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It's Easy Being Green
May 1, 2008 6:33 AM   Subscribe

Simple, with icons. 50 Ways to Help the Planet.

See also:

Global Warming Facts
ThinkQuest Ways to Help the Environment
21 Practical Ways to Help the Environment

BTW, the Practical Environmentalist is a blog that tries to keep you updated with news and tips about the practical aspect of being green. Included is a rich list of environmental resources.
posted by netbros (98 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
That sounds like a plan, Stan.
posted by jquinby at 6:39 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Pairing #17 and #18 sounds like a fun challenge.
posted by jbickers at 6:49 AM on May 1, 2008


I've found that the problem with these lists is the things I already do or that don't apply. That gives me a sense of having a "credit" and therefore a pass on some of the other items.

That green car dealership is hilarious. What's next, low-carb heroin?
posted by DU at 6:49 AM on May 1, 2008


there wasn't anything new in the first link. and some of the icons didn't make any sense! but, it is very web 2.0 so maybe it will make some people think that "helping the earth" is cool.

i just wonder how many times and how many different ways we have to tell people to recycle/take shorter showers/etc. before they actually do it.

in 3rd or 4th grade it was a big anniversary of earth day. there was all the normal hoopla you'd expect over it. our school or maybe some other organization gave us all wee little saplings to plant. my folks and i actually did. it was a couple inches tall when we planted "my" tree. 18 years later it's a big ol' tree and every time i'm in saginaw i make sure to drive by the old house to make sure the tree is still there and to see how big it's grown. i am proud of it. i really, really want to do something like that again, but i don't have a yard, and i don't think the city of philadelphia would look kindly on me digging up rittenhouse square.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:49 AM on May 1, 2008


I want to be educated. I think a lot of these are good ideas, and I practice some. But I think my disconnect is in the aim. These are great things to do. But I guess I'd be a smarter person if somebody can educate me in the likely chain of events that will lead to companies not retaliating/adjusting, and a difference being made.

If I use less electricity, how does that help somebody somewhere. I mean I'd love to think that I turn this light off, then others do, then less is used, then demand has thus gone down, thus prices go down, thus production goes down, thus more people can get electricity..... but... well I'm confused. So educate me.

Similarly, why am I worried about rinsing out the bottom of my cups so they get clean in the dishwasher, when people are filling up their pools and water parks are about to enter their peak season. But beyond that, let's say I and others do change and we go to that same thing above - we consume less water - demand goes down, prices go down, more people around me who couldn't afford water can get it now...but then what - doesn't demand go up?

Understand that I'm not making any definitive statement of how something is going wrong. Rather, I'm asking someone who is passionate with these issues to explain the desired probable scenarios that they expect to result, including forseeing problems related to corporations and greed, and how at the end things will be better. Like assume it's the year 2070 and things are now sustainable. Tell me like you're reading from a history book, what happened.
posted by cashman at 6:54 AM on May 1, 2008


I'm a big fan of CFLs, but I think tip #1 ("Use these bulbs for closets, laundry rooms and other places where it won't irk you as much") is poor advice. CFLs have a long warm-up time and turning them on and off is hard on them; they're a bad choice for closets and other places where they're only used for short intervals. And the energy savings won't amount to much if the light is only used for a few minutes a day.
posted by Western Infidels at 7:04 AM on May 1, 2008


Thanks for the easy pickings, cashman. Change starts with you, the individual, not other people. I can control only what I do. My question is: If everyone took shorter showers, how would that impact the environment?
posted by kindalike at 7:04 AM on May 1, 2008


Cashman the problem is that in America we have a "ME" attitude and not an "US" one. Most of these say if we all were to do it, things would change. It is easy for someone to put this out and say we need to do this but it is hard for everyone to be on the same page. A lot of these are easy enough and would save money in the long run. I am always trying new ways to save the planet and my pocket book at the same time. I got a deal for ya, how bout you pick 2 or 3 things on this list and I'll pick 2 or 3 new ones as well. If we team up we'll form a trend and soon enough it'll be the in thing to do and people who don't will be called jerks. :?)
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:08 AM on May 1, 2008


My question is: If everyone took shorter showers, how would that impact the environment?

Stronger body odour? It depends on the person; a lucky few actually smell nice unshowered, but they are sadly rare.

Me, I wash my dishes about once a week, so I already use one-seventh of the water a clean person uses when washing dishes. Possibly slightly more than one-seventh, since it does take a little more scrubbing to get week-old grease stains off a plate, but still definitely less than Mister I-Like-My-Dishes-Clean, I'd say. Also, I never vacuum, and do my laundry about once a month if I can. Longer, sometimes, if it's been cold and I haven't been perspiring much.

