Thursday, July 30, 2009

Can you or the environment afford bottled water?

I’ve been thinking about bottled water. As an old and frugal New England Yankee I can’t comprehend the concept of buying bottled water.

Although I’ve heard of places where tap water had either a foul smell or taste, I’ve never lived in a place where tap water wasn’t satisfactory to drink. This causes me to wonder why so many people won’t drink tap water. (Well users may be exempt)

From a cost only point of view, 2 pints a day of bottled water ( half the recommended daily water consumption) at $.25 a bottle, is $182 a year. That’s $730 per year for a family of 4. The equivalent amount of city water, where I live, (365 gallons) cost less than $1.50.

Based on measured purity, it appears that many bottled waters aren’t any purer than local tap water. Forgetting scientific purity, many bottled water companies simply take water from the taps where they’re located, filter it some more then put it in bottles for sale. As those bottles sit on the shelf they gradually develop bacterial growth. So much for purity.

But, most of all, I’ve been thinking about the environmental impact of drinking bottled water. Think about the process of moving water from one point to another.

First, a bottle has to be created from basic petroleum. Then it’s filled ( a pint bottle contains one pound of water), loaded on a semi-trailer, transported at least several hundred if not thousands of miles, and finally sold to a consumer.

Once used, if the bottle is recycled, it takes energy to collect, sort, transport and remelt the plastic into raw material to produce another bottle.

For the roughly half of the bottles not recycled, there’s the landfill taken up by all the nonrecycled bottles. People talk about sustainable processes, well non degradable bottles will sure make a landfill sustainable.

In the two paragraphs above, imagine the energy it takes to perform all these operations.

If you want to calculate energy use like a dedicated environmentalist, consider the energy it took to construct and operate the bottling plant (don’t forget the energy associated with the employees in the plant), the energy to build the trucks and trailers, a portion of the cost of roads needed to be built and maintained to permit distribution, the extra size of the store needed to display the bottled water; the energy to find, obtain, process, distribute the fuel (oil) used in the trucks, etc.

Here’s a question. What’s the carbon footprint (considering the above) of the bottled water industry? What’s the contribution to your carbon footprint if you use bottled water?

I can’t understand how environmentalists can co-exist with this situation while anguishing over the minor impacts of a few homes or some additional parking for a new business.

It appears to me that environmentalism is segregated and compartmentalized so people can select and choose which particular portions or facets of the environment they will promote and which they will ignore.

Am I an environmentalist because I compost kitchen and garden waste? Or, am I NOT an environmentalist because I drive a mini-van? Am I an environmentalist because I grow my own fruit or am I NOT because I use chemical sprays on them? Am I an environmentalist if I do drink bottled water or if I don’t? It gets confusing.

I consider myself a practical environmentalist in that I practice and support moderate but not extreme positions. How many environmentalists support the full environmental program and how many preach only for those portions they can support without personal inconvience?

Bottled water anyone?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Kidney transplants

There’s been a bit in the news lately about kidney transplants being done overseas. The point of interest is that poor third world people are selling one of their kidneys to people from richer countries. This is news because in this country payment for a kidney (from either a live or deceased donor) is prohibited.

This seems rational in that we want to make sure the poor aren’t exploited by the wealthy. But what is really the case?

No one in the U.S. can be compensated for donating a kidney to avoid the above possible exploitation. BUT, the doctors and the hospital where the donated kidney is removed from the donor are compensated for their part in the process.

The companies that specialize in transporting a donated kidney (or other organ) from the donor’s location to the recipient’s location are compensated for their part in the process.

The doctors and the hospital where the donated kidney is placed into the recipient are compensated for their part in the process.

Everyone except the donor (or the donor’s estate) gets paid. Think about it. If it wasn’t for the donor, none of the above players would be participating in a paying, for profit, procedure which they all benefit from. Why is this necessary.

I can understand the basic origin of the process, fear of exploitation of the poor by the wealthy. And the fairness of someone needing a kidney not being able to jump to the front of the line by paying for and having a purchased kidney available for their personal use.

What would I suggest? First, that the law prohibiting the payment for donated organs be replaced with an open procedure facilitating compensation for a donated kidney whether from a live or deceased donor.

The donor or the donor’s estate should be compensated at a cost equal to (several options) a percentage of the total money that changes hands in the process, the money paid to the surgical team implanting the kidney, or any other open process that can be regulated.

Over 6000 people a year die in this country while waiting for a donated kidney to become available. This process would encourage some survivors of a deceased person to donate a kidney. I would limit donated kidneys to those from deceased persons.

