$ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Questions on how we spend our money and our time - consumer goods and services, home and vehicle, leisure and recreational activities
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4nursebee
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$ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by 4nursebee » Fri May 17, 2019 9:49 am

Feel free to suggest a better subject heading, was not sure how to word it.

Consumer product choices increasingly seem to offer slightly intangible benefits. Many choices are available in the food aisles: Organic, free range, non GMO, etc.. One can also choose to buy greener cars: Hybrids, Electric, CNG. Energy choices about with HVAC systems that are much more efficient, solar for off or nearly off grid living perhaps with battery back up, or even water coolant ground source heat pumps. I guess that there are many more items to consider but each of these seem to offer consumer products that have an increased financial cost up front with some "feel good" benefit.

Some of these choices I find easy to make, with solar on our house, but this came down to economic benefit. The system has now paid for itself and will continue to add benefit. I find other consumer choices don't offer the same clear benefits. I look at grass fed beef as having less fat than prime grade so would rather buy prime grade traditional corn fattened product. If we buy eggs we try to buy local from someone that has chickens, just because we like the taste better. I love the idea of a Tesla electric car, especially since we could charge on our solar, but fail to see the economic benefit otherwise. Having said that, we find that modern car safety features are near priceless (lane departure, TACC) due to the potential to save from traumas but again, these are difficult to price in without being an actuary.

How do you evaluate such consumer choices?
What do you pay up for now for what perceived benefit?
Why buy a better newer product when the old one is doing just fine? (cars, phones, computers)

Thank you for your thoughts and insights.
4nursebee

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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by Caduceus » Fri May 17, 2019 10:02 am

A few principles I'm trying to apply to my life:

Buy less and buy used. I try very hard these days to only buy things which are practical (it is hard for me because I love art) and that I know I will use. Instead of asking if you should get A or B, maybe ask if you should get neither. Same thing for food; eating less for most people is healthy anyway - I see a lot of fat people on the street. It's getting worse and worse.

The other thing is to buy used, especially items that others will not buy. I just paid for three scratched up plastic containers to store some of my stuff even though they look ugly because I know no one else will buy/use them, and they are still functional. You don't have to go that far - but anytime you can buy something used from someone instead of something new, that's good I think.

Really use up the life of the objects you have. My previous laptop lasted me for 8 years. My current one is 4 years old, but unfortunately is starting to show some signs of wear/failure. Same thing for clothes and blankets - don't buy new ones unless there's a good reason. Many Bogleheads here are still using the Iphone 5. No need to switch to the latest Iphone or whatever electronic gadget just because others are doing it. I'm sure others have done a study, but the velocity of our purchases must have improved in the last two decades.

I am astounded and was disgusted by the amount of new stuff people throw out. In graduate school, I furnished an entire apartment from stuff people threw out in the dumpster - some very, very nice stuff. Like-new couches, an antique dining table I later sold for $125, lamps, etc.

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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by Dottie57 » Fri May 17, 2019 10:05 am

I find that not everything needs to be financially beneficial. Cars - I go for reasonable safety - new safety tech is worthwhile. Recycling is big. Food -never bought organic and prices are high -so no.

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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by michaeljc70 » Fri May 17, 2019 10:14 am

I don't buy organic as it hasn't been proven to be better for you and it is probably not better (and maybe even worse) for the environment.

I know how to cook and find that how well you can cook makes a much bigger difference than if the chicken was free range organic or the eggs were such and such. Again, though more natural, they take more resources and are probably worse for the environment. There is often a situation of what is better for the animal is not better for the environment.

As to cars, I don't drive that much (around 5k miles/year), so I don't give that much thought. I certainly wouldn't mind having an electric car when more choices are available and prices are more reasonable. Where you get your electricity from makes a difference here in terms of environmental impact.

I think a lot of things people think they are doing to save the planet aren't really doing that. In general, I try to live reasonably and not be wasteful with resources.

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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by stoptothink » Fri May 17, 2019 10:45 am

michaeljc70 wrote:
Fri May 17, 2019 10:14 am
I don't buy organic as it hasn't been proven to be better for you and it is probably not better (and maybe even worse) for the environment.

I know how to cook and find that how well you can cook makes a much bigger difference than if the chicken was free range organic or the eggs were such and such. Again, though more natural, they take more resources and are probably worse for the environment. There is often a situation of what is better for the animal is not better for the environment.

As to cars, I don't drive that much (around 5k miles/year), so I don't give that much thought. I certainly wouldn't mind having an electric car when more choices are available and prices are more reasonable. Where you get your electricity from makes a difference here in terms of environmental impact.