Ergo: Being lazy is good for the environment! My one sin is that I like taking showers. My room may be a mess but I can't abide smelling like an unwashed person.
posted by WalterMitty at 7:16 AM on May 1, 2008


From #37: "Some estimate that telephone books make up almost ten percent of waste at dump sites."

That's patently absurd, right?
posted by Perplexity at 7:17 AM on May 1, 2008


They got the freecycle address wrong
It's supposed to be http://www.freecycle.org/
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 7:18 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Not really; some people are really terrible at estimating.
posted by cortex at 7:19 AM on May 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


WalterMitty: You too can make a difference. Take your dishes into the shower with you.
posted by bondcliff at 7:24 AM on May 1, 2008


how do i recycle nytimes.com? seriously, though, i think little stuff like this is good for making people aware that they are making choices all the time that impact the environment. on the other hand, my lifestyle is greener than most Americans' because i live in an apartment, don't have a car, etc. i bet i could leave a lot of light bulbs on and still be greener than if i had a big car and drove it all the time. does focusing on these smaller things distract us from the fact that in order to survive this century we need to make big changes in how we live? like, bigger than using 5 paper napkins/day instead of 6.
posted by snofoam at 7:25 AM on May 1, 2008


Take your dishes into the shower with you.

If you install a garbage disposal in there, you can also prepare fresh vegetables for your next meal.
posted by jquinby at 7:26 AM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


Only do #4 if you're willing to eat undercooked food.
posted by Dave Faris at 7:27 AM on May 1, 2008


The bottom line is: Anything but my car!
posted by kindalike at 7:30 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Dave Faris: Yeah, that one was stupid. There are better ways to save the environment.
posted by snofoam at 7:30 AM on May 1, 2008


Fine ideas. Nice icons. But how did they manage to make such an ugly t-shirt?
posted by rokusan at 7:30 AM on May 1, 2008


"By the time a child is toilet trained, a parent will change between 5,000 and 8,000 diapers, adding up to approximately 3.5 million tons of waste in U.S. landfills each year."

can't say i agree a hundred percent with your police work there, lou...
posted by stubby phillips at 7:31 AM on May 1, 2008


Cashman the problem is that in America we have a "ME" attitude and not an "US" one.

People blame individualism in America for a lot of things, but I think anti-environmental actions go deeper than that. For example, Chinese culture has much less of a "ME" attitude than the US, and yet China still manages to do at least their share of damage to the environment.

I got a deal for ya, how bout you pick 2 or 3 things on this list and I'll pick 2 or 3 new ones as well. If we team up we'll form a trend and soon enough it'll be the in thing to do and people who don't will be called jerks.

Unfortunately massive national problems can't usually be solved by everyone deciding to do the right thing. Take the Civil Rights Movement, it was made up of normal people, but it did not reach its goals by giving out lists of things of 50 things racists could do to be a little less racist. The only way to fix big systematic problems is to implement big systematic solutions.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:31 AM on May 1, 2008 [4 favorites]


we need to eat baby poo. in the dark.
posted by snofoam at 7:33 AM on May 1, 2008


Cashman: You're setting an impossibly high standard. It sounds like you want to hear that if you just do this one little thing, then that will ... set off a fantastic chain reaction that will change the world!!! Uh, no.

Look, I don't have any particular expertise with economics or the environment. But I have common sense. Leaving the water running while you're brushing your teeth is just monstrously selfish. You don't need any elaborate, Rube Goldberg-ian rationale. Just ask if you could easily conserve resources with minimal pain to yourself. Do you get anything out of running the water while brushing your teeth? No. How much effort does it take to turn off the water? Essentially none. Does it waste a significant amount of resources? Yes. There you go. Turn off the water while you're brushing your teeth.

The eventual chain reaction that might result is a potentially interesting academic issue to read up on. But you don't need to know about it before you can be motivated to live in a more responsible way.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:35 AM on May 1, 2008


Cashman, I think your questions are excellent. I'm having real difficulty finding any scientific projections about what would be improved if the whole world were to suddenly begin taking these 50 steps today. Everything says just do it. It doesn't say, then what?

Intuitively we can surmise that less energy consumption means less greenhouse gases, especially from areas in the world that are still producing energy with coal. Will that close the ozone hole? If so, there then become less concerns about health and warming.

Here are factors that can change by practicing sound environmental advice. It remains to be determined what the end result would be.

