Understanding the Cost of Consumption: The “Magical Hexagon”

Understanding the Cost of Consumption: The “Magical Hexagon”

In Germany, every 6th grade student learns about the Magical Hexagon in economics, which symbolises the six economic policy objectives that are to be achieved simultaneously and to the same extent, in theory:

  • Steady and appropriate economic growth
  • Environmental protection
  • Fair distribution of income and wealth
  • Price level stability
  • High employment
  • External economic equilibrium

The “magic” about these six goals is that they are supposed to be of equal importance to each other, but are also in conflict with each other, hence they cannot all be achieved at the same time.

For example, meeting the goal of “economic growth” will make it impossible to simultaneously achieve the goal of environmental protection.

Hence, when we hear politicians talk about their desire to protect the environment while at the same time talking about growing the economy, we need to understand that these are conflicting goals and cannot be achieved simultaneously.

In North America we have certainly been prioritising economic growth “at all costs” and centralised riches in the pockets of a few. The cost of this economic growth we pay in environmental degradation and an unfair distribution of income and wealth. So, the Magical Hexagon is not balanced and we are all already starting to feel the impact of that.

Interestingly, when the environment has been degraded beyond repair, the economy will naturally collapse, because a wacky climate will impact our production and distribution systems, which will hamper the economy as a result. The same result will hit us if we keep “centralising all riches in the pockets of a few.” This will erode away the middle class and once the tipping point between rich and poor has been reached, there won’t be any “consumers” left for the products the rich produce.

So, it is time to embrace the concepts of the Magical Hexagon here in North America and aim for a balance between the environment and our economy (as well as fair and equal distribution of wealth). This is the only way forward.

Either one of these objectives can be achieved by reducing our consumption. So, replace the mantra you learnt in school (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), with the mantra of the day: REDUCE, REDUCE, REDUCE.

The High Price of Convenience

The High Price of Convenience

Fast food, drive-throughs, smart devices,… our craving for convenience seems to be endless and companies are spending millions of dollars every year to identify and create new ways to satisfy our addiction to convenience.

While we think of convenience as “meeting our needs,” it is nothing more than instant gratification of wants. A gratification that comes at a high price. So, let’s explore the cost of convenience and how we already are and will be paying for it in the future.

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Convenience vs Energy Consumption

“Alexa, are you listening?”

Smart devices are “always on” and waiting for our command. Besides the obvious privacy and security concerns (mentioned below to close the loop), they also suck a lot of power off the grid. Any device that is on standby or idle consumes electricity (sometimes up to 10%).

So, let’s talk about power for a little bit. In British Columbia and Québec, where most of our power comes from hydroelectric power plants, we may not think about our electrical consumption as much. However, the more power that is used, the most power needs to be generated, and this doesn’t happen through magic.

This is why new plants, such as the Site C Dam in BC, end up on the agenda to meet our ever-growing demand for electricity. Building a hydroelectric power plant has a massive impact on the environment, even though it may seem like a “clean” and “renewable” energy source. Vast amounts of forests have to be cut along the waterways that lead to the dam, so that the trees won’t end up in the dam and thus damage the structure, and often the construction includes the rerouting of waterways. In addition, it hurts wildlife who rely on the free flow of the river, such as salmon who wish to return to their spawning grounds to give birth to their next generation. Lastly, producing (and later decommissioning) a power plant requires massive amounts of energy itself, as well as large amounts of building materials, which themselves have to come from somewhere. Concrete, which is the main building material for dams, has a massive environmental impact that should not be neglected.

All of these factors need to be taken into consideration when we use electricity. If we absolutely have to use electricity, it should be done in a mindful manner, not in a wasteful way, “just because we can”…

And the impact gets even worse when electricity is being produced through dirty energies, such as oil, gas, and coal. Besides toxic waste products during the production, operation, and decommissioning, these also release great amounts of greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere every single day.

So, next time you leave the lights on when leaving your home or have a smart device idle in the background, ask yourself if this is worth the true, environmental cost of the energy production.

Convenience vs Privacy / Security

Whenever the topic of privacy and security comes up during a conversation around convenience, there’s a large group of folks who instantly jump on the “I have nothing to hide” bandwagon, so let’s clear up a misconception here. “Nothing to hide” is often the first step to identity theft. Convenient apps or smart devices can get you hacked and your identity compromised in no time. Consider that some apps are created with malicious intent, which can especially be true for those that record keystrokes and GPS locations. So, be on the lookout and consider carefully if the app you’re about to download or the device you’re about to install (ironically, this includes security cameras) is indeed safe and secure.

