We cross the widest of rivers quite happily to fetch cheap water. It seems many of us think this way in a world based on short-term gain. We are happy when we keep the numbers describing costs in terms of money low. Let’s lift our gaze and dare to look back across the river at the other costs that we know are there, creating ripples long after our short-term gains have been spent. Why do we get so stuck in our ways, not changing our behaviour, instead of daring to take the lead and initiate change? And this despite knowing that if we continue to cross the river for water, it will cost us dearly.
An island in the archipelago of Bohuslän on the west coast of Sweden on the North Sea, heavily scarred by the quarrying that was once the area’s economic backbone. Today, the island is a vacation paradise and the old, traditional houses keep company with newly-built summer getaways. It’s here, along the rocky coastline covered in tangled honeysuckle, that I have discovered yet another example of the short-sighted stupidity of humankind that never ceases to amaze. Today, the new stone stairways, stone-lined driveways and stone walls are, as often as not, built with granite from China. Ton after ton of rock has been transported from Chinese ports to the stony kingdom of Bohuslän.
“Well, it’s because the Chinese stone is so much cheaper,” I am told.
This is also why Raoul Wallenberg Square in Stockholm, Götaplatsen Place in Gothenburg, and the stone-lined harbour around the Turning Torso in Malmö are all made with Chinese granite. It seems there is financial justification for quarrying and then transporting one of the world’s heaviest raw materials all the way around the world to Sweden – a country rich in granite – even with the customs fees.
There are, however, many questionable aspects about the price of Chinese granite if we view the business from more than just the perspective of our own wallet. But let’s say we ignore the cost of building China’s economy instead of our own. Let’s even ignore the cost that Chinese workers pay because of their work environment. If we look at the price solely from an environmental point of view, there are a number of disturbing details to include in the calculation.
- The world’s 15 largest cargo ships emit as much carbon dioxide as the entire global fleet of automobiles.
- Shipping is not covered by the global Paris agreement, and the shipping industry is free to use the worst/dirtiest alternative – heavy fuel oil.
- Emissions from the global shipping industry incur health care costs amounting to USD 330 billion annually in the form of heart and pulmonary disease.
“Okay, so you mean that we should just stop importing and exporting everything,” someone protests.
Of course not. But we do not necessarily need to transport bedrock around the world when we have it in abundance right under our own feet! It costs too much for all of us, even if the homeowner who gets a good deal on imported granite claims otherwise. And we cannot be satisfied just knowing that the price tag rarely represents the entire cost. We need to act on it. We need to find out why we act like we do, even though we are aware of the consequences. We need to decide who we want to be. Do we want to be amongst those who see and know something is wrong but do nothing? Or do we want to be amongst those who take the lead toward something new? Something that is sustainable in the long-term? Which group do you want to belong to?
I wonder when we will consistently start calculating the real price in business quotes and government tenders. When will we start talking seriously about costs instead of just staring blindly at numbers that describe dollars, pounds or euros?
Let’s all become more courageous. In our thoughts, conversations and especially in our actions. I want to see more business leaders, government representatives at all levels, and individuals with even more courage, daring to implement and invest in long-term, sustainable solutions. Who dare to ask Who am I if I choose something that is costly for the planet but cheap for my wallet? Who am I when I make this decision that harms the lives of future generations? I want to believe that there are many of us who are prepared to take responsibility when things are not what they seem. And who have the courage to stand behind the fact that there is never anything to gain in crossing the river to fetch cheap water.