Lets pause for a moment and notice how pervasive the marketing campaigns are for us to change our behavior about where we put our trash. The campaigns are in our kids schools, sitcoms, and the labels on the bins at every residence and office. That marketing presents recycling as the number 1 cure for solving large scale environmental problems. In most cases the marketing focuses on influencing our behavior, not telling the whole story of what happens next.
In some cities recycling isn’t just another bin that’s provided for you. It’s a mandatory practice. When we were living in Germany it was mandatory.
I don’t mind things that are mandatory.
I do mind things that are mandatory by force.
If something is a good idea, then I don’t believe that force (or the threat of force) should be an influence in the decision making. Avoiding certain substances isn’t something I choose to do because there is a law. It’s something I choose to do because it makes sense to me. Similarly, choosing to do something is better done when compelled not by fear, but by anything other than fear.
Returning to the marketing campaign on recycle. It’s pervasive and persuasive, but does recycling even make sense?
In the sense of reusing and re-purposing what you have to give it the longest life possible, yes. Recycling makes sense. You’re not going to get an argument from me against being frugal and using what you have.
Just because recycling in general makes sense doesn’t mean our recycling programs make sense.
Let me explain. Boise is big on being a town that tries to take care of the environment, but as I understand it their recycling program is far from it. Items put in the recycling bin have to be sorted. From there some of the trash is sent to the landfill. Some of it is sent to Salt Lake City to be turned into Diesel fuel, and some of it is sent to the west coast and shipped thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean.
When KTVB did a story on recycling in 2018 it wasn’t about does this program make environmental/economic sense. It focused on if people knew where to put the trash. That’s a pretty big miss on a good question in my book, but it’s totally understandable about how that happens. Because the marketing is so pervasive we take for granted that recycling is doing something good.
Here’s a good question to look at, if the goal is to go green then why does going green involve significantly increasing carbon output?
In my home I reuse what I can, and I also chose to put as much as I can in the trash. The town doesn’t yet have the infrastructure to properly reuse the materials and the way it processes them can be seen as actively damaging the environment.
I also believe that maybe it’s time to clean up the way we talk about recycling. Update the marketing and tell us where things are really going so we can make an informed decision about not which bin or bag to put our stuff in, but whether or not it makes economic/environmental sense to put it anywhere else but a modern landfill.
My wife was helping our oldest son select classes for High School. As the process was taking its natural course (teenager becomes less engaged). She asked if he wanted to take economics.
I recommended it.
Then I remarked that I’d never taken an economics class.
The wife didn’t believe me.
You see, I’d helped her through her macro and micro economics coursework when she had questions and my answers were spot-on with the text books and research she did for the class. Totally makes sense that she would have that impression.
But it was wrong.
So I pulled up my transcript and sure enough. No economics classes.
Years of listening to Freakanomics podcasts and reading Freedman, Hayek, Sowell, and Reason.com for fun have paid off.
My wife finally told me I was right about something.
This brilliant law of economics is obvious on face value and powerful in its implications. I highly recommend watching this video to understand the stakeholder experience.
A few people I’ve gotten to know over the years have asked if I have a history degree. When they do I refer them to my brothers who both have degrees and have taught in the subject. Recently I came across a video that connects several of my favorite topics, history, systems theory, economics, and archeology. I believe it’s worth sharing.
In the video the author explains how he believes that the systems society was based on prior to the ~1200 BC collapsed causing a reset for humanity. I love how as an aside he includes a reference to the emergence and popularity of a nearly common alphabet. Remember, according to Epcot, ‘if you can read this, thank the Phoenicians.”
I, Pencil is a great essay about economics. This version is the one I tend to share with folks who need a good first introduction. Recently I was sharing this with a group of 3rd graders and it was interesting to see how much they understood.
Available at Amazon
A polarizing figure among many circles Thomas Sowell is best known for an author of sharp words and well researched opinions, but what he has often alluded to throughout the years is the humble beginnings of a journey that inadvertently lead him to the prominence he has achieved in life. This book narrates that process.
Early in the text Sowell explains that he doesn’t intend the book to be an autobiography. He briefly explains that a text of that title would have to be more exhaustive about some features of his life that he would prefer to move past in writing. Like all of Sowell’s books the text reads well and flows cleanly from idea to idea and incident to incident.
Sowell style of writing from his other works has a moralistic tone based upon his research on a particular subject. In this book the subject is himself, and after years of long reflection he applies that same tone of writing to the experiences of his own life.
And what a life!
Sowell’s story begins in absolute poverty in the south where his father knowing he was dying and leaving behind a pregnant wife worked to have the unborn child raised by more affluent relatives within the family. Affluence at the time was relative and although Thomas’ situation was much improved it was far from anything of opulence.
At a young age his family moved to New York City unintentionally sparing him from some of the effects of racism in the south. Due to its prevalence generally across society Sowell had several encounters where he was discriminated against for the color of his skin. He tells of his stubbornness as a young man removing himself from what had become a destructive situation with relatives and beginning life on his own.
With the clean precision of a highly professional author Thomas narrates his time in the Marine Corps and experiences with academia. Both parts of his life clearly demonstrate his journey to discover his own technique for thoughtful constructive reasoning. Any critic of Sowell’s ideas has within these pages the ability to appreciate the odyssey that helped forge those ideas.
This is a book I would easily recommend to my children as they are more likely to glean from its pages tools that will help them through life than many of the other things currently in print.