I think a lot of things people think they are doing to save the planet aren't really doing that. In general, I try to live reasonably and not be wasteful with resources.
Almost exactly my thoughts. I'm in the nutrition/health field, my (evidence-based) opinion is that marketing health claims are fantastic for one thing: separating you from your money. I eat a "cleaner", less processed, diet than just about anybody you'll ever meet, but I'm not paying a premium for organic, grass fed, free range, anything.

We share a car. I walk commute and take my bike almost everywhere else (library, grocery store, parks). I doubt we'll buy another ICE car, but that is primarily because we drive so little and have a newer car (3yrs old, ~25k miles). We're probably looking at another 8-10yrs before we are looking at a new vehicle. At this point I am not convinced at all that electric vehicles are (when evaluating the entire picture) actually better for the environment, but I like the idea of little to no engine maintenance, instant torque, and filling up in my garage.

My employer makes billions of dollars a year off tugging at people's heart strings; getting them to buy products they otherwise would not because of a story, making them feel as if they are responsible humans. "Natural, organic, responsibly-sourced, not tested on pets..." I am not my employer's consumer base at all. We are quite minimalist, myself much more than my wife, and I evaluate the available evidence and how it directly impacts my family's overall health (physical, financial); that's the extent of my product-buying process.

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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by ronno2018 » Fri May 17, 2019 11:24 am

I think a low consumption lifestyle is great, biking everywhere is great (new ebikes are amazing). I am also sceptical of organic and non-gmo marketing. I also think living in a denser transit friendly neighborhood is great. I struggle with the impact of international travel which I love to do. I have bought air transport carbon offsets occasionally and need to read up on their effectiveness.

Sadly I think our personal lifestyle decisions pale in comparison to what we can do politically to save the planet and humanity. Hopefully more progress will be made in that area soon.

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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by Fallible » Fri May 17, 2019 11:38 am

Good questions, no easy answers. And it's about all consumer products, not just the environmental-related.

Some consumers will, as you are doing here, question company claims about their products and some try to learn more about those claims by researching them before buying (as I often do if there is good, independent research). This is important with all consumer products, but especially those with claims that appeal to emotions (as most do), and to altruism, such as environmental good, improving animal treatment (why I buy "cage-free" eggs at a slightly higher price), and healthier foods (why I sometimes pay more for organic foods).

Warren Buffett has said, "Whether socks or stocks, I like buying quality merchandise when it is marked down.” But to know what is "quality" and whether a price is sufficiently "marked down," consumers need to be skeptical, questioning, do the research and due diligence, before buying.
John Bogle on his often bumpy road to low-cost indexing: "When a door closes, if you look long enough and hard enough, if you're strong enough, you'll find a window that opens."

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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by rj342 » Fri May 17, 2019 11:44 am

Just adding a few things ( I may think of more and come back :o )

1. The argument for grass fed beef is NOT that it is a bit leaner, although it is, but because the fats that ARE in it are more of the good fats: grass fed shifts the fatty acid balance toward anti-inflammatory Omega 3, while corn fed leans inflammatory Omega 6 (because of the corn, just like all the vegetable oils). You do want to pay attention to fully 'grass fed' vs 'grass finished' beef -- obviously the former better but more expensive. Its always about the tradeoffs.

2. Agree with the others about 'organic' not really being healthier per se. Less processed is what you should be aiming for IMO. "Organic' is less efficient than modern farming, so it needs more land and fresh water to get similar yield, so how is that magically better for the environment? Also note that 'organic' is not even necessarily free of pesticides, as pyrethrins are considered 'organic' but can still make you sick. Factor in poorly composted organic fertilizer (poo) and produce contamination. Plus organic is priced even higher than it should ideally be in terms of higher costs of production due to the trendy factor.

3. In general the dumb "Natural" = good/harmless meme (so anything articial is bad) annoys me -- there is plenty in nature that can make you sick or dead. Example, plenty of herbal supplements, things we did NOT evolve consuming, at higher doses can cause liver damage etc. Not a reason to avoid taking them, but the simplistic Nature thing is nonsense.

4. For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about estimating environmental impact, the market based price actually usually IS a pretty good indicator, at least where trendiness or fashion, or govt subsidies don't distort it too much. Think about it -- the *cost* that went into manufacturing an item (usually largest component of the price for commodity items) already accounts for energy and materials -- and the raw materials cost reflect their extraction. Yes there are externalities like pollution in less regulated areas (which BTW make electric cars look worse), but price is a good first pass approximation. Of course for things with complex use like a car you need to look at TCO

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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by ohai » Fri May 17, 2019 12:08 pm

Organic food actually has a higher environmental cost than non organic food, as its crop yields per area are lower. So, it turns out that the carbon footprint of organic food is higher. I have not seen any study that conclusively shows the health benefit of organic food either. So, overall, I don't know how to calculate the economic or other impact of organic food, other than the higher cost that I pay for it.

