I think the increase in automation is unfortunately an unavoidable part of our future. As you mentioned, there is no real argument against the increase in efficiency that automation offers companies. Robots do not get tired, they don’t need healthcare, and they are much cheaper than people. I can’t help but worry about the long term consequences of this, however. The rise of automation disproportionately favors the people at the top. People who make their livelihood in low skill jobs get replaced, margins increase, and shareholders profit. Putting people out of work has cascading effects. It lowers the tax base, and it can lead to an increase in crime as people become desperate to replace their income. I think if we get to the point of overwhelming automation, and corresponding overwhelming unemployment for people in certain brackets of society, we may come to see some seriously negative side effects of automation.
I actually experienced this when I was coming home from Greece this past summer. Our plane was bound for New York’s JFK airport and was fully loaded with passengers and cargo, sitting on the runway. The temperature got so high that they had to delay takeoff and make the plane lighter by offloading cargo. Another thing that contributes to the weight of these aircraft is that they also serve as couriers sometimes and agree to carry packages and cargo for companies that are shipping internationally. One thing American could do is stop this practice, but that’s unlikely because it generates revenue. Like you suggested, they will probably search for a solution that has the least impact on their business and revenue. One of the advancements that airlines are experimenting with now is the introduction of nanotechnology to paint and to the structure of the aircraft. The paint makes the aircraft more aerodynamic and reduces the fuel needed to power it. Some companies are experimenting with metals infused with nanotechnology that are lighter and stronger than those we currently use to build airplanes. These advancements have the potential to revolutionize the industry and radically change how much fuel is used to power flight. An example of the application of this nanotechnology is included below:
I used to walk by the Amazon Go storefront all the time when I lived in Seattle. I actually had no idea that it wasn’t open or that they were having such trouble getting it started. I think it’s an incredible concept and certainly addresses one of the most unpleasant parts of shopping in a B&M store. My concern with this technology is really how effective it would be and how susceptible is it to failure. If something goes wrong, you would be looking at immense loss as people walk away with goods for free. My other question about the technology is what would be the plan for the savings that occur now that registers and checkout lines have been removed from the process. Does Amazon plan to pass these savings on to the customer in the form of lower prices? Or is it another stream of revenue that will help fuel Amazon’s strive for world dominance? It will be interesting to see how this develops and if they try to run their own B&M store long-term or if they will sell the technology to other companies and capitalize on the data that is collected.
Based on the explosion in Bitcoin’s price in just the time since this essay was written, I’m also doubtful that behaviors will change with regard to energy consumption for mining Bitcoin. It’s actually shocking to see just how much energy is consumed through the mining of cryptocurrencies. It’s probably even more so shocking when you consider the high level of uncertainty that surrounds the future of cryptocurrency. It would be an incredible waste if all of this energy were expended mining cryptocurrency and it eventually just goes away. Even when you consider the burning of fossil fuels and the impact it’s had on the environment, you can point to the advancement it’s had in industry and in transportation. You can’t really do the same for cryptocurrency. The link below is an article on Mashable that agrees with your argument about Bitcoin’s energy consumption: it’s shocking and probably not sustainable. However, he suggests that Bitcoin may start imitating practices by Ethereum to use less energy and to allow for a higher volume of transactions. That being said, if Bitcoin is going to just do what Ethereum does, will that encourage people to use Ethereum more or will Ethereum replace Bitcoin as the lead cryptocurrency? I think it would also be interesting to see how energy consumption changes when all of the existing Bitcoins have been mined.
As I read this, I couldn’t help but think of the case on the sustainability efforts at IKEA. My lasting takeaway from that case was that IKEA was putting in lots of effort, but it was debatable as to what overall effect they were having, especially with a goal that was focused on growth and extending into emerging market. It would appear that Starbucks is in the same boat, so to speak. It’s great that Starbucks is buying RECs and helping to fund renewable energy efforts, but as you mentioned, they are also expanding their business to include more foods that require refrigeration and that is increasing their greenhouse gas footprint. Similar to IKEA, if the bottom line is to expand the business, you will be consuming more resources by default. It’s great that these companies want to help offset the negative effects they are having on the environment, but it doesn’t appear that they can get past having a net negative impact so long as they are focused on growth.
I also thought it was interesting that Starbucks is enforcing stricter standards on the farmers who supply coffee beans, but it wasn’t clear as to who was paying for these new requirements. If Starbucks is passing the costs off on the farmers, then this is actually a negative in my opinion. If Starbucks is paying for the additional requirements then this is commendable. Either way, the effects of sustainability on the bottom line cannot be ignored when talking about a for profit, publicly traded company. It was mentioned that Starbucks could potentially raise prices to cover this extra cost, but that’s hard to do when they already charge a premium for their product. An article from Huffington Post in 2016 says that Starbucks actually sold nearly $500M in the form of a bond, to help raise capital to fund these sustainability efforts. (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/starbucks-sustainability-bonds_us_5735e64fe4b077d4d6f2d612) It will be interesting to see what impact Starbucks is able to have and how this situation develops.