Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Yesterday at lunchtime, I made a mad-dash to Busboys & Poets. Alas, I had no time to stay for a bite to eat or a cup of tea. I went there to pick-up a copy of Peter Barnes’ most recent book, of which, B&P still had signed copies.
As I passed the tragically ugly orange and brown gates at the U Street Metro Station, I justified the addition of the expense of the Metro ride as the cost of getting the autographed copy. It was also part of the consumer decision to favor a socially responsible business within my own community, rather than buying from Amazon, or Borders, or B&N.
It occurred to me as I walked at out-of-breath pace from the station, that the good people of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority had done me a favor by telling me how much my trip had cost me. They quantified the exact cost to me of each leg of my quick little trip. This is not a fact that is so conveniently delivered to me by my car.
With a car, it’s not merely the gasoline that drives the cost of the trip. That’s calculated easily enough, based upon the givens of gas mileage, trip distance, and fuel cost per gallon. The cost of car payments, muddied by depreciation, plus insurance makes for a messier (though still solvable) equation. Wheels started turning over the per-mile cost of my tax dollars in both highway subsidies and public transportation funds; over the cost of the tread on my tires versus tread on my shoes; on driving and later going to the gym, versus walking to and from the train station and taking care of transportation and exercise together. I put the snowballing apples-to-apples dollar-comparison of rail versus car on hold.
Instead, Al Gore’s disembodied voice asked me to consider this problem in light of carbon. I began to wonder if I should have the right to know how much carbon my car introduces into the air per mile, and how much my daily train ride or my periodic plane trip. Obviously, I’d be willing to pay something for that information.
The USDA makes recommendations about diet, and mandates that food producers let the consumer know what exactly is in each serving. Vendors baulked when USDA began working toward this program, and anyone who buys food in the US pays a little bit for it. Perhaps the DOE or EPA could make similar recommendations with respect to carbon emissions, and require vehicle manufacturers and providers of transportation services to make their carbon emissions conveniently publicly available. Informed consumers could then better drive the market toward sustainable business.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for all of the reccomendations! You are very kind!

It really would be great if we can get everything with "ecological nutrient facts". The trouble is that people still think with their wallets and not with much foresight. Its sad.

Charise said...

I like this concept, a lot.

If automobile manufacturers put the type of information you specified on their products, consumers would be better equipped to make more of a conscious decision about their vehicles, much like Nutritional Facts have a lot of us taking a second look at what we eat. Having the facts wouldn't force anyone to make a certain decision, much like reading the nutritional value of a Twinkie may not stop me from eating it--but, at least I am armed with the knowledge of what impact my eating a whole box of Twinkies will have on my thighs. We, the lay consumers, also need that type of knowledge when it comes to purchases that ultimately impact the resources we need to keep this little world of ours spinning.