Pulitzer Prize-Winning Writer Edward Humes Shakes Up Our Views of the Get-it-Now Economy

We talked to Pulitzer Prize-winner Edward Humes about his new book, ”Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious Word of Transportation.” The Seal Beach writer shakes up our views of the get-it-now economy.

When I started this project, we happened to have a bag of Costco-labeled Starbucks French roast coffee. I calculated the miles (it traveled), and just for the beans alone it was about 30,000 miles before that coffee reached my house. Then you look at shipping the composite materials used in the packaging, the transportation of the water, the coffee maker, the filter. Everything you touch to make that coffee has its own transportation footprint.

There are 6,000 container ships in the world. Take 160 of the big ones, the ones that can carry five Walmart superstores worth of goods. Those 160 ships will emit particulates and smog-causing emissions equivalent to all the cars in the world.

The model of companies such as UPS or FedEx used to be business to business. Load up that big brown truck—say you’ve got 120 boxes, which is
the average load—and it would go to a Sears or a shopping mall or a single location. Now it goes to
120 locations. We don’t realize it, but e-commerce is a traffic generator.

We are letting myths and old thinking dominate the way we move ourselves and our goods. People think I hate cars, but the way I put it is, the way we deploy our cars right now is insane. It is.

The way we can globally source a pair of socks or a T-shirt or a computer from China…and have it appear at my doorstep in a matter of days, and to do that hundreds of millions of times a day… that’s the magnificent part in the title, but it’s also the most terrifying and horrifying thing because we are now engaged in doing this without any thought about the ultimate consequences.

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