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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by dm200 » Fri May 17, 2019 12:11 pm

Primarily for my own health benefits, I now consume very little animal products.

It turns out this is also beneficial to the environment.

I ignore organic or not.

I also look into things that are the "common wisdom" of environmentalists. For example, I have concluded that Styrofoam cups may not be any worse than paper if the cups end up in a landfill.

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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by psteinx » Fri May 17, 2019 12:19 pm

rj342 wrote:
Fri May 17, 2019 11:44 am
4. For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about estimating environmental impact, the market based price actually usually IS a pretty good indicator, at least where trendiness or fashion, or govt subsidies don't distort it too much. Think about it -- the *cost* that went into manufacturing an item (usually largest component of the price for commodity items) already accounts for energy and materials -- and the raw materials cost reflect their extraction. Yes there are externalities like pollution in less regulated areas (which BTW make electric cars look worse), but price is a good first pass approximation. Of course for things with complex use like a car you need to look at TCO
I think there's a pretty strong argument that the climate harms of carbon emissions are VERY underpriced to the end consumer, and thus a consumer who does care about such things may want to estimate such harms and try to take them into account in their consumption patterns.

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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by TomatoTomahto » Fri May 17, 2019 12:31 pm

psteinx wrote:
Fri May 17, 2019 12:19 pm
rj342 wrote:
Fri May 17, 2019 11:44 am
4. For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about estimating environmental impact, the market based price actually usually IS a pretty good indicator, at least where trendiness or fashion, or govt subsidies don't distort it too much. Think about it -- the *cost* that went into manufacturing an item (usually largest component of the price for commodity items) already accounts for energy and materials -- and the raw materials cost reflect their extraction. Yes there are externalities like pollution in less regulated areas (which BTW make electric cars look worse), but price is a good first pass approximation. Of course for things with complex use like a car you need to look at TCO
I think there's a pretty strong argument that the climate harms of carbon emissions are VERY underpriced to the end consumer, and thus a consumer who does care about such things may want to estimate such harms and try to take them into account in their consumption patterns.
This. Tragedy of the commons, externalities, etc.

Additionally, I find that some “off spreadsheet” factors help make my decisions. My ASHP (air sourced heat pump) friends call me a well-intentioned idiot for installing geothermal (GSHP or GSHE, ground sourced heat pump or exchanger). They tell me I could have 90% of the benefit for half the price. When you drill down a bit ( :) ), it turns out that the joy of getting rid of oil tanks and oil furnace counts as 0 in their calculations (not to mention the looming oil burner repair), and they don’t price the value of steady cooling in summer, or the almost silent running, etc.

Being carbon neutral (or better) this year increases my joy in being alive. That, btw, is not a political statement (heaven forbid!), but is an expression of my consumer right to a choice.
Okay, I get it; I won't be political or controversial. The Earth is flat.

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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by mega317 » Fri May 17, 2019 12:32 pm

Consumer product choices increasingly seem to offer slightly intangible benefits.
I don't think you mean intangible. If you want to make the case that something is better for your health or the environment, that is tangible. Even if you as an individual can't see or don't know how to evaluate the effect.

In general my strategy is that I pay for what I want if I can afford it. We buy some more expensive foods, like your egg example, because we like the taste. We are fortunate that saving 5% or 10% or even 90% on our grocery bill would not make a meaningful impact to our lives. I don't buy a new product when the old one is doing just fine. In fact I just revived my nearly unusable 2009 Macbook Pro with a 15 dollar used SSD and a clean install of an upgraded OS. My other laptop snapped at the hinge and while perfectly usable was a royal pain to open and close, so it's worth it to me to replace.
modern car safety features are near priceless
I don't agree with that. There was a very interesting discussion on this forum recently about how to calculate the benefit of these features, but I think we can agree that the line is somewhere below the value of your life. If deciding between two otherwise identical cars, would you pay an extra $10,000 for all the modern safety features? $100k? It's just an example of how these decisions are subjective and not only limited to economic analysis.

For the benefit of the OP I suggest we steer away from arguing about the health benefits of various foods, that will get the thread locked.

