Archive for August, 2009

A $9,000 water bill

“When I have a dollar to blow on a bottle of water, I buy Perrier!” quipped Robin Williams in his late ’70s stand-up days.

It killed. The audience howled at Williams’ derision of paying a lot of money for something we get nearly for free from the tap, especially when the EPA does a very good job enforcing water quality standards in the country.

Today, bottled water is a $50 billion business globally. We consume copious amounts of energy and fossil fuels to produce, fill, and ship plastic bottles of water while 1/6 of the world’s population (over a billion people) do not have access to reliable potable water.

The math from a recent Fast Company article is particularly illuminating:

If the water we use at home cost what even cheap bottled water costs, our monthly water bills would run $9,000.


The White Roof — Steven Chu is right!

Energy Secretary Steven Chu has advocated painting roofs white as a cost saving measure that also reduces the impact of climate change.  The theory is that more heat would be reflected, thereby lowering a building’s cooling costs, which in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions because we’re using less power to cool the building.

An article (blog entry) on Time magazine’s website says studies have concluded that whitening a roof actually works and can make it 20% more cost effective to cool your house on hot days.  I’d love to see links to the studies, but the physics makes enough sense that I believe it.

You can read the article here:

Here in sunny South Carolina, I spend more on air conditioning in summer than I do on heating in winter.  When my roof is due for an overhaul (and those shingles are getting pretty old), I will be looking into a light colored rooftop.

Trending local

$45 of every $100 dollars spent at local businesses stays in circulation in the local economy.  The money is spent on local salaries, payments to other merchants, and so on.  A big chain, on the other hand, only keeps $13 in local circulation.  This is the finding of an economic study done in Austin, TX.

Buying local is a nationwide trend.

For years, I’ve seen bumperstickers around Charleston, SC that read “Friends don’t let friends buy imported shrimp” or other slogans mean to encourage support for the local fishing industry.  Other communities have taken the Buy Local idea even further.

One community businessman in Brewton, AL handed out $2 bills to his employees with the rule that after a charitable gift the money must be spent locally.  The bills floated around town and eventually found their way back to his store, which dramatically drove home the point that money circulating in the local economy is its own form of stimulus.

Other communities have encouraged a “10% shift,” which encourages people to redirect 10% of their spending to local businesses or “$20 on the 20th” campaigns where you would spend $20 at a local business on the 20th day of the month.

Best selling author Barbara Kingsolver wrote “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” about her and her family’s quest to grow or buy only local food for one year. They intimately learned the value of their labor, the strength in their community, and the power of taking control of their health and environment.  They put the kitchen back in the center of their family and learned to work together toward a common goal.  Yes, they had to give up the instant gratification of being able to buy strawberries year-round, but they gained an intense appreciation for delectably fresh asparagus that you can only get by growing it yourself and you can only experience once a year in springtime.

Some may call buying local mini-protectionism, and in a sense it is, but it makes for a strong local community.  It’s kind of like saving your money during a recession.  It’s good for the individual who’s saving, but it’s bad for the overall economy because no one is buying.  But just as saving keeps more dollars here at home than abroad, so too does buying local keep our dollars in our own community.   There are intangible benefits, too, in that communities and families are strengthened as they come together not just for the greater good, but for their own.

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