When we sold our old laptop recently, we used the money to buy a couple of iPod touches for our kids. I know, we spoil them terribly and all that. Ours is a geek house. Get used to it. (And if you're interested in their old iPod nanos, those are for sale too—let me know.)
Ordering online, I presumed (naively) that while the iPods are of course made in China, there would probably be a North American distribution centre where they are individually laser engraved and then shipped to customers here. But Apple and UPS let you track your order. Ours shipped directly out of China, and the results are a bit depressing.
There's been a lot of hoopla about Apple pulling out of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over the Chamber's poor climate-change policies, Apple's greener laptops made with more recyclable materials, and so on, but I have to wonder whether many of those efforts are being negated by the insanely inefficient transport routes taken by items shipped from the online Apple Store.
Although I ordered two identical devices (with separate custom engraving on the back of each) at the same time, as part of the same order, here's how the two iPods are getting to our house:
Same order, same type of device, same factory. But apparently, the most cost-effective way to get them to me was to send them together from Shanghai to Anchorage to Louisville, then to separate them, sending one via New York, Ontario, Manitoba, and Alberta, and the other via Québec, Ontario, and Alberta. Both passed through Mount Hope and Calgary, but at different times. They're both now in Richmond on the way here to Burnaby, hopefully on the same truck (but I'm not sure of that—see below for an unimpressive update).
It's about 9,000 km direct from Shanghai to Vancouver by plane, but on these routes each iPod has traveled almost twice that far (around 17,000 km) by plane and truck, with takeoffs, landings, and transfers. I know the packages are small, but the price of shipping that way can't possibly be taking into account the relative energetic and environmental costs of the two routes.
Never mind that, by essentially excluding environmental effects, it's less expensive to manufacture the iPods an ocean away to start with. How do these transactions add up, when you multiply them by the millions?
If we're interested in ameliorating climate change, I think that we'll have to address the mismatch between the monetary efficiency and energetic inefficiency of these haphazard transportation methods. But that will likely mean that our gadgets will get more expensive in the short term, in order to make our lives more tolerable in the long term. I have a feeling that, with our generally shortsighted human thinking, we might not be willing to accept that.
And that's a bit of a bummer.
UPDATE 11:30 a.m.: There's something amusing about the situation now. Both iPods arrived at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond before sunrise this morning, after making their way halfway around the world, rapid-fire, in five days. But they've now, apparently, been sitting at YVR, about 12 km away from my house, for three and a half hours without being loaded on a truck, because of "adverse weather conditions." What are those conditions? It's raining a bit. In Vancouver, in the autumn.
FURTHER UPDATE 2:00 p.m.: Delivery. Of one of the iPods. They were both at the airport, both supposedly delayed by weather (though it's sunny now), and one got put on a truck and arrived at the house a few minutes ago. The other one, presumably, is coming on another truck. Point reinforced. Next time I'll buy retail, where I can at least assume that two of the same product from the same batch came to the store in the same vehicle.
FINAL UPDATE 5:00 p.m.: The delay of the second shipment at YVR is a mystery even to the friendly UPS phone rep. It will be delivered tomorrow, taking longer to travel the 12 km from the airport to my house than it did to traverse the 3500 km from Ontario to the West Coast yesterday.