Poverty, Efficiency and the Environment


Is a well-fed Maytag Man bad for the Environment?

I haven’t posted in a while, but since today is Blog Action Day, here are some thoughts about poverty.

Here in San Antonio every six months the Solid Waste department schedules curb side pickups of large items. Many large household appliances are hauled off by individuals with pickups before the city truck arrives. Based on trucks I see headed south on I35, I suspect many of these appliances end up being sent to Mexico for repair.

Repair Vs Replace
The challenge is ending poverty without damaging the environment. As poverty decreases, wages rise. The rise in wages makes it more cost effective to replace instead of repair. In a developed country, when something breaks, it is cheaper to toss the broken component and replace it rather than pay someone to fix it. For example, as Mexico develops, rising wages will make repair even less cost effective. As manufacturing efficiency grows, the cost to replace drops, making the gap between replace and repair even larger.

The three R’s of environmentalism are Reduce, Re-use and Recycle. The fourth R (Repair) seems to be overlooked. (The fifth might be Rambling).

So what’s this got to do with GIS? Maybe the total poverty can be reduced by making it less spatially isolated. If we weren’t so close to Mexico, the appliances would end up in the land fill. I know this is heresy, but perhaps elimination of the minimum wage would be good for the environment? If a minimum wage is good, why not raise it to the point where we are all millionaires? At some point gov’t imposed wages actually reduce employment and increase poverty.

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2 comments so far

  1. Si Se Puede on

    Two weeks ago my mother had our local utility company come out to pick up her old freezer. My mother kept this freezer in the garage and would store odd items in it (e.g. Thanksgiving turkeys that she bought at a good price). The freezer was an energy hog and was 25+ years old. The freezer needed to be periodically defrosted. She replaced the freezer with a smaller more efficient one that uses much less electricity. Sometimes it is better to throw away than to repair.

    As for the relationship between poverty and environmentalism, I will say that there is no environmentalism where there is rampant poverty. People who are focused on getting their next warm meal and some shelter are not interested in saving the environment. Make people wealthy and you can sell them environmentalism.

  2. Kirk Kuykendall on

    Hi Si Se –
    Certainly replacement makes environmental sense in a lot of cases. In general though, I sure see a lot more cases where we throw out and replace useful durable goods.

    “there is no environmentalism where there is rampant poverty” … the people rummaging through trash for aluminum cans probably wouldn’t describe themselves environmentalists, yet they seem to function in that capacity. While the market value for their skills is likely more than what they earn from cans, it is probably below the minimum wage.

    Kirk


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