The Quotidian

Evolving perspectives on evolving challenges

Tag: green

The locavore myth or why vegetarians will save the world

by Kai Hsing

As the real-world benefits of buying local and organic food prove to be negligible, is going veggie our only hope?

localvore-lgIf switching from incandescent to CFL light bulbs is a first step towards indoctrination into ‘San Francisco values,’ then eating locally is surely a close second, with a dedication from Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma before every meal. But even amongst those who haven’t read Pollan’s ode to locally grown, traditionally prepared food that would make your grandmother salivate, there’s been an obvious renewed interest in farmer’s markets and organic produce with a pushback against the industrialization of the food industry in recent years.

On a certain level, this passion for foodie culture is a perfect example of DIY grassroots activism done right, with a populist message and tangible results that can be achieved quickly and cheaply. Nearly anyone can make a consumer choice to support local farmers, especially with the number of farmers markets in this country nearly doubling in the past decade. Or better yet, anyone can grow their own vegetables, a trend confirmed by the White House gardens started by first lady Michelle Obama earlier this year. There’s also the issues the modern food movement touches upon – ranging from health to poverty and consumerism – that are anything but controversial for either side of the ideological seismic fault you happen to be on. Read the rest of this entry »

Do we pay too much for our cheap goods?

by The Quotidian

A new book examines the real price we pay to have consumer goods at relatively low cost – but offers few ideas to get us out of the mess.

One of the joys of an undergraduate economics education is the feeling that comes over you during your first or second year of having been inducted into a secret society – a sort of Harry Potter world with its own language, its own subculture, and its own special selection of intellectual tools. These are almost like little magic spells that allow you to see the world in a different way: as a world of hidden relations and counterintuitive mechanisms, a world that the Muggles can’t see though it’s right there in front of them.

Of course, this feeling is illusory, and soon fades – not just because real economics is a bit messier than the introductory stuff, but also because just about anyone can learn these basic tools and easily apply them to journalistic effect.

For example, take the concept of externalities. Freshman economics students discover that only some small subset of the costs and benefits of a transaction are explicitly reflected in the price. Read the rest of this entry »

What ‘cash for clunkers’ could have been spent on

by Kai Hsing

With the program’s environmental and economic benefits nearly negligible, billions could have been better spent encouraging more people to buy cars that make a real difference – plug-in hybrids.


Much of the discussion around the “cash for clunkers” fervor is as polarizing as the politics involved – you either dismiss the program as a failure in both theory and practice or you declare the program a success while rejecting criticism of the program as GOP firestarting. With further consideration, one realizes that the cash for clunkers program actually has a lot of moving parts to consider before disassembly – unlike what they’ve been doing to the clunkers themselves.

On one level, cash for clunkers could be deemed a success – the program has so far increased sales in its brief period of activity, with Ford posting its first sales increase in two years and the overall industry posting its best month of 2009. The overwhelming popularity of the program has also been lauded as a measure of its success (or irresponsibility), with $1 billion exhausted in $4,500 increments in just one week.

Despite the fact that the Ford Focus (mpg: 24 city/35 highway) has been the top-selling one of the top-selling vehicles among those who traded in their “clunkers” for new cars, a closer look reveals that six out of the 10 best-selling anti-clunkers were from foreign automakers. Read the rest of this entry »

The revenge of Thomas Edison

by Kai Hsing

The banning of incandescent light bulbs has been seen as a major victory for the environmental movement – but now they’re making a comeback. Here’s why.



The quintessential, iconic action of the contemporary green movement has been changing your light bulb from the warm, soft rays of the 19th-century incandescent light bulb to the super-efficient yet somewhat muted compact fluorescent (CFL) bulb. Making the switch is an obvious choice, no matter if your priorities are economical or environmental – a CFL bulb promises savings of more than $30 over the course of its longer lifespan while also slowing the emission of greenhouse gases due to its reduced energy use.

One could see the CFL bulb as forming a sort of subliminal trinity for optimists and changemakers worldwide – switching to the new bulbs is demonstrably world-changing and cost-cutting at the same time, as well as being able to affect sweeping legislative changes in a relatively short amount of time. Unsurprisingly, the EU and Canada are on track to phase out old-school incandescents in the next few years, and even the U.S. is in the mix with a 2012 target date (though Venezuela and Cuba beat us all by banning them back in 2005). Read the rest of this entry »


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