Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Catalytic converter recycling?

Up to now, I had thought that SUVs (Chelsea Tractors) were just conspicuous consumption vehicle one-upmanship, except for the few farmers and country dwellers who really need the power and all-terrain capabilities. However, I've just read a news item from the USA which has made me think again.

Apparently the combination of a high wheelbase and a catalytic converter gives an opportunity for redistribution of wealth. A couple of minutes under the vehicle with a rotary saw, and the cat converter is free and ready to go for extraction of the platinum and palladium it contains. So the owner of the car has the problem of shelling out a few hundred dollars for a new converter and the labour to fit it, small change for someone who can afford such a hugely expensive auto in the first place, while the person with the saw has a nice addition to his income.

Just imagine the delight of a 'recycler' looking down a leafy suburban street with catalytic converters lined up under their over-sized vehicles just waiting for his saw! Or her saw, of course. Miserable incomes which drive people to crime are not a male prerogative.

Of course, it is not just SUVs and their cousins which are at risk. Ordinary cars have converters too, but their exhaust systems are less easy to get at without a jack or lifting tackle. In terms of capital investment and potential income per hour, the SUV wins out every time. And an SUV exhaust system is bigger - more platinum and palladium.

So many trends cross here. The failure of our not-quite-democracies, in both the US and the UK, to deal with the growing problem of the income, health and education gaps between the very very rich and the chronically poor. The failure of legislation to limit the growth in use of fossil fuels. The severe under-funding of research in renewable energy sources and incentives to apply them. The demand of the emerging economies for raw materials that we in the west have exploited them for in the past. The articles of faith that growth is good and we must always outperform our neighbours and even our friends.

Some thought provoking material on a blog post here .

Know any good tunes to whistle while Rome burns?