How to be an environmentalist in two steps
04 March 05. |
Bonus: Do lots of crap like changing your light bulbs and buying stuff in paper packaging, which won't have a tenth the impact of #1 and 2, but may make you feel better.
I know this is a little different from the easy steps list you may see here and there, because for many people the steps in the two-step program aren't easy. But the rest is a farce, a list of things which have an impact that is orders of magnitudes smaller than the big two.
For example, the statistic bandied about is that it takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef; by contrast, my water bill tells me that my house (two residents) uses that much water in 25 days. Anything I can do, like fixing leaky faucets or showering instead of taking a bath, is an order of magnitude smaller than the amount of water I could save by reducing demand for beef by a single pound. [Of course, if you live in Santa Fe, NM, then you care deeply about water, because the city has such a limited supply, because so much of the Western U.S.'s water supply is funneled off to beef production.]
As for driving, buying a car and cutting down on trips still induces most of the damage caused by producing and disposing of a car. If you buy a small car instead of an SUV, you may cut gas consumption in half, but that's still hundreds of gallons a year and half a ton of steel, paint, plastics, and chemicals with no non-technical name. Driving less is a far cry from not driving.
The question of why the press so often fails to mention the big two when discussing environmentalism are probably obvious to you, but it is worth enumerating a few:
Meanwhile, the light bulbs and the environmentally friendly solvents and the other bonus niceties all involve purchasing--and paying a premium for--a product. Extensive advertisement immediately follows.
Not eating meat is a much simpler task than not driving, since the alternatives are abundant and served/sold in the same place. Nor are there special dietary issues. [I am oh so tired of people asking me where I get my protein. I get it from food. In fact, there's evidence that excess protein consumption (and that means most Americans) leads to calcium depletion = osteoporosis. Don't drink cow's milk for strong bones: just don't eat the cow.]
However, what we eat is almost entirely determined by what we are familiar with. Again, changing the status quo of what we think of as good food takes great effort.
Meanwhile, they are basically costless: you get to live the same lifestyle you had before, but with more paper and less plastic. Food and transportation are fundamental, and to a great extent, being a vegetarian or being a non-driver is its own self-identification, which many don't find to be desirable. Given the package of vegetarian plus environmentalist, many would like to just drop the vegetarian part.
This is all a reminder that if your criteria for being a good environmentalist are strict adherence to no.s 1 and 2 above, the nobody in modern society is a good environmentalist. Isn't it so much more pleasant to define good environmentalists by whether they bring their own mug to the coffee shop?
These interdependent causes add up to a massive avoidance of the big issues by the environmental advocates (and I am in no position to say whether such a strategy has been a net winner or loser for the environment). Most of the discussion among environmentalists is not about not driving, but about driving something a little smaller, and discussion about diet is typically entirely missing. Instead, we are inundated with little details, which are several orders of magnitude less important, but orders of magnitude less threatening.
Still reading? Another post continues on this thread.
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