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)?