The United States Postal Service is headed off a cliff, and – according to the US Government Accountability Office – few are even giving its demise a second thought.
That’s the same USPS, by the way, that was once a great source of national pride, that united America’s coasts and transmitted vital information at incredible speeds, that kept families connected across rivers and valleys, and that inspired the unofficial creed “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Ignore the fact that the creed actually refers to the couriers of the ancient Persian Empire – people believed that the USPS embodied these words, and many postmen and women did their best (maybe) to live up to them.
So, what happened?
That’s what Phillip Herr, of the US Gov’t Accountability Office, is trying desperately to find out … for the past three years.
Herr finds the USPS fascinating, for (perhaps) obvious reasons: the USPS is ubiquitous, relied on, and (my words, not his) totally screwed. “It’s one of those things that the public just takes for granted,” he says. “The mailman shows up, drops off the mail, and that’s it.”
For Herr and the USPS, the situation is grim. As they try to “pin the blame” on the rise of email and subsequent decline of “private post” (personal letters, greeting cards, thank-you cards, etc.). They are the first to admit that they are baffled as to why, when facing the same challenges which post offices across the world are facing, they are floundering … while those postal services in Europe and Asia (for example) are, in Herr’s words, thriving.
How bad, then, is the situation for the USPS?
In scientific terms: Really bad.
Since 2007 (the “salad days” of America’s last economic bubble) the USPS has been unable to cover its annual budget (80% of which is made up of employees’ salaries and benefits). To stay afloat and pay its people, the USPS has had to borrow more than 12 billion (with a b) dollars from the US Treasury, which (unlike GM and Chrysler) it has been unable to pay back. Earlier this month, the Treasury reached its statutory debt limit … so, unless something pretty drastic happens on Capitol Hill, it’s pretty much Game Over for the USPS, already.
There are political games being played all around the USPS’ impending demise, of course (there always are, when that much money’s involved), but nobody really seems to be asking The Big Question about the USPS going the way of the Dodo. That question being, of course: so what?
This is a green car blog, so I’m looking at this issue strictly from an environmental and green-tech perspective … and I don’t see many downsides to the loss of the USPS.
- the USPS, in my experience, exists to stuff my apartment’s mailbox with coupons and ads
- these coupons – in various forms – appear in the mailboxes of (literally) hundreds of millions of other Americans
- said coupons and ads (being mail) are printed, and represent thousands of tons of paper, toxic ink, fuel energy (both in their production and distribution), and airborne emissions from the paper mills that create thousands of tons of paper
- I (and, I suspect, most of you) throw away the vast, sweeping majority of said coupons – literally – without so much as a glance
- those coupons and mailers end up filling garbage cans (or, at best, recycle bins)
- they require fuel energy (again) to drag to landfills or recycling bins …
… and every step along the way the mass of this JUNK mail, and the mass of the old-tech USPS trucks, the fuel they use, the loads they put on America’s roads, the oil that lubricates them, the tires that carry them, etc. just keep on making the environment that much worse.
Well, not every day. 6 days a week. Maybe 5 days. Not holidays. If the weather’s not too bad out.
To recap: every day that’s not a Sunday (and sometimes not a Saturday) that doesn’t fall on a state or state-recognized religious holiday when the weather isn’t too terribly awful the USPS unleashes its fleet of 215,625 vehicles, each carrying hundreds (if not thousands) of pounds of pre-landfill crap to your door, on their way to clocking 1.25 billion (again, with a b) miles every year.
That’s an awful lot of vehicles clocking an almost inconceivable number of miles while slurping down petroleum and belching out untold tons of harmful emissions, sure – but the fun doesn’t stop there! Those numbers doesn’t include the hundreds-of-thousands-strong fleet of privately owned cars and trucks that ferry the USPS’ 575,000 career employees to work and home each and every one of those days that’s not a Sunday (and sometimes not a Saturday) that doesn’t fall on a state or state-recognized religious holiday when the weather isn’t too terribly awful …
… all so that, every few days, I can dig a single Netflix DVD out from a mess of junk mail before throwing it out.
That said, the USPS has outlived its usefulness, is bad Bad BAD for Mother Earth, and I won’t miss it when it’s gone. Now, enjoy some Seinfeld!