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.
Table of Contents
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