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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by bryanm » Fri May 17, 2019 12:42 pm

psteinx wrote:
Fri May 17, 2019 12:19 pm
rj342 wrote:
Fri May 17, 2019 11:44 am
4. For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about estimating environmental impact, the market based price actually usually IS a pretty good indicator, at least where trendiness or fashion, or govt subsidies don't distort it too much. Think about it -- the *cost* that went into manufacturing an item (usually largest component of the price for commodity items) already accounts for energy and materials -- and the raw materials cost reflect their extraction. Yes there are externalities like pollution in less regulated areas (which BTW make electric cars look worse), but price is a good first pass approximation. Of course for things with complex use like a car you need to look at TCO
I think there's a pretty strong argument that the climate harms of carbon emissions are VERY underpriced to the end consumer, and thus a consumer who does care about such things may want to estimate such harms and try to take them into account in their consumption patterns.
Agreed. I struggle most with instances in which (I believe) economic incentives don't align with my ethical views. It creates a classic freerider problem, where I can either choose to reap benefits of an overall negative system, or choose to watch others reap the benefits "unfairly." One obvious answer is to vote for systems that I believe are more fair. In the meantime, I try to balance the systematic "unfairness" I create by freeriding against the cost of doing so. In an ideal world, perhaps I would always choose the systematically "fair" option, but that isn't always the case in practice.

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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by psteinx » Fri May 17, 2019 1:03 pm

BTW, my statement (underpricing of carbon emissions) applies mainly to the US. While it might be true elsewhere, I think many countries, whether for environmental or other reasons, tax gas much higher and at least on that item get somewhat closer to charging a price that reflects environmental harms.

And, while this issue inherently has some political connotations, I think it's fair to consider, and discuss on BH, ethics or impacts on others as one of the factors of consumption. Ethical considerations of financial and consumer choices, above and beyond legal requirements, are not uncommon elements of discussions here, and the range of attributes considered in consumer purchase decisions is broad. The "always buy a 5 year old Corolla - it's the cheapest" claim is more in-joke than reality about such discussions on BH...

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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by bryanm » Fri May 17, 2019 1:07 pm

mega317 wrote:
Fri May 17, 2019 12:32 pm
modern car safety features are near priceless
I don't agree with that. There was a very interesting discussion on this forum recently about how to calculate the benefit of these features, but I think we can agree that the line is somewhere below the value of your life. If deciding between two otherwise identical cars, would you pay an extra $10,000 for all the modern safety features? $100k? It's just an example of how these decisions are subjective and not only limited to economic analysis.
This reminds me of an anecdote sometimes attributed to George Bernard Shaw. The anecdote might be inappropriate for the forum, but it ends with "Now we're just haggling over the price."

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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by CommitmentDevice » Fri May 17, 2019 1:10 pm

Environmental stewardship matters
If humanity's newspaper only came out twice a century, the latest one would have two headlines on the front page. The first would be a celebration of human development (reductions in poverty, illiteracy and malnutrition, increases in lifespan!). The second headline would be lamenting that all of earths major environmental systems (upon which human thriving depends) are in unprecedented decline. The two headlines are connected. Much of our human development has been at the expense of our natural environment, and yet our long term thriving as a species is threatened by our environment's decline. https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2017 ... -newspaper

The second biggest challenge I face in environmental stewardship is knowledge
There are so many chemicals that haven't been rigorously studied in isolation, let alone in combination. For example, it took scientists a decade to figure out what was causing bee colonies to collapse. There is just so much uncertainty around the costs and benefits of certain stewardship behaviors. Like, maybe taking an airplane flight is 1K worse for the environment than eating meat for a year, and 1M times worse than recycling for a year. Or maybe not. I just don't know. Worse, sometimes what we think is beneficial has negative secondary effects that outweigh. Worst of all, I don't have much of an incentive to really find out, which leads me to...

The number one challenge I face in environmental stewardship is incentives alignment
Poor environmental stewardship is a dispersed cost but a concentrated benefit. Tragedy of the commons at a global scale. As long as it is essentially free for me to pollute (I pay roughly seven-billionth the cost of my individual contribution to climate change, for example), I will rationally disregard the collective environmental impacts of my individual behaviors. We humans know how to design markets that correct for negative externalities and overcome collective action problems (Montreal Protocol around CFCs!). However, it is tough going, especially for global scale problems.

My family buys organic because we believe it is better for our health and the environment
  • People make purchasing decisions based upon a complex array of factors ranging from one's values/culture/position/experiences/context to perhaps even one's genome (sweet vs savory, etc). So we can expect disagreement around what is and isn't a good purchasing decision.
  • From my perspective (informed by my values/culture/position/etc.), eating organic is better for one's health and the environment. The degree of "better" is very uncertain, but we have decided that it is most likely worth the expense.
  • My wife and I have a combined ~18 years of higher education between us, a decent chunk of which is in healthcare, so our meaning making mechanisms have some rigor to them. However, as with most issues, education isn't everything and you can certainly find highly educated folks on both sides of the debate.
The most important contribution I can make to the environment, however, isn't changing my individual purchasing decisions. It is contributing to better alignment between individual incentives and collective needs.
Sure, I recycle, but it feels a bit like pissing in the wind. Real, sustainable change comes from realigning incentives so it costs to pollute.

