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Today's Smart Brevity count: 954 words, <4-minute read.
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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
With its acceleration of Prime shipping from two days to one, Amazon established a new normal. Soon after, Walmart and Target came out with their own super-speedy shipping options, Erica writes.
Why it matters: Flying, trucking and delivering millions of packages a day comes with a cost. As shoppers demand faster and faster speed, there has been a sharp environmental impact.
The big picture: Consumers have gotten hooked on speed, and the efficiencies that e-commerce injected into retail are getting erased because now there are more deliveries of smaller numbers of packages. With this trend, emissions have grown:
Together, that's equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of just over 7 million cars, per an EPA calculator. It's almost the combined total number of cars in the states of Illinois and Tennessee. It's also about 0.5% of the total 6 billion metric tonnes of U.S. CO2 emissions per year. That's "not huge, but it's big. And it's growing," says Costa Samaras of Carnegie Mellon University.
On top of UPS, USPS and FedEx, many other players in parcel delivery — including Amazon itself — are adding to the total impact.
"Nobody is looking at the environmental footprint of being consumers with all of this convenience."— Beth Davis-Sramek, professor of logistics, Auburn University
Context: In theory, e-commerce is good for the environment, says Don Mackenzie, who leads the University of Washington's Sustainable Transportation Lab. Instead of people driving to stores in their personal cars to shop, one truck can deliver everything. But that calculus is changing.
Amazon started it with Prime, which offers free shipping on 100 million products, whether you order a cartful of things or just one box of tissues. Amazon's retail rivals, Target and Walmart, have done the same:
In a statement to Axios, Amazon said it is committed to bring down its contributions to climate change:
Target said it aims to reduce its carbon footprint by 30% by 2030. Walmart did not respond to an email. Its 2018 report on sustainability set a goal to reduce emissions 18% from 2015 to 2025.
Photo: Joker/Alexander Stein/ullstein bild/Getty
In 2010, China and Japan got into a mighty fishing kerfuffle, and Beijing responded by halting exports of rare earth minerals, elements crucial to a slew of military and commercial technologies. The world shuddered, since China produced more than 90% of the world supply.
But then new mining projects sprung up elsewhere, and China, rather than lose its market dominance, lifted the export ban.
"China is trying to develop its own micro-electronics industry. They may decide, 'We can use all these rare earths ourselves, and not export them,'" Rasser tells Axios.
The bottom line: Experts say that, even at top speed, it would take five or more years to develop sufficient outside supply of the 17 rare earth elements. A U.S.–China trade deal will probably tamp down the rare earth threats. But in the long term, says Rasser, China is likely to dial back the exports in order to supply its own companies.
Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty
Alejandro Henao, a researcher for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, studies how ride-hailing may be changing our traffic patterns. One thrust is whether the business generally reduces driving, as Uber and Lyft champions claim.
What happened: Henao did his research in Denver, driving for Uber and Lyft himself. He made 416 rides and found that the problem is "deadheading," a term of art for the time Uber and Lyft drivers spend cruising before finding a customer.
Let robots do all the work (Annie Lowrey — The Atlantic)
The changing Big Tech conversation (Nick Johnston, Scott Rosenberg — Axios) (podcast)
The bidding war for starter homes (Ben Casselman, Conor Dougherty — NYT)
Fake businesses litter Google maps (Rob Copeland, Katherine Bindley — WSJ)
Netflix battles Tencent in Asia (Marimi Kishimoto, Jun Suzuki — Nikkei Asian Review)
Farage, wearing the milkshake. Photo: Ian Forsyth/Getty
Last month, Paul Crowther, a bespectacled former employee of Sky network, doused British politician Nigel Farage with a $6.50 banana and salted caramel milkshake in the English city of Newcastle.
On Tuesday, a judge ordered Crowther to pay £520 (about $650) in damages, including £239 for Farage's lapel microphone, plus his dry cleaning and distress, reports the Guardian's Josh Halliday.
Go deeper: Watch the video