Road Salt: Corroding Cars and the Economy
The ubiquitous salt truck of winter, which helps spread a collective fifteen million tons of salt each season, is becoming an hefty bill to pay. The nation spends $2.3 billion annually to salt roads and an additional $5 billion repairing the damage caused by salt: vehicle and infrastructure corrosion, environmental pollution, and water contamination.
A recent study in Utah put the price tag even higher, suggesting that salt corrosion costs the country nearly $20 billion annually. Added to that cost, the price of salt this year is gone up due to last year’s harsh winter, making the mineral more precious than ever. The price crunch is a new event as using salt to clear roads is also relatively new for the nation.
Prior to World War Two, sand was the material of choice for softening the blow of winter weather. Sand provided traction for vehicles and if their owners had to travel, the custom was to wrap vehicle tires in chains, providing more traction still. But more than likely, people would simply stay home until the roads were sufficiently plowed.
Today, the margins of the international economy are thin, increasing the cost of taking a snow day. Salt has become a grease on the wheels of industry, but are we driving ourselves too hard, unable to enjoy the proverbial snow day of our youth?
In his Big Think interview, Columbia University law professor Jagadish Bhagwati discusses the moral implications of an economy which is driven primarily by the accumulation of profit:
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