Monday, April 27, 2009

Why Privacy Advocates Should Act Environmentally NOW

When I act environmentally, my concern is usually the welfare of people and animals. For example, I avoid wasting electricity because the electricity in my city is produced by burning coal, and the emissions from the power plant cause respiratory problems for vulnerable residents. Another example is collecting discarded plastic bags that may otherwise be ingested by animals living in the ocean.

However, another motivation is wishing to stave off the draconian government measures that will some day have to be implemented if people don't voluntarily act more environmentally. We are fast approaching a point at which national governments will enact laws to force citizens to pollute less, and I'm concerned with the form those laws will take.

One option already being discussed is the introduction of a carbon tax. There is also the potential for a plastic tax, pesticide tax, and so forth. Although these taxes have much to recommend them, they would have a disproportionate impact on poorer people. Think, for example, of the impact on a tax on electricity. For a poor family, this could mean being unable to use heating or air conditioning even in extreme weather. Meanwhile, a wealthy person like Al Gore could continue to air condition his mansion despite the tax. This clearly would not be fair.

A more just approach to stopping pollution would be rationing. Each person would have the right to cause a certain amount of carbon-equivalent pollution and could buy a certain quantity of plastic and pesticide per year. Rationing would affect everyone equally, regardless of income level.

If rationing was done through paper ration coupons, as was the case in the past, I would support it 100%. Unfortunately, it's extremely unlikely that paper coupons would be used, at least in industrialized countries. Instead, electronic cards similar to debit cards would be used. Such cards are already used for the United States' food stamps program and other government programs.

The implications for privacy are staggering. If there is a carbon tax, it will apply to every item transported by a gasoline-powered vehicle. (Items transported by electric vehicles will also be affected if the source of electricity is coal or natural gas.) The ration card will therefore be used for almost every purchase a person makes, from food to books to furnishings. Even with privacy measures in place, it is likely that, sooner or later, a subpoena or hacker will cause a person's expenditures to become public knowledge. Think back to Monica Lewinsky's book purchases, which became public knowledge because she paid with a credit card. If every purchase involves swiping a ration card, we could all find our reading lists made public.

I find this prospect very disturbing. Most of us will, at one time or another, purchase something we don't want the world to know about. It may be something indicative of a medical problem, like a package of adult diapers or a book on dealing with the aftereffects of prostate surgery. It may be something indicative of our religious beliefs, which we feel the need to keep from family members or employers. It may simply be something we're irrationally embarrassed to have "normal" people know we buy, such as a DVD of a TV show we're supposed to be too sophisticated to enjoy.

Rationing would address the pollution caused by products' manufacture and shipping to the point of sale, but would not address the problems caused by products being dumped illegally when they are no longer wanted. To deter illegal dumping, it's possible that many products will one day be sold with RFID chips embedded in them. This would be very effective at stopping the practice of people dumping fishing nets, refrigerators, mattresses, and other large items. Unfortunately, RFID chips, like electronic ration cards, would have serious privacy implications.

I want to preserve my right to buy and use products anonymously, and I want to see poor people able to afford necessities like heating. My faint hope is that if a critical mass of people voluntarily practice rationing of gasoline, electricity, plastic, pesticides, water, et cetera, we can stave off the introduction of laws that will either erode our privacy or impose undue hardship on the poor. Voluntarily adhering to environmental standards today is much more palatable to me than waiting for national governments to enact draconian environmental protection laws.

Items collected Saturday, April 25, 2009

  • 2 aluminum cans (1 Budweiser, 1 roadkilled AriZona Green Tea)
  • 2 plastic bottles (1 Deer Park water, 1 Sprite)
  • 1 newspaper section

  • 1 plastic carrier bag

Recyclable collected Friday, April 24, 2009

  • 1 plastic bottle (Powerade Mountain Berry Blast)

Recyclable collected Thursday, April 23, 2009

  • 1 plastic bottle (Coca-Cola Zero)

Recyclables collected Tuesday, April 21, 2009

  • 2 plastic bottles (1 Velicoff Vodka, 1 Lemon-Lime Gatorade G)
  • 1 glass bottle (Conundrum California white table wine)

I came across the wine bottle while on my way to a grocery store that sells wine, and was faced with a dilemma. Having a big wine bottle sticking out of my bag while I was in the store would have made me look like a shop lifter, but leaving the bottle where it was would have meant needing to backtrack to pick it up before going home with my groceries. The solution I hit on was to take the bottle to a small store just down the street from the grocery store. The cashier there is aware of my habit of picking up recyclables and thinks it's great, so I was confident he wouldn't mind holding onto the bottle for me while I did my shopping. Things turned out even better than I had planned when he said he had a load of recyclables of his own that he needed to take to the big bin at the back of the building and would take my bottle with his recyclables if I watched the store until he returned.

