ecological choices remains today's local economic choice.

Wikileaks documents aren't necessary to prove corruption of the collective interests not to drown millions.  Simple innaction is.  The political forces in favour of Oak, Maple or Teak are weak and conflicted, and incapable, in my opinion, of suppressing the long term viability of bamboo.  Taxing carbon gas emitting fuels is a perfect way to guide ecological choices through economic choice.  Taxation-invisible-hands are necessary when the social ecological costs on outsiders to transactions cannot be captured any other way.  Such taxes are helpful even if the proceeds aren't earmarked for atmospheric cleansing or polar cooling.

While economic choice is usually the same as ecological choice, it is important to correct that choice when it is distorted.

1 comment:

  1. Price of PVC averaged $20/ton in the 1990s (http://www.p2pays.org/ref/02/0162228.pdf)

    Price in 2004-2005 began and ended at $800/ton, but spiked to $1000/ton in between.
    http://www.vinythai.co.th/static/wma/pdf/7/3/6/5/VNT_Annual_2005_PVC_Industry_Outlook.pdf

    There is no relationship to the price of oil in the 90s. At the end of 2005, oil was 4 times its lower 90s price, but PVC was 40x-50x higher.

    In july 2010, PVC prices were $1100/ton with oil at $80, and relatively unchanged in Dec 2010 with oil near $90.

    These numbers support that plastic is a "mere" byproduct of oil. Though, it is significantly more in demand than it was in the 90s, when using PVC was definitely salvaging the scraps of oil, demanding substantially more of it is necessary to drive oil extraction.

    ReplyDelete