Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Computing The True Costs Of Going Green

The comment I posted on Arnold Kling's blog, The Economics of "Going Green", follows:

Production costs do not adequately capture disposal, repair and part replacement "green" costs during the useful product life. These additional expenses can significantly increase the "going green" costs when included and in some cases show that the original process is more beneficial and eco-friendly than the "going green" process.

For example, compact fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, a neurotoxin and soil contaminant, while incandescent bulbs do not. The cost of properly disposing of CFLs to prevent mercury related illnesses and soil contamination exceeds the cost of disposing of incandescent. CFLs lower electrical use and their associated carbon output at the expense of increasing mercury contamination and side effects. These disposal costs (and possibly health costs especially for workers in high concentration areas such as garbage workers) are currently an externality not included in the purchase price of the more energy efficient CFLs. A correct comparison of the relative merits of incandescent bulbs versus compact fluorescent bulbs requires including these post production and post consumer use costs.

Hybrid and electric cars use batteries and sophisticated electronic components that are composed of heavy metals and toxic materials. In addition to the costs of proper disposal, auto accidents will potentially release toxic materials to the occupants, first responders, and the local community. The "green" costs associated with an accident are not part of the production costs or purchase price.

Likewise, hybrid and electric car parts will need replacement while the cars are still in use. A typical hybrid car may need to have its batteries replaced once or twice during its life. A "going green" process, even if adequately priced at time of production, will not be correctly priced for environmental effects after the "green" costs of replacements are included in its total costs.

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