Convenience vs Environment

It sure is convenient to order “stuff” from Amazon but this little trinket you just ordered may be speeding up global warming. How? Let’s see.

Assume, we’d like to order a smart device from Amazon, such as Amazon Echo.

To have this device produced, a large amount of “natural resources” need to be mined, from oil (to create the plastic casing), copper, solder, iron, ferrite, nickel, silver, gold, palladium, and other metals for the circuit board, and many more. Each component is shipped many times from distributor to distributor halfway around the globe during the production process and then finally to distributors across Canada for their final journey: To your home.

Normally, you may be buying this item along with other items during the same shopping trip (one trip). If you order all of these items separately, however, they’ll be shipped from warehouses across Canada to your home (many trips). Each package also uses up natural “resources,” such as trees for the cardboard box and oil for the foam packaging material, and each box takes up more room in the delivery plane or truck than a whole palette that is being shipped to a store near you.

No wonder, then, that transportation accounts for 25% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.

And that’s just for the acquisition. When this device eventually breaks down beyond repair after a couple of years, the device will likely be shipped to an electrical graveyard in a third-world country, where we’re told it will be recycled, which is, in most cases, a lie. Components that consist of multiple fused materials (e.g. metal and plastic or various plastics together) cannot be recycled but even if they could be, it is often cheaper to produce new plastic than to “recycle” old ones.

All that, so that this smart device can turn on the lights for you remotely or look up the answer to a question you may pose.

So be mindful about what products you buy and how you buy them. Lowering our environmental impact requires weening ourselves of convenience.

Happy Earth Day wishes the WasteLess Society Team

What can we do to fight climate change on an individual level?

What can we do to fight climate change on an individual level?

Already today but certainly increasingly in the future, climate change is impacting our natural environment, food sources, and infrastructure across the globe. The magnitude of these effects is growing every year and there is an increasing awareness that drastic actions on an individual basis are just as needed as on a governmental and corporate level.

We can, to some degree, influence our governments by electing leaders that we feel truly represented by and through petitions and demonstrations. And we can, to some degree, also influence corporate actions through boycotts, buycotts, and choosing our employers carefully.

But a shift needs to happen for each and every one of us, if we wish to guarantee a livable planet for future generations.

Last month, the IPCC published its Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability report, which features a dire outlook for our future. So, for those of you who are not too eager to read a 3,600+ pages report, we’re summarising the key findings below and finish this article with a Top 10 list of actions each one of us can start making a habit. The faster we advance by limiting our consumption and becoming a WasteLess Society, the better the chances for survival will be for the children that grow up today.

Please join our WasteLess Society in this endeavour and as always, feel free to share our resources

Even though creating the Guides is very labour-intensive, we make them available for free to speed up learning in our communities to give you and your loved ones everything you need to make better, WasteLess decisions. You can thank us by spreading the word! 

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What is the IPCC Assessment Report?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. It was established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Its objective is to provide governments, organisations, and individuals with scientific information to form a baseline for climate action and the development of climate policies. Every few years, the IPCC publishes a report with an update on the current state of climate change and prognosis for the future.

1990 (FAR): The first of these reports was published in 1990 and played an important role in the creation of the UNFCCC, which is the key international treaty to reduce global warming.

1995 (SAR): The second report formed a methodological base for governments preparing for the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

2001 (TAR): The Third Assessment Report again highlighted the impacts of climate change and the importance for adjusting policies and behaviours.

2007 (AR4): The fourth report focused on the need to limit global warming to a maximum of 2°C.

2014 (AR5): This fifth report supplied an important scientific base for the Paris Agreement in 2015, which aims to keep global warming by 2100 to below 2 °C, with 1.5 °C as a target.

2022 (AR6): This six report was released and it stresses, in just what dire situation we’re in since the effects of climate change are accelerating beyond their previous prognosis. This report will be our focus for the summary below.

Summary of the IPCC Assessment Report

The recent PCC Assessment Report found that “the extent and magnitude of climate change impacts are larger than estimated in previous assessments.”

