Tag Archives: jared-diamond

Environmental Assumptions

Big busi­ness is envir­on­ment­ally destruct­ive: a wide­spread and almost unques­tioned assump­tion. A false assump­tion, accord­ing to Jared Dia­mond, not­ing that profits often arise from green ini­ti­at­ives and envir­on­ment­al con­cern is of inher­ent import­ance to many large cor­por­a­tions.

The story is told through the lens of Wal-Mart’s trans­port and pack­aging ini­ti­at­ives, Coca-Col­a’s con­cern “with prob­lems of water scarcity, energy, cli­mate change and agri­cul­ture” and Chev­ron’s policy of rigour­ous envir­on­ment­al pro­tec­tion (of which any­one who has read Dia­mond’s Col­lapse, will be acutely aware):

The embrace of envir­on­ment­al con­cerns by chief exec­ut­ives has accel­er­ated recently for sev­er­al reas­ons. Lower con­sump­tion of envir­on­ment­al resources saves money in the short run. Main­tain­ing sus­tain­able resource levels and not pol­lut­ing saves money in the long run. And a clean image — one attained by, say, avoid­ing oil spills and oth­er envir­on­ment­al dis­asters — reduces cri­ti­cism from employ­ees, con­sumers and gov­ern­ment.

It’s not just big busi­ness we make assump­tions about: as Tim Har­ford points out after read­ing Prashant Vaze’s The Eco­nom­ic­al Envir­on­ment­al­ist, some typ­ic­al envir­on­ment­al decisions are some­times based on incor­rect assump­tions:

Envir­on­ment­al­ists have been slow to real­ise that the fash­ion­able eco-life­style is riddled with con­tra­dic­tions. The one that par­tic­u­larly exas­per­ates me is the “food miles” obses­sion, whereby we eschew toma­toes from Spain and roses flown in from Kenya, in favour of loc­al products grown in a heated green­house with a far great­er car­bon foot­print. Oth­er less-than-obvi­ous truths are: that pork and chick­en have sub­stan­tially lower car­bon foot­prints than beef and lamb (yes, even organ­ic beef and lamb); that milk and cheese also have a sub­stan­tial foot­print; that dish­wash­ers are typ­ic­ally more effi­cient than wash­ing dishes by hand; and that eco-friendly wash­ing powders may be dis­tinctly eco-unfriendly because they tend to tempt people to use hot­ter washes.

Jared Dia­mond piece via Mar­gin­al Revolu­tion

Exporting Poor Work Environments

After a long time of suc­cess­fully man­aging to avoid the blog, I even­tu­ally clicked this past week when I was sent Fake Steve Jobs’ reac­tion to the news that an employ­ee of Fox­conn, one of Apple’s Chinese ‘man­u­fac­tur­ing part­ners’, com­mit­ted sui­cide shortly after report­ing a miss­ing iPhone v4 pro­to­type.

We can­’t make these products in the United States. Nobody could afford to buy them if we did. And, frankly, the qual­ity would be about half what we get out of China. […]

We all know that there’s no fuck­ing way in the world we should have microwave ovens and refri­ger­at­ors and TV sets and everything else at the prices we’re pay­ing for them. There’s no way we get all this stuff and everything is done fair and square and every­one gets treated right. No way. And don’t be confused—what we’re talk­ing about here is our way of life. Our stand­ard of liv­ing. You want to “fix things in China,” well, it’s gonna cost you. Because everything you own, it’s all done on the backs of mil­lions of poor people whose lives are so awful you can­’t even begin to ima­gine them, people who will do any­thing to get a life that is a tiny bit bet­ter than the shitty one they were born into, people who get exploited and treated like shit and, in the worst of all cases, pay with their lives.

You know that, and I know that. Okay? Let’s just be hon­est here.

It reminds me some­what of Jared Dia­mond’s Col­lapse, spe­cific­ally where he dis­cusses how “[China and Japan con­serve their] own forests by export­ing defor­est­a­tion to oth­er coun­tries, sev­er­al of which (includ­ing Malay­sia, Pap­ua New Guinea, and Aus­tralia) have already reached or are on the road to cata­stroph­ic defor­est­a­tion” (emphas­is mine).

Now, are first world coun­tries like the U.S. and those of West­ern Europe not just export­ing poor work envir­on­ment stand­ards to the second world coun­tries of Indone­sia, Malay­sia and China (as a con­sequence of large-scale, inex­pens­ive man­u­fac­tur­ing that we no longer can/want to under­take)?