But some people would be willing to donate a kidney to a friend or relative if compensated for the risk and/or cost to themselves. In such cases, perhaps a donor needs to take off work for a month or two to recuperate. Even if there were no compensation, I think a living donor should receive a priority commitment for a future kidney replacement if his or her one remaining kidney were to fail.

The poor will always be at a disadvantage no matter how it’s arranged. We just saw Steve Jobs of Apple jump to the head of the line for a liver transplant because he could get from California to Tennessee within 8 hours on a private jet (there are some rules).

The wealthy in the world will always be able to fly to exotic locations to take advantage of another country’s rules. The poor here are stuck with our rules.

Why should 6000 people a year die in this country just so a few can be sure life is fair? Which it isn’t.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How about a 32 hour work week?

The present fiscal crisis might be an opportunity to establish a 4 day, 32 hour work week as the norm. Think about having every weekend as a three day weekend. Four 10’s would work too for those businesses that need that much time from their employees.

In California state, county and local governments have implemented several furlough days a month (usually a Friday) to shorten the work week and reduce costs. It started as one day a month and increased (at the state level) to three days a month. It will only be a short time until a “standard” four day state week will be the norm, if only so that the public won’t have to remember which Fridays of the month most government offices aren’t open.

It looks like many businesses that can will also adopt a 32 hour work week or some other reduction as a way to reduce costs without having to lay off employees.

The principal problem for employees will be the reduction in gross pay by 20%. This brings up the philosophical question of why do people work.

If it’s for the money, what is the money used for? How much of the money is for things that are needed VS things we don’t need but only want? If we reduced our “wants”, how much could we have left for “needs”?

How much could be saved by not going to work one day a week? The transportation costs, lunch cost, some clothing costs, are obvious. But how about shopping and the TGIF lunch which tends to be more expensive than others?

For some day care cost might be reduced. It’s possible with an extra day off, homeowners could forgo a landscaper to take care of the yard by doing it themselves. What does that save?

Singles would have more time to play and families would have more time together.

And what would that day without pay really cost you? If you’re in the modest 25% tax bracket, you’re only losing 75% of that day’s pay (25% is already lost to income tax). And you’re not paying the 7.5% FICA tax for Social Security and Medicare (neither is your employer). Now you’re down to losing only 67.5% of the full day’s pay. Maybe similar reductions for state or local income taxes can be included also.

So what are you gaining? For less than that 67.5% loss, you’re getting a full day off. Your work week has been cut by 20% but your time off (Saturday and Sunday) has increased from two to three days, an increase of 50%.

If your business needs to remain open 5 days a week, consider alternate Fridays and Mondays off for half the staff – one four day weekend and one two day weekend.

This isn’t for every business or person but it could work for many if not most. In the early 1900’s six 12 hour days were the norm in manufacturing. When I was young, five 8 hour days and a 4 hour day on Saturday (no overtime) was the norm. So don’t get hung up on the idea that the work week is fixed.

It’s reported that managers often put in a 50 hour week. But note, this hasn’t kept a 40 hour week from being the norm for most businesses.

Try to think of reasons how it might be done and not reasons it can’t be done.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Why we don't trust government

Criticism of government is very biased and unfair. When we talk about government we each recall what we’ve experienced or have been told by others about ANY foolish (to us) governmental action. If a local zoning board does something weird, that’s filed away as a typical government way of operating. The same for every questionable local, county, state or national governmental act we come across.

We accumulate ALL these in a file we could call “government foul ups”

But consider how we view private sector mistakes. If we order an appliance from Sears and it doesn’t work properly, we don’t blame capitalism or the whole appliance industry, we blame Sears. The same for every other less than positive experience or relationship we have with numerous private sector providers. The individual private sector provider associated with a problem is the only one blamed.

The bottom line is that we only blame industry for specific difficulties we experience with specific providers. But, we accumulate our grievances against any level of government and develop an attitude that ALL government is therefore always messed up.

Think about this. If we accumulated all our complaints against individual private sector operators into one complaint file called “capitalism screw ups” we would be down on capitalism as a whole and not just the providers of poor products or services.

It’s the same with our political views. Congress has very low approval ratings and yet we continue to re-elect our local congressman (or woman) at around a 95% rate. We listen to much criticism about congress and legislation which we accumulate into our grievance against government but hear little about how our representative voted on many of the same things we don’t like about government.

So, take a minute to think about what government has done during the last year or two that you can directly relate to how your personal life has been impacted. I’ll bet it’s a short list.