These impacts are felt in many ways:

  • It reduces our ability to grow nutritious food or provide sufficient clean drinking water, which in turn affects people’s health and well-being.
  • Increasing heat and extreme weather are causing plants and animals, both on land and in the ocean, to migrate towards cooler areas in our global North and South, to higher altitudes, or deeper areas in our oceans. This migration of plants and animals also impacts the timing of key biological events such as breeding and flowering, which in turn impacts food chains and the entire ecosystem.
  • Many species cannot adapt quickly enough or migrate fast enough and thus face extinction.
  • Since we are part of nature’s ecosystem, these events also impact our own sources of food.
  • Changes in temperature and rainfall cause severe droughts in many regions across the globe and cause devastating floods in others. This increased the frequency and spread of diseases that impact people, wildlife, and also agriculture and thus again affect our food supply.
  • Longer wildfire seasons increase the surface area that burns during the hot months, which in turn further intensifies the stresses on wildlife, human health, and also agriculture.
  • The occurrences of water shortages are increasing in many regions across the globe, which further impacts our global food supply, access to clean drinking water, as well as energy production from hydroelectric power plants.

The report clarifies that “globally, climate change is increasingly causing injuries, illness, malnutrition, threats to physical and mental health and well-being, and even deaths. It is making hot areas even hotter and drastically reducing the time people can spend outside, which means that some outdoor workers cannot work the required hours and thus will earn less.”

It becomes apparent that the impacts of climate change are multifaceted and will impact our food and water supply, and our infrastructures and energy production.

While many individuals, communities, and businesses have begun adapting to climate change, the Working Group identified large gaps between ongoing efforts, and the required adaptation efforts. With every increment of warming, the effectiveness of our efforts to offset climate change decreases and therefore a more urgent and ambitious action is required to quickly and effectively cut our emissions of greenhouse gases. The faster and more drastically we manage to reduce these emissions, the more capacity there is for people and nature to adapt.

According to the report, it is now clear that “minor, marginal, reactive or incremental changes won’t be sufficient.”

What can we do on an individual level?

Here are 10 things we can do on an individual basis to fight climate change.

  1. Boycott greedy corporations who put their own profits ahead of our global objectives. This includes corporations who are resistant to adapt to a “reuse” economy and rely on single-use, fossil fuels, etc. Boycott does not simply mean not buying products from these corporations, it also implies not buying their stocks and not working for these companies until they truly embrace their social responsibility (as opposed to greenwashing where they extensively highlight one thing that they do well and drown out any evidence of the things they do poorly).
  2. Cut down on convenience, since convenience has a large environmental cost.
  3. Have fewer children to curb overpopulation and secure food and water reserves for future generations.
  4. Reduce consumption. This includes our consumption of food, water, energy, and other “stuff.” We have created valuable guides and are making them available for free to help our society grow. Pick a few points at a time and commit to them until they become a habit (usually around 3 months).
  5. Have difficult conversations. There will always be some resistance to change but we all need to educate ourselves and one another. Be brave!
  6. Think collaboration, not competition. We’re all in this together and even though it may be easy to fall into a competitive “me-first” mindset when facing a potential extinction-level event, while there is still time to change and adapt, we need to embrace collaboration instead. It may feel counterintuitive, since we’ve been coerced to out-compete our peers since our early school days, but the reality is that a collaborative mindset will get us further and much faster than a competitive mindset. So, let’s embrace it!
  7. Work less for organisations and more for the community. If you are using your consumption you will be able to also cut down the amount of time you will be working for an organization, which will free up some of your time to get engaged in your community and start building relationships that will make all of us stronger.
  8. Learn to grow food and save the seeds. Climate change has already started to impact our food supply and will continue to do so. With every incremental increase in temperature, this challenge will increase, also. If you do have some space, even just a little window sill or balcony, try to start some seeds and learn how to grow some of your food yourself. In addition, consider starting a petition to convert public parks into growing heavens for vegis and fruits. The more self-sufficient we are as a society, the easier it will be to face the future. In addition, food self-sufficiency will cut down on the import of food from elsewhere, and thus further curb greenhouse gas emissions. Feeding one person, requires approximately 4,000 square feet of space, so the more unused spaces that can be converted into growing food, the better off we’ll be in the future.
  9. Don’t replace, repair. In our society the knowledge to repair things is fading, so start attending repair cafés whenever you have time and claim back those skills. They will likely come in handy in the future.
  10. Educate yourself on how to REDUCE:

It’s our mission is to help Canadians
waste less
by learning to truly reduce consumption and breaking free from wasteful habits!

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