Back to Singletary’s solar lady

Eli, in your one cheer for Singletary, it sounds as if you’re falling into the risk-benefit, cost-benefit analysis approach to regulation. Yes, I know you are describing voluntary approaches to conserving natural resources. However, I was struck by your conclusion re the woman in Singletary’s article who uses solar cookers on her roof.: You wrote: “Still, provided she avoids injury, she does manage to save resources.”

I would offer that your comment points to one of the problems of measuring “risks” or “costs” when balancing those against “benefits.” Such decisions can easily be biased and selective and not consider trade-offs. In the regulatory realm, of course, they can also be politically motivated.

Let’s consider the solar woman. Her “risk” or “cost” is not just avoiding injury falling down the stairs, but also many other possibilities, including food poisoning because food, such as poultry or hamburger meat, wasn’t cooked properly (the sun went behind a cloud), the opportunity cost because of greater time spent cooking in that mode, neighbors’ being offended by the smells, etc.

And the “benefits” may not really be that great at saving resources. The solar lady is using resources to “save” resources, e.g, “water-resistant, aluminum-laminated cardboard, a clear plastic oven-roasting bag.” Were those out of pocket costs factored in, plus the energy costs of producing aluminum and plastic? Also, solar cooking doesn’t work on rainy or cloudy days or at night. Does she eat uncooked food on winter nights?

On another point in Singletary’s sermon — she mentions using more water-efficient appliances. Besides the increased cost of many of those appliances, as Christine pointed out, we know what some of the other problems with those are — they don’t do the job.