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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by 4nursebee » Fri May 17, 2019 1:46 pm

mega317 wrote:
Fri May 17, 2019 12:32 pm
Consumer product choices increasingly seem to offer slightly intangible benefits.
I don't think you mean intangible. If you want to make the case that something is better for your health or the environment, that is tangible. Even if you as an individual can't see or don't know how to evaluate the effect.

In general my strategy is that I pay for what I want if I can afford it. We buy some more expensive foods, like your egg example, because we like the taste. We are fortunate that saving 5% or 10% or even 90% on our grocery bill would not make a meaningful impact to our lives. I don't buy a new product when the old one is doing just fine. In fact I just revived my nearly unusable 2009 Macbook Pro with a 15 dollar used SSD and a clean install of an upgraded OS. My other laptop snapped at the hinge and while perfectly usable was a royal pain to open and close, so it's worth it to me to replace.
modern car safety features are near priceless
I don't agree with that. There was a very interesting discussion on this forum recently about how to calculate the benefit of these features, but I think we can agree that the line is somewhere below the value of your life. If deciding between two otherwise identical cars, would you pay an extra $10,000 for all the modern safety features? $100k? It's just an example of how these decisions are subjective and not only limited to economic analysis.

For the benefit of the OP I suggest we steer away from arguing about the health benefits of various foods, that will get the thread locked.

On tangible vs intangible, it comes down to the ease of calculating things in a financial sense. My perception of taste and quality in a local egg is not something that can easily be made part of the financial figuring. Same goes for figuring carbon footprint type stuff.

On safety features being priceless, I mean exactly that. I can walk thru a 40 bed trauma unit with everyday examples of lives changed that did nto have to suffer if their cars had some of the simple readily available safety features. There are no cars with $100,000 features that add to safety but there are cars with safety features that for now add a few thousand to the price.

I agree that some decisions are subjective, trying to figure out how people take these things into consideration in their own lives.
4nursebee

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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by TomatoTomahto » Fri May 17, 2019 1:47 pm

bryanm wrote:
Fri May 17, 2019 1:07 pm
mega317 wrote:
Fri May 17, 2019 12:32 pm
modern car safety features are near priceless
I don't agree with that. There was a very interesting discussion on this forum recently about how to calculate the benefit of these features, but I think we can agree that the line is somewhere below the value of your life. If deciding between two otherwise identical cars, would you pay an extra $10,000 for all the modern safety features? $100k? It's just an example of how these decisions are subjective and not only limited to economic analysis.
This reminds me of an anecdote sometimes attributed to George Bernard Shaw. The anecdote might be inappropriate for the forum, but it ends with "Now we're just haggling over the price."
https://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/03/07/haggling/ wrote:The role of the character initiating the proposal in this anecdote has been assigned to George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill, Groucho Marx, Mark Twain, W.C. Fields, Bertrand Russell, H.G. Wells, Woodrow Wilson and others.]
I always thought it was Churchill.
Okay, I get it; I won't be political or controversial. The Earth is flat.

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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by 4nursebee » Fri May 17, 2019 1:57 pm

CommitmentDevice wrote:
Fri May 17, 2019 1:10 pm
Environmental stewardship matters
If humanity's newspaper only came out twice a century, the latest one would have two headlines on the front page. The first would be a celebration of human development (reductions in poverty, illiteracy and malnutrition, increases in lifespan!). The second headline would be lamenting that all of earths major environmental systems (upon which human thriving depends) are in unprecedented decline. The two headlines are connected. Much of our human development has been at the expense of our natural environment, and yet our long term thriving as a species is threatened by our environment's decline. https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2017 ... -newspaper

The second biggest challenge I face in environmental stewardship is knowledge
There are so many chemicals that haven't been rigorously studied in isolation, let alone in combination. For example, it took scientists a decade to figure out what was causing bee colonies to collapse. There is just so much uncertainty around the costs and benefits of certain stewardship behaviors. Like, maybe taking an airplane flight is 1K worse for the environment than eating meat for a year, and 1M times worse than recycling for a year. Or maybe not. I just don't know. Worse, sometimes what we think is beneficial has negative secondary effects that outweigh. Worst of all, I don't have much of an incentive to really find out, which leads me to...

