What? ANOTHER weekly feature? MAYBE. Maybe not every single week, but at least somewhat consistent? We’ll see.

#FF sometimes stands for “Follow Friday” which works since I’m going to share podcasts that you may or may not decide to follow (or subscribe to). Sometimes it might even mean “for fun” because some podcasts are just that. Again, we’ll just have to see how the spirit leads.

Containers is an eight part radio documentary about how global trade has transformed the economy and ourselves. Host Alexis Madrigal guides us through the world of ships and sailors, tugboats and warehouses, cranes and containers. According to him, containers are the embodiment of global capitalism. And did you know that containers (what you see in ports coming off of ships, which then end up on the back of semi-trucks or in a line of train cars) really only became the primary shipping tool during the war in Vietnam? I had no idea!

containers at port

The thing I liked most about the first episode was the way Madrigal illustrated the complexity of something like global trade.

“Containerization gave an incredible boost to the global economy, reducing prices for people in rich countries and creating opportunities for literally hundreds of millions of people in Asia to work their way out of poverty. In this country, trade drives the consumer economy that literally everyone in America enjoys, no matter how much we might theoretically take issue with the specifics of how it works. Nikes, iPhones, apples in winter, cheap pants, Ikea furniture – shipping is everything.

And also, local communities and industries were wiped out.

And also, tens of millions of Chinese people have jobs linked to U.S. imports.

And also, the labor of logistics is far less dangerous and dirty than it used to be.

And also, the work is more routine and boring.

And also, the huge ports inflict major environmental damage on the areas that surround them.

And also, American cities are cleaner because the factories are polluting Beijing.

And also, the ships burn vast amounts of dirty bunker fuel, generating between two and three percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

And also, the stuff arrives on our shores with half the ton-mile greenhouse gas emissions of trucks or planes.

With containerization, these local-global tensions are everywhere you look. Some people, some place bears the weight of the whole system.”

One of the important developments we hopefully experience in getting older is the ability to see that basically nothing in life fits into one box. Everything is complex and multi-dimensional. It can be frustrating when we can’t label something as good or bad, but it’s also liberating because we can accept that it’s both/and. So I appreciate Madrigal’s acknowledgement and description of this complexity when it comes to global trade.

Anyway…the rest of the series may not be as deep and insightful, but at the very least it seems helpful in understanding a system that is a subtle but integral part of our lives.



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