I have a friend who swears by an exercise machine called the Lifecycle. He grinds and sweats an hour a day on that thing. Lots of other people do too, or so I’m told (I try to walk the dog three times a week and perform regular leg lifts in my airplane seat). So if this Lifecycle is so popular, maybe we could start using it in business. Smart people already do.
Of course I’m talking about using a lifecycle analysis for our biggest decisions. For example, we still hear that coal-fired electricity generation is cheaper than wind, solar, or other clean alternatives. Three to seven cents a kilowatt hour compared to fifteen or more cents for a kilowatt of clean renewable power.
But when you apply a lifecycle analysis to the cost, coal doesn’t look so cheap. Take the recent flooding of tons of toxic coal ash in Tennessee. Take the cleanup cost, health care, lost property, probably even the value of shortened lives and divide that over the kilowatts generated by the power plant that spawned the waste. Add the per-kilowatt cost of future generations of toxic fish in local rivers, wasted farmland, livelihoods destroyed.
Oh and don’t forget to add the true cost of mining the coal in the first place, a devastating practice that lops off entire mountains in the east and dumps the waste into rivers and drinking water supplies. Then add the proportional share of greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and related disease for the decades the power plant operated and you probably double or triple the true cost of that “cheap” electricity.
We’re only fooling ourselves when we price things in our homes and businesses (and government) by nominal cost alone. Lifecycle analysis may not result in a new pricing structure (will the TVA re-price electricity to cover all of those costs I just mentioned?), but it helps us see liabilities and hidden costs or benefits. That helps us make better investments and better decisions about a lot of things – – before the disaster hits.
Speaking of being honest about things, it’s time to hit the Lifecycle and work off some of those holiday goodies.