The number one challenge I face in environmental stewardship is incentives alignment
Poor environmental stewardship is a dispersed cost but a concentrated benefit. Tragedy of the commons at a global scale. As long as it is essentially free for me to pollute (I pay roughly seven-billionth the cost of my individual contribution to climate change, for example), I will rationally disregard the collective environmental impacts of my individual behaviors. We humans know how to design markets that correct for negative externalities and overcome collective action problems (Montreal Protocol around CFCs!). However, it is tough going, especially for global scale problems.

My family buys organic because we believe it is better for our health and the environment
  • People make purchasing decisions based upon a complex array of factors ranging from one's values/culture/position/experiences/context to perhaps even one's genome (sweet vs savory, etc). So we can expect disagreement around what is and isn't a good purchasing decision.
  • From my perspective (informed by my values/culture/position/etc.), eating organic is better for one's health and the environment. The degree of "better" is very uncertain, but we have decided that it is most likely worth the expense.
  • My wife and I have a combined ~18 years of higher education between us, a decent chunk of which is in healthcare, so our meaning making mechanisms have some rigor to them. However, as with most issues, education isn't everything and you can certainly find highly educated folks on both sides of the debate.
The most important contribution I can make to the environment, however, isn't changing my individual purchasing decisions. It is contributing to better alignment between individual incentives and collective needs.
Sure, I recycle, but it feels a bit like pissing in the wind. Real, sustainable change comes from realigning incentives so it costs to pollute.

Interesting and well written.

I don't think scientists understand colony collapse disorder yet...
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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by 4nursebee » Fri May 17, 2019 2:03 pm

I agree that discussions of health claims and similar ought not become the focus of such discussion. I do think individuals can write about how they think of them economically in decision making.

This was discussed some so linked here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons
and also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Externality

Sure, aligning incentives with actual costs is a good way to go but does not help with the decision making one has to make day to day. Or, it does not help me how to think and regard such things in my life.
Last edited by 4nursebee on Fri May 17, 2019 2:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by TomatoTomahto » Fri May 17, 2019 2:12 pm

I thank my wife, who has continued to work well beyond FI, for giving us the financial wherewithal so that I can apply my views of what X is worth, where X is some tangible/intangible factor (eg, safety, environmental, tastiness, etc).
Okay, I get it; I won't be political or controversial. The Earth is flat.

jbranx
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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by jbranx » Fri May 17, 2019 3:38 pm

{I deleted an off-topic post.}

TheMadEph
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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by TheMadEph » Fri May 17, 2019 3:58 pm

Caduceus wrote:
Fri May 17, 2019 10:02 am
A few principles I'm trying to apply to my life:

Buy less and buy used. I try very hard these days to only buy things which are practical (it is hard for me because I love art) and that I know I will use. Instead of asking if you should get A or B, maybe ask if you should get neither. Same thing for food; eating less for most people is healthy anyway - I see a lot of fat people on the street. It's getting worse and worse.

The other thing is to buy used, especially items that others will not buy. I just paid for three scratched up plastic containers to store some of my stuff even though they look ugly because I know no one else will buy/use them, and they are still functional. You don't have to go that far - but anytime you can buy something used from someone instead of something new, that's good I think.

Really use up the life of the objects you have. My previous laptop lasted me for 8 years. My current one is 4 years old, but unfortunately is starting to show some signs of wear/failure. Same thing for clothes and blankets - don't buy new ones unless there's a good reason. Many Bogleheads here are still using the Iphone 5. No need to switch to the latest Iphone or whatever electronic gadget just because others are doing it. I'm sure others have done a study, but the velocity of our purchases must have improved in the last two decades.

I am astounded and was disgusted by the amount of new stuff people throw out. In graduate school, I furnished an entire apartment from stuff people threw out in the dumpster - some very, very nice stuff. Like-new couches, an antique dining table I later sold for $125, lamps, etc.
+1,
Regardless of what you are buying, buying used will almost always have less of an environmental impact (some counterpoints I can think of are older gas guzzling cars vs. electric vehicle; maybe some older refrigerators/freezers etc. which are dreadfully inefficient). But then of course, it will also depend on your local source of electricity (e.g. coal fired PP vs. hydro vs. house mounted solar). I have made sure to outfit the vast majority of first house and all of our second house (oh the irony!!!) with goodwill, craigslist, and yard sale stuff. I think the main thing is that it takes time to look at stuff, wait for good things to appear, and put in a little bit of elbow grease to fix/paint/stain and move things around. Not as easy as getting a custom made italian sofa delivered and set up in your house. Carbon impact aside, i also love it because there are amazing deals out there always.
We break a lot of wine glasses (clumsiness cleaning the next day mainly, not drunkenness :beer ), and i find great ones for 50cents a piece at the goodwill whenever i stop by for something else. Last benefit is that a lot of things at goodwill/habitat for humanity stores are better made - they have lasted a while and were good enough to be resold - they probably have a lot more life in them. Though caveat emptor always....

