Tuesday, March 28, 2017

An unintended (positive) spillover of the US elections for my trade (LCA)

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is framework for quantifying all the various types of environmental burdens (green house gas emissions, the different criteria air pollutant regulated by the EPA (particulate matter, photochemical oxidants (including ozone), carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and lead)numerous other hazardous chemicals, water pollutants, water depletion, fossil fuel consumption etc.) associated with the consumption of a given good (such as electricity, gasoline, or a pair of jeans) or activity (such as driving, having a meal or shopping online). 

I am passionate about LCA because this passion is ultimately driven by a desire to have a positive impact on our environment, and of course, the lives of fellow human beings. And so while I would like to see more public and private interest in LCA, if our policy makers did their job well (sadly, the exact opposite of what happened today!) the need for LCA might actually decrease, but I will be totally fine with that. Let me explain why

Because LCA is about specific products whereas the pollution is associated with each and every product or service we consume, LCA can be a complicated and costly way to improve environmental outcomes. For instance, how is one to determine, if and at what cost are we impacting the environment simply by changing our consumption of one product using LCA. No single product might be superior when you take all the various different types of burdens mentioned above into account. On the contrary, if the whole world took global warming seriously, of course, (the US is a big culprit here) and we had a global policy for what is a global problem then we need not worry how much carbon emissions come from driving a small car vs a bigger car, a gasoline car vs EV, or driving vs public transit etc. Likewise, if we took each different type of environmental burden seriously and had the best policy in place for each then we don't have to worry about the impact of each different decision for the products in the market would reflect the true cost of each. This is of course policy utopia.On the contrary, america has voted for ushering in dystopia, at least from an environmental standpoint.

Fortunately, there is a large section of this society (in fact a majority of American voters) care about our environmental footprint. So what actions might these enlightened sections of society take that can help overcome obstacles at higher level of government? I feel that LCA has become an ever more important lens and tool to help identify what actions, individual consumers and firms of course, but more importantly city administrations and state governments could take such without federal support. So while purely from an environmental perspective things might seem gloomy, I am looking forwarding to applying my trade in the coming years!

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