1. Freshwater supply
2. Global warming
3. Food supply and price
4. Health
5. Energy availability
6. Pollution - particularly to oceans
7. Consumption
8. Corporate growth vs. limited resources
posted by netbros at 7:36 AM on May 1, 2008


Alternatively, close one cement plant and everybody on Metafilter can turn up the AC and heat our patios.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:39 AM on May 1, 2008


Also, here's an AskMetafilter question about why it's a good idea to save water. Some very insightful answers in there.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:41 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


i think understanding the relative scope is pretty important. like, if you live somewhere with an abundance of clean, fresh water and little energy is required to get it to your tap, i guess it may indeed be "monstrously selfish" to leave it running while you brush your teeth. but if it doesn't actually help the world to not leave it running, who cares? it's not like the water running from your tap would actually help boost the rapidly falling water tables underneath china and india.
posted by snofoam at 7:44 AM on May 1, 2008


Quit stalling and finish your dinner, snofoam. There's hungry kids in China.
posted by cortex at 7:45 AM on May 1, 2008


Take the Civil Rights Movement, it was made up of normal people, but it did not reach its goals by giving out lists of things of 50 things racists could do to be a little less racist. The only way to fix big systematic problems is to implement big systematic solutions.

Nice. I'm thinking along these lines too, even though I like the ideas in the list.
posted by cashman at 8:02 AM on May 1, 2008


I'm having real difficulty finding any scientific projections about what would be improved if the whole world were to suddenly begin taking these 50 steps today.

A $24 million dollar study was done in 2005 called the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment by organizations representing 1,360 scientists in 95 countries. It is the largest assessment ever done of the planets carrying capacity, the first time global civilization has surveyed the world's biological resources and assessed how increasing losses would affect the future. The final diagnosis: the earth is wearing out and will become exhausted with business as usual. So yeah, keep on business as usual, wait for proof that recycling is a good idea, wait to be the last in line to make a change for the better, there is plenty of time to wait.. wait.. wait.. for more scientific proof, there is always reason to wait.
posted by stbalbach at 8:08 AM on May 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


I'm not even looking for some scientific proof - just an idea or rationale in terms of large scale, meaningful, non-temporary change. I like this:

if you can teach everybody that waste is a bad idea, no matter at what scale and what cost, then the chances of electing politicians who hold the same values on a large scale becomes more likely. So, while biking to work, or not eating as much meat, won't actually change anything on the global scale, making people aware of the issues at play is still important. If you can convince people to turn their tap off a little earlier while brushing their teeth, you might eventually get consensus on (environment conservation issues)

one_bean from the askme jaltcoh linked.
posted by cashman at 8:40 AM on May 1, 2008


i guess it may indeed be "monstrously selfish" to leave it running while you brush your teeth. but if it doesn't actually help the world to not leave it running, who cares?

I take it you didn't read the AskMe about water, linked above.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:44 AM on May 1, 2008


Diapers? How about Don't Reproduce? Because let's face it, that's a huge issue that has somehow become the thing that's not polite to mention.
posted by tula at 9:26 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


8. GO VEGETARIAN ONCE A WEEK
One less meat-based meal a week helps the planet and your diet.


This one always blows me away. Are there really people or families who eat meat at every dinner, 7 days a week? I'm not a vegetarian, but we only eat meat (including fish and poultry) about 4 times a week. How could anyone afford so much meat?
posted by peep at 9:30 AM on May 1, 2008


A few of these tips were really stretching it. Use cotton swabs with a paper spindle? Really?

How about a bigger one: choose products with less packaging and plastics, period. When I'm buying things, I try as much as possible to get things with as little packaging as possible (close to impossible these days). Unless it's a loose item, I don't bag my produce, I just put it right in the cart and perhaps use a bag when I get home.

Also: reuse things as much as possible. There was no mention of reusing plastic containers, etc.

Oh, here's a good one: buy fewer things, and buy what you need used.

Ignore fashion trends. Purchase high quality clothing that will last years and years, and then wear it for years and years. Somehow, I know what "darning a sock" means. I've never seen it being done, and I doubt I ever will. The idea of mending old clothing, or even really people being conscientious about keeping their clothing in good shape, has been completely lost since people now purchase new clothing faster than it falls apart (never mind that clothing falls apart these days much faster than it once did).

I'll talk with my girlfriend today about switching to CFCs, but I'm really looking forward to when we can use LED lights instead.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:30 AM on May 1, 2008


So I'm guessing you could summarize this list thusly:

1. Reduce
2. Reuse
3. Recycle
posted by Pollomacho at 9:32 AM on May 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


These are all fine things to do. I do virtually all of them, except the ones that don't apply (no AC, and so forth). So, yeah. We should all do these things. Wasting less is good.