GAAP
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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by GAAP » Sat May 18, 2019 10:21 am

I don't find any of these to be purely economic decisions -- and even if they were, there are other, hard to measure economic benefits from some of them.

Choosing leaner meat, for example, may mean reduced medical expenses or improved general health later -- good luck finding the numbers for the cost/benefit on purely economic basis.

Choosing organic food may provide some protection against future "discoveries" around non-organic chemicals used in agriculture -- glyphosate being the most recent example. Again, good luck putting a price on that.

To me, these decisions come down to personal beliefs and values as much as economics -- but are also similar to economic decisions that balance current desires (economic:new car, non-economic: better tasting beef) vs longer term desires (economic: retirement or non-economic: better health). Trying to use economic measures for non-economic decisions will only lead to frustration.
“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” ― Bruce Lee

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4nursebee
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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by 4nursebee » Sat May 18, 2019 10:31 am

GAAP wrote:
Sat May 18, 2019 10:21 am
I don't find any of these to be purely economic decisions -- and even if they were, there are other, hard to measure economic benefits from some of them.

Choosing leaner meat, for example, may mean reduced medical expenses or improved general health later -- good luck finding the numbers for the cost/benefit on purely economic basis.

Choosing organic food may provide some protection against future "discoveries" around non-organic chemicals used in agriculture -- glyphosate being the most recent example. Again, good luck putting a price on that.

To me, these decisions come down to personal beliefs and values as much as economics -- but are also similar to economic decisions that balance current desires (economic:new car, non-economic: better tasting beef) vs longer term desires (economic: retirement or non-economic: better health). Trying to use economic measures for non-economic decisions will only lead to frustration.

I was just coming in to ask if it just comes down to beliefs and values?

I was really hoping for more on how people decide on such matters as we are reaching the point financially where we can expand our horizons on consumer purchases and not just get the best short term items.

Anyone else?
4nursebee

TBillT
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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by TBillT » Sat May 18, 2019 1:39 pm

I have a personal sense of environmental stewardship that I go by, developed over a lifetime of expereince. I am an engineer so my attiitudes, which used to be liberal, but the lIberals have gone way left of me.

We bought a Prius in 2006 because it was reliable, cheap to own, got 50 MPG, and had oodles of space for family, and as a hedge to higher gasoline prices. Also as an engineer i felt it was a great solution to blend the best of gasollne and elec cars. Normally I will buy a USA car unless there is something special that I need and cannot get, in this case I felt the Prius was justified becuase we wanted to be sheltered from high pump price, and at that time Prius was unique in that regard. Not to mention conserving gasoline/natural resources.

But a hybrid is generally going to cost you about $3000-4000 extra, so although in the long term you save money, you have to step up to the plate when you make that purchase. LED light bulbs same idea. Often you do not need to sacrifice what you want, but you might need to look at longer term cost savings, and it is a lost opportunity if we take the short term $$ view of immediate cost savongs.

Quaestner
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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by Quaestner » Sat May 18, 2019 4:08 pm

William MacAskill's "Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Help Others, Do Work that Matters, and Make Smarter Choices about Giving Back" was a book that helped me think about some of these issues. Sometimes the ROI is higher when I don't spend on myself.

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DanMahowny
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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by DanMahowny » Sat May 18, 2019 4:49 pm

nevermind
Funding secured

CommitmentDevice
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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by CommitmentDevice » Sat May 18, 2019 5:26 pm

I'm thinking of your question as "what are the most impactful actions I can take in my day-to-day life to reduce my environmental footprint?"

My armchair answer is:
  • Vote for policies that make it expensive to pollute. When the full environmental cost of something is internalized in its price then the laws of supply and demand do a pretty good job of balancing environmental needs with consumer preferences.
  • Consider some lifestyle changes. I suspect that the single most impactful decision would be to reduce the amount of animal products you consume, followed perhaps by curbing air travel and consumer purchases or driving. I found this article after a few minutes of Googling - probably merits some scrutiny but seems to be framing the problem correctly: https://www.thoughtco.com/important-thi ... nt-1203550
  • Set up a recurring donation to causes you believe in. https://www.givewell.org/ has a list of heavily researched/vetted charities that offer great ROI if you're looking to invest in human development. I bet that there is a similar watchdog out there listing top evidence based environmental charities.
  • Maybe look into carbon offsets to get yourself carbon neutral.

