If You're Not Living Life, You're Wasting Scarce Resources

If You're Not Living Life, You're Wasting Scarce Resources
AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
Story Stream
recent articles

My aunt and uncle have done well in life: college-degreed, stable gigs at the same hospital, raised two good cousins of mine, etc.  They’ve lived pretty modestly, allowing them to (semi-)retire early and pursue other endeavors. 

Still, I remember being taken aback as a kid the first time I saw Ziploc bags drying in their dishwasher.  “Why are they washing those?  Aren’t they disposable” I wondered?

This came to mind recently as I was reading an article in The Economist magazine.  It was about shamingthe airline, fashion and beef industries for their negative impact on climate change. 

Though I’ve reused Ziplocs on occasion, I’ve never gone to my uncle’s extreme.  But perhaps “extreme” isn’t the right word.  In hindsight, he’s merely been compensating (mightily, when you factor in his composting) for the wastefulness of the society around him.  The article touches on this in regards to “fast-fashion.”

While our population has increased by almost 50% since I first saw those Ziplocs, the tonnage of clothes we toss out has soared nearly fourfold.  In response, more than a dozen clothiers have pledged to be “less dirty.”

If “the rise” of buying or renting used clothes doesn’t come to fruition as The Economist suspects it “might” (despite my 16 year-old’s best efforts), and the altruistic self-regulators can’t keep consumer prices low while prostrating themselves at the feet of the “shamers,” other suppliers will emerge to serve that demand.

This could beget waste of a different kind; a growth in government bureaucracy when these corporate virtue signalers call on Uncle Sam to “level the playing field” by regulating the entire industry. WalMart/Amazon/minimum wage, anyone?

The picture isn’t much better at the dinner table.

Remember when mom and dad told you to “eat your dinner; there are starving kids in Africa?”  I think we knew we weren’t directly responsible for that deprivation.  It was more a caution to “be grateful for what you have,” and to not be wasteful.

It appears that lesson did not fully sink in. 

Over a similar period, the rate at which food is landfilled is almost double the aforementioned population growth.  According to a 2012 study by the National Resources Defense Council, almost 40% of food “goes uneaten.”  61% of this waste lands in the trash cans of the final consumer.

If there’s going to be any shaming, it should be for this, not flying.  That said, there are certainly advantages to ground travel. 

When I took my family to see the Gateway Arch, float the Mississippi and catch a Cardinals game in St. Louis last year, we hoofed it in our minivan. 

That gave us the opportunity to spend a couple nights in Louisville as well, a city with its own great American attractions: Churchill Downs, the Louisville Slugger factory, and the Muhammad Ali Center, just to name the ones we hit.

However, when it came time for our recent Christmas trip to Washington D.C., it was more practical to fly.

If travelers choose to fly less due to “personal guilt over (their) carbon trail,” that’s their prerogative.  Airlines, and by extension airplane manufacturers, will certainly respond if business drops off too much.  Otherwise, if folks prefer to fly in order to save time, arguably everyone’s most scare resource, so be it.  That falls somewhere lower on the tsk-tsk scale than Oprah flying in flowers from Holland for her best friend’s birthday. 

Same goes for having a steak.

It’s certainly a respectable position to swear off meat in protest of the way much of it is mass-produced.  One can also sympathize with those who refuse to consume the flesh of another animal.  Watching Luke Skywalker milk a Thala-siren was enough for me to reduce my milk intake to a dribble.

We needn’t worry however, about “vegan vitriol” from folks whose sincerity about the cause comes into question every time they take bite of meat-flavored non-meat cuisine.  The irony is especially tasty when the alternatives du jour, like Beyond Meat, may actually be more harmful to our health, undoubtedly a more important consideration, than the real thing.

A more feasible concern is our piles of rubbish that are likely to be augmented soon by all the recyclablesChina stopped taking from us a couple years ago.  This is where anxiety about these industries’ negative effect on climate change meets the limits of reason.

My daughters regularly ask to stock the refrigerator with 8-20oz water bottles, even when we have no impending road trip.  They rarely have an answer for me when I counter their dinner protests with “what should we do with these leftovers then?” 

It’s not even clear they see the connection between driving our minivan beyond 200K miles, and the ability to buy them their own modest set of wheels someday. 

But that’s understandable; they’re kids. 

Lazy and/or indifferent use of our resources makes us and them susceptible to more state control.  It’s the inevitable consequence of such activism. 

If you’re a progressive, you probably don’t mind relinquishing more personal responsibility to the government.  The opportunity to control others is just gravy. 

It’s a mystery though, why someone who adopts a label whose root word (“conserve”) is literally the opposite of “waste,” would do the same. 

In that sense, my uncle is one of the truest “conservatives” I’ve ever known.

Christopher E. Baecker manages fixed assets at Pioneer Energy Services and is an adjunct lecturer of economics at Northwest Vista College. 

Show comments Hide Comments

Related Articles