Big-Box Swindle: Part 2
Article by William Petrocelli
In Big-Box Swindle Part One, we focused on Stacy Mitchell’s argument that the growth of big-box retailing was having a significant impact on the loss of good manufacturing jobs in the U.S. In this excerpt we highlight another disturbing issue: the impact that big-box stores have on the environment.
As corporate chains have come to dominate retailing, Americans are logging more road miles each year for shopping and errands. Driving in general has been expanding rapidly, but driving for shopping has been growing more than twice as fast as driving for any other purpose, including commuting to work. Between 1990 and 2001, th number of miles driven by the average household for shopping increased by more than 40 percent. Shopping-related driving for the country as a whole rose by almost 95 billion miles in just eleven years. It’s not that we’re taking more shopping trips, but rather that more of those trips are by automobile and the journeys are longer. As the chains build ever-bigger stores, each outlet depends on a greater number of households spread over a wider geographic area. Thus the distance between home and store continues to grow. By 2000 the average length of a shopping trip had climbed to nearly seven miles, from five miles a decade earlier...
Corporate chains have a strong preference for locations and store designs that encourage and even necessitate traveling by car. The kinds of landscapes that cars create— vast, homogeneous, highly mobile, and divorced from the constraints of place and community—are ideally suited for footloose and fast-growing chains. They in turn design their stores in every respect for driving, offering luxurious expanses of parking while creating an environment so hostile to pedestrians that people commonly drive between big-box stores located in the same shopping plaza, rather than traverse the asphalt on foot...
The greatest cost of all is the threat that our dependence on cars poses to the planet and human health. The Unite States, with only 5 percent of the world’s population, consumes 25 percent of the world’s oil. Nearly half of this, or 8.7 million barrels a day, is used to fuel passenger vehicles (cars, SUVs, and light trucks). Passenger vehicles emit the lion’s share of the pollutants (nitrogen oxide and reactive hydrocarbons) that create ground-level ozone or smog. They contribute significantly to acid rain (by emitting nitrogen oxide) and are a major source of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas causing global warming. As mega-retailers sprawl and driving increases, such activities as buying clothes and picking up groceries are becoming ever more polluting. The extra 95 billion road miles that Americans are logging for shopping (over 1990 levels) account for 40 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, 300,000 tons of hydrocarbons, and 150,000 tons of nitrogen released into the atmosphere each year.
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