Saturday, September 29, 2007

Day Eighty-Four - Where Am I?

Learn World Geography

Every day I learn something new. Some days, all I learn is just how ignorant I am. Like yesterday. And the day before that. And Tuesday. And last week....

One of the things I've always been bad at is world geography. I don't know why. I can put most of the states in their proper places on Ethan's United States Puzzle, but beyond that, I'm an absolute moron. I'm definitely not one of the 3% of Americans who can point to Kobul on a map. But what does any of this have to do with the environment? Lots.

According to American Economic Alert, the 2007 to-date national trade deficit is roughly $540 BILLION. That number increases approximately $60,000,000 per month. Americans buy tons and tons of imported goods every year - literally. I won't get into the effect this has on the economy (but did you check out the fun Jib-Jab cartoon I posted?) because I'm certainly no expert, besides, I'm here to focus on the environmental impact of it all. An article from Environmental Health Perspectives gives the following "standard distribution path" of a toy doll:

A $9.97 doll is made in Asia by low-wage workers under conditions that may
subject them to a myriad of unregulated hazards. This doll is packed with 10,000
others into a container and loaded onto a marine vessel holding 4,000 other
containers carrying dolls, shoes, and electronics. Fueled by low-quality bunker
fuel, the ship leaves one of the world’s largest ports in Asia, chugs across the
Pacific, discharging nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, particulates, and other
pollutants into the earth’s environment. Arriving at the Southern California
ports of Los Angeles or Long Beach (where 40% of all U.S. imports arrive), the
container is unloaded by longshore workers, who breathe exhaust from the
idling ship as well as emissions from a row of idling trucks with drivers
waiting for their loads. For the next leg of the trip, the doll may be placed on
a big-rig truck and sent for repackaging to a mega-warehouse 50 miles from the
ports, an area that was formerly all dairy lands that has now given way to
million-square-foot warehouses for consumer goods (drawing thousands of diesel
trucks a day into formerly rural communities). Finally, the doll is trucked to
her destination, a big-box retailer in suburban Chicago. By this time, she has
traveled more than 8,000 miles—on diesel-burning conveyances the whole way.

So you see, just like eating locally grown produce and buying local fish, it's important to buy consumer goods that are produced "locally" as well. Unfortunately, due to the nature of manufacturing, "local" consumer goods won't likely be found in a 100-mile radius. This is where my ignorance of geography becomes important. Case in point:

I had to go to Target a couple weeks ago to pick up some miscellaneous clothing items for the kids, that I wasn't able to find second-hand. (Have I mentioned just how hard Compacting is?!?!). Anyhow, my choices for Ethan's clothing included items made in: India, Egypt, Vietnam, Philippines, China or Indonesia. Now without peeking, which is closest to the US and therefore uses less fuel to get here? Am I the only one who has no idea? In my mind, this is what I came up with:

Anyone who wants to keep their image of me as a semi-intelligent human being, please stop reading here!

  • I'm 99% sure India is in the Middle East.
  • Egypt is somewhere in the top part of Africa (notice the word "northern" never came to mind...)
  • Vietnam is in the Pacific, but not Hawaii-type Pacific, ya know?
  • The Philippines, Hmm.... not really sure.. I think they were affected by that tsunami a few years ago... now where was that?
  • China is what cartoon characters hit when they dig straight through the earth and come out the other side, so it's the farthest.
  • Indonesia sounds a little like "India", but also has an Asian flair, so I'll go with "somewhere between India and Asia"... but I think they also got hit with that tsunami. Where was that damn thing?

Yes, folks, I am really that dumb. Sadly, I bet I'm STILL on par with your Average American in terms of geographical knowledge. So I've come to realize once again, that to make better decisions, I need to be a more knowledgeable consumer. MUCH more knowledgeable.

I know, I know -- I didn't even touch on the fact that I should also learn about each country's environmental laws, whether the employees are treated fairly, the country's stance on the Kyoto Treaty, and all sorts of other things, but my tiny brain can only work on one thing at a time, and honestly, geography actually seems like the least daunting of those tasks.


Damn near unquantifiable. I guess that if nothing else, the thought of having to learn all that geography has strengthened my resolve to search for second-hand goods, thereby eliminating the need for thought entirely. :-) And pre-used goods are always a better choice for the environment.

Difficulty Level: 4 out of 5

Again, geography is NOT a strong suit of mine. My first choice will definitely be to buy second-hand so that I don't have to worry about determining the distance to the country of origin. My second choice, as the daughter of a card-carrying AFL-CIO member will, of course, be to look for the MADE IN THE USA tag. Regardless, before I buy anymore consumer goods, I'll pull up Google maps of each continent and see if I can figure out where the hell I am in relation to the rest of the world. And I'll definitely add "Used World Globe" to my Christmas Wish List. :-)

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