Trism
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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by Trism » Mon May 27, 2019 8:36 am

I respect whatever you choose to do in this area, as long as you don't wag your finger at me for my choices.

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fortfun
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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by fortfun » Mon May 27, 2019 8:55 am

1. I have solar panels as the monthly lease is the same as the old electric bill. So that was easy.

2. We don't buy much organic. Too expensive and not proven. Probably worse for the environment as it is less efficient (to feed 7 billion mouths).

3. We mostly stopped eating beef. Not great for your health or the environment. Have reduced meat intake.

4. Drive 10 year old vehicles. Not great for the environment but try to reduce miles driven as much as possible. Would like electric for one of our next cars. We almost always carry 4 passengers, so that is helpful.

5. Learn how to fix things that are broken--keep them out of the landfill. I've repaired our washer and dryer numerous times. I purchased a used washer and dryer ($50) for our basement apartment and repaired them for another $50. They are old Maytag and should last forever. Yesterday, I picked up a "free" outdoor, gas fire pit that was left next to the road. I spent an hour fixing it up and brushing a new layer of cement on the outside and it looks like new. I kept it from going into the landfill and saved $500 on buying a new one.

***One of the biggest things people can do, and we do, is not waste food. People throw out an astronomical amount of food every year. I'll eat most things well past the expiration date.

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Re: $ Decisions: environmental, save the planet, organic, etc

Post by anil686 » Mon May 27, 2019 9:17 am

This is a hard one and I have grappled with this for years now as especially my kids have become teens and have been more vocal with regards to this. Some of the things we have done (and they are not all for the better as I will say later) are:

1) Stop buying as much plastic as possible. No bottled water - reuseable water containers and fill up at the house or water fountains. We live in Texas and like to walk and run in the heat but use to bring bottled water. No more - and I think that is a good thing. Will that change the trajectory of plastic - no but I would like to think I am more aware of this.

2) installed smart home devices in a variety of places - thermostats, lights, plugs. We tend to use less energy than a few years ago. Would like to do solar panels but not allowed by our HOA.

3) Hybrid cars - mixed feelings on this. Sure I like less fossil fuel use but at what cost? Battery production for all of the devices, cars, solar panels, etc. are creating environmental problems in the areas where these materials are mined. And the mining is intensifying. An interesting interview with a Toyota executive this year about their lack of pure EV cars and their lack of planning for EV was interesting. Toyota says they make 1.5 million hybrids a year but to make EVs with a range of over 200 miles per charge, they could only make roughly 35,000 cars instead of the 1.5 million hybrids. They estimate they would save 30% more emissions by making hybrids than going full EV with 35,000 cars and the rest gas. I had no idea it took that much battery (I know - how dumb) to run these cars. Not to mention, I have more respect for hybrids now - sure it has emissions, but it is less than traditional combustion engines and far more cars could be hybrids than pure EVs resulting in less emissions and probably less material mining for batteries.

4) Much of the food debate is really not proven with organic vs not and so I will not engage in discussions on that. However, I do feel that it feeds into a larger problem along with EVs that redistributes wealth (ironically) to wealthier individuals and away from the poor. This is due to tax policies that benefit clean energy - solar panels and reselling electricity - lowers costs for those who can afford to do so but also lowers profits potentially of utilities that are required to provide such energy. Thus, utility rates may inch higher (or in some states have gone much higher) to offset this. Obviously those with alternative energy at home will not be as impacted as those who do not - namely those who cannot afford to bear an increase in cost. The same is true with EVs - sure there is a nice tax credit (not deduction - it is a credit!), but that is paid for by less revenue into the government that affects us all - so funding has to be increased to pay for that. The insidious part is the lack of gas tax paid for road maintenance by EV drivers. Sure, I understand you do not need gas - but there is a 40 cent tax per gallon to maintain roads in Texas - the same roads EV cars drive on. This tax is now unevenly applied to people who - again - can least afford it.

5) online ordering from retailers. I find it ironic again that many people embrace a lot of what is discussed above - zero emissions, no water bottles, solar and yet order from big retailers ship to home with packages coming daily. All at a cost of fossil fuels being burned, cardboard not appropriate for the package (like a pack of pens in a ginormous cardboard box). I love the convenience but have made myself bring my bags, refuse plastic bags at retailers and have gone back to buy online and pickup in store to help curb the last mile gas usage as well as cardboard wasting.

Again JMO and thanks for the discussion...

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