That said, we're still kind of stuck with the big problem that if we all do a little, it adds up to a little. It's nice to say that if we each reduce our energy consumption by 10% we'll have saved such and such million kilowatt hours every year. But did you notice the changing measurement there? I went from percentages to raw numbers, like all of the things exhorting you to save energy do.

In fact, if we each reduce our energy consumption by 10% -- every single person in the world -- we'll have reduced our total energy consumption by: 10%.

The idea that "If we each do a little, it adds up to a lot" only holds for certain scenarios. Like, say, if each MeFi member gave me a dollar I'd end up with a decent chunk of cash. We each gave a little, and it added up to a lot. But that only works because each little piece was concentrated together. If each MeFi member gave a dollar to the member who joined after you, it wouldn't add up to anything. Matt would be out a buck and whoever joined last would be a dollar richer, and that's it. But the same total amunt of money would have changed hands.

My point here is to agree with whoever above said that the only thing that's going to fix this is big interventions. These kinds of things are good in a sort of PR way -- they get people thinking about how their actions affect the planet and how much they waste. But in a practical "making a real difference" kind of sense? They won't do much. Even if we all did them religiously. Again to echo upthread, close one cement plant and we can all skip most of these ideas.
posted by rusty at 9:33 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


This one always blows me away. Are there really people or families who eat meat at every dinner, 7 days a week? I'm not a vegetarian, but we only eat meat (including fish and poultry) about 4 times a week. How could anyone afford so much meat?

Hi, peep, welcome to America! Have a look around!
posted by Pollomacho at 9:34 AM on May 1, 2008


How is #45 a way to help the planet? It's basically, don't use rock salt or some other ice melter b/c dogs might eat it and it might hurt them. While that might be bad for the dogs, I don't really see how it harms the environment.
posted by nooneyouknow at 9:39 AM on May 1, 2008


Hi, peep, welcome to America! Have a look around!

I'm not really sure what this means. I don't know anyone who eats meat 7 days a week, and my circle of acqaintances includes coworkers who make $500K and relatives who are on WIC.

I guess what I'm saying is I find the "tips" on the list to be so obvious that it's absurd.
posted by peep at 9:42 AM on May 1, 2008


I'm not really sure what this means.

Most Americans eat a lot of meat. I don't have statistics on this , but I'd say most eat meat at least once if not two or three times a day. This practice goes back for many, many generations.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:47 AM on May 1, 2008


This list is another example of someone who has their heart in the right place, but is so desperate to not offend or alienate anyone that their message becomes incredibly wimpy. People need to realize how dire the situation is. With this in mind, allow me to edit.

#3: "skip rinsing dishes before using your dishwasher" should read "don't buy a dishwasher."
#6: "diaper with a conscience" should read "don't have kids."
#8: "go vegetarian once a week" should read "go vegetarian."
#10: "use one less paper napkin" should read "don't use paper napkins."
#14: "rethink bottled water" should read "buying bottled water is insane."
#20: "use your cruise control" should read "get rid of your car."
#27: "if you must water your lawn" should read "don't water your lawn."
#29: "recycle old cell phones" should read "the world got along just fine without cell phones for millions of years, so you don't really need one now."
#35: "cut down on junk mail" should read "find the people who are responsible for this shit and imprison them."
#39: "go to a car wash" should read "I thought you got rid of that thing!?"
#40: "plastic bags suck" should read "plastic bags really suck."
#41: "fly with an e-ticket" should read "don't fly."
#44: "skip the coffee stirrer" should read "skip the coffee."
#48: "stop paper bank statements" should read "stop banks."

#41 really sums it up for me. Go ahead and get on an airplane and fly wherever you want, just be sure not to use a piece of paper for the ticket. Give me a break. If you're not inconveniencing yourself in any way, you're probably not really making a difference.
posted by crazylegs at 9:50 AM on May 1, 2008 [4 favorites]


crazylegs: dishwashers wash dishes using significantly less water and power than you'd use washing them by hand, assuming you don't do the idiotic step of washing them by hand before you put them in the dishwasher, which way too many people do.

So I think #3 should stand as-is.
posted by rusty at 10:01 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


i know it's an oversimplification, but i think energy use is probably a decent proxy for destructiveness. (wasting water, excess packaging, not recycling and leaving the lights on all increase our energy use.) if we figured out the energy use of these various things, then we could focus on the things that make the biggest difference. (and we could still do all 50 things if we wanted.)

one alternative to having a chart like this would be to use common sense, as deathalicious suggests, but part of the problem is that the environmental costs of our actions are not necessarily intuitive to gauge.

my guess, also mentioned upthread, is that there are a small number of things we could do that would have a huge impact that would dwarf the 50 things on the list. of course, these things - not having a car, not having kids, not eating meat - are basically too horrifying to even mention