Living on Earth asks How much is a mahogany tree worth?
By the side of the water in the upper Jingo watershed it's probably worth five to 20 dollars depending on how big it is, which would usually be paid for in sugar and gasoline to whichever farmer or poor person cut it down. By the time it gets to a sawmill, it's worth a couple thousand dollars. When it's cut into boards and shipped down to one of the great port cities like Manaos or Belém, it's worth probably a hundred thousand dollars. By the time it gets to a furniture showroom on Madison Avenue in New York, I've seen mahogany sideboards priced at 25 thousand dollars apiece. So that tree, in the end, could be worth a million dollars.
It's not shocking, yet, although it's not something I can say I "knew", I can't say I didn't have some sort of idea. I suppose an economist would try to explain to me how the raw material, as an important part of the quickly vanishing ecosystems which make our lives possible, and the labor it takes to get it, is worth only a pile of sugar, but that carved up into a simple piece of furniture, it is worth a million dollars. I still don't think I would understand.
I come across little factoids like this all the time, and like any good little consumer, I am very efficient when it comes to ignoring information about how my actions don't seem to jive with what I want to think are my moral values. Maybe this story stood out because I relate it to an interview I was having with someone for my thesis last week. The subject told me how he felt that it is usually possible to tell how far a product traveled by the price... if it has traveled a long way to get to the store, it must cost more because it used more fuel and labor to get there.
That would make sense... if only it were true. Like with the crazy pricing of an invaluable tree, I can't fit my brain around why things produced locally, often with much less negative impact on the earth and everyone involved in getting it to me, would be more expensive than something that does so much damage in it's production and transport to my table.
Maybe I'm just too simple-minded. I guess I don't deserve to be getting my degree in August... I should stay in school longer so I can get nice and smart and understand such things.