A top ten list of things of everyday items and services that aren’t as cheap as you may think.
#10 Bottled Water – Bottled water sounds like it should be cheaper – it’s 200 to 10,000 times more expensive than tap water. In the US alone, the annual energy wasted on bottled water adds the equivalent to 100,000 cars on roads and 1 billion pounds of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. And the price we pay for water doesn’t begin to address the longer term issues of global shortage, for something that everyone needs to survive.
#9 Cellphones – We’ve all got them. The trouble is that one of the minerals inside our high tech toys, Coltan, is bought very dear indeed. With around three quarters of the world’s reserves of Coltan in the Democratic Republic of Congo, our demand for gadgets fuels bloody conflict and vast human suffering.
#8 Double cheeseburger – A value meal is a great way to eat if you’ve neither time nor money, but this cheap food turns out to be ‘cheat food’. What if we had to pay the full environmental, labour and health costs of a burger? Some researchers think we’d end up paying over $200, and that doesn’t include the modern day slavery represented by minimum wage food workers.
#7 Fish fingers – The world’s oceans are being emptied. A generation ago, fish fingers were made of cod. Now the species is commercially extinct, and we’re within a generation of killing everything in the seas. Yet the price of fish is still just a few dollars a kilo.
#6 A Free Lunch - Rudyard Kipling came across the free lunch in the nineteenth century in San Francisco, where he “paid for a drink and got as much as you wanted to eat. But the marketing freebie ends up being a way to reel you in to consume more.
#5 Googling – Would it shock you to know that two Google searches produces the equivalent greenhouse gases of making a cup of tea? The London Telegraph reported this last year and, while Google denies it, it’s certainly true that global information technology is responsible for 2% of all greenhouse gases.
#4 Toxic waste – Larry Summers, President Obama’s chief economic adviser, was once a senior economist at the World Bank. When he was there, he wrote in a confidential [but since widely cited] memo: “Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDC’s [Less Developed Countries]?” He argued that poor people valued a clean environment less than the rich, and so pollution should flow to them.
#3 Low income jobs. Part of the reason that food and energy are cheap is so that working peoples’ wage demands are kept in check. In Canada, average real wages have increased by just 1% in two decades – and in the US similar long term trends for working class people (and severe declines in the value of minimum wages). But around the world, minimum wages fall far below what families need to survive.
#2 Petroleum – The way we live today depends on our not paying the full costs of fossil fuel – with thousands already dying and many billions being lost right now. While figures of $65 trillion a year for the real cost of fossil fuel are almost certainly wrong, with 300 million people affected, it’s already a disaster.
#1 Women’s work – The world wouldn’t turn without the work of raising children, and caring for family and community. But it’s the work that is most often and quite literally taken for granted. If the work that women did were to be paid, how much would it cost? Researchers put it at $11 trillion in 1995, or half the world’s total output. Valuing women’s work would, more than any other single thing, transform the way we think about our economy and society.