Items collected Monday, April 20, 2009

  • 2 plastic bottles (1 Minute Maid orange juice, 1 Gatorade)
  • 1 aluminum can (Busch Light beer)

  • 1 small plastic bag

Trash collected Sunday, April 19, 2009

  • 1 plastic bottle containing trash (bottle labeled Welch's Strawberry Mango Splash)

I should have pulled out the trash and put the bottle in the recycling bin, but I was in no mood to handle wet, disgusting trash with my bare hands.

Items collected Friday, April 17, 2009

  • 2 plastic bottles (1 Lipton Green Tea, 1 Gatorade Rain)

  • 1 plastic carrier bag

Recyclable collected Thursday, April 16, 2009

  • 1 glass bottle (brown bottle without a label)

Recyclables collected Wednesday, April 15, 2009

  • 1 plastic bottle (Odesse Vodka)
  • 2 aluminum cans (1 Big K Diet Cola, 1 roadkilled Miller Lite)

Items collected Monday, April 13, 2009

  • 1 thick newspaper section
  • 4 plastic bottles (1 Lipton Brisk Lemon Iced Tea, 1 Glaceau Orange-Orange Vitamin Water, 1 roadkilled bottle without a label, 1 Purex laundry detergent)
  • 1 glass bottle (Corona Extra)

  • 2 plastic bags
  • approximately half a cup of Purex laundry detergent

The laundry detergent bottle was broken, which is probably why it was abandoned by its previous owner. However, by carrying it with the broken end up, I was able to bring it home and pour the remaining detergent into an empty shampoo bottle. I detest the smell of Purex and won't use it myself, but a friend uses it so I'll give the detergent to him.

Recyclables collected April 8-10, 2009

I didn't get a chance to use the computer for several days, and left the recyclables I found those days in three neat little piles. Unfortunately, I ended up knocking them over, and can't say with certainty which recyclables were picked up which day. This is a compilation of all the recyclables picked up over the course of three days:

  • 2 aluminum cans (both Steel Reserve High Gravity Lager)
  • 8 plastic bottles (3 Dasani waters, 1 Aquafina water, 1 Deer Park water, 1 Camelot water, 1 Tropicana orange juice, 1 Tropicana apple juice)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Recyclables collected Tuesday, April 7, 2009

  • 3 plastic bottles (1 Velicoff Vodka, 1 Tropicana Twister, 1 roadkilled bottle without a label)
  • 1 aluminum can (roadkilled Modelo especial beer)

Recyclables collected Monday, April 6, 2009

  • 1 aluminum can (Diet Coke)
  • 2 plastic bottles (1 Gatorade "G", 1 Glaceau Vitamin Water)
  • 1 glass bottle (Coca-Cola Classic)

I had heard that all Coca-Cola sold in the United States came in plastic bottles or aluminum cans, with glass bottles being used only in other countries, so I can't explain the existence of the glass bottle listed above. It was buried in mud and may have been on/in the ground for a long time, but surely not for years.

Recyclables collected Sunday, April 5, 2009

  • 1 plastic bottle (Deer Park water)
  • 1 aluminum can (Bud Light)
  • 1 glass bottle (bottle labeled Nantucket Nectars Lemonade but used to hold beer)

Recyclable collected Saturday, April 4, 2009

  • 1 plastic bottle (caffeine free Diet Coke)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Items collected Thursday, April 2, 2009

  • 1 glass bottle (Pearson's Vodka)
  • 3 aluminum cans (2 Steel Reserve lager, 1 Canada Dry ginger ale)
  • 2 brown paper bags

  • 1 plastic carrier bag
  • 1 black pen

Recyclables collected Tuesday, March 31, 2009

  • 2 glass bottles (1 Stella Artois beer, 1 Best Mango Juice Drink)
  • 1 aluminum can (roadkilled Steel Reserve lager)
  • 2 plastic bottles (1 Deer Park water, 1 Crystal Ridge water)

The Best Mango Juice Drink was bottled in Egypt. I often marvel at just how many of the bottles and cans I pick up contained beverages from other continents. What's odd is that when it comes to foodstuffs, it's very difficult to obtain the foreign imports I crave. I'm a bit jealous of the people who are able to buy the imported products they enjoy. Of course, it would be better if all these products were made locally, of locally-grown ingredients.

The Crystal Ridge water is distributed by a company located in "Earth City," Missouri. I wonder how the city ended up with a name like that.

Items collected Monday, March 30, 2009

  • 4 plastic bottles (1 Deer Park water, 1 roadkilled Tropicana Juice Beverage, 2 bottles without labels)
  • 1 aluminum can (roadkilled Diet Coke)

  • 1 plastic carrier bag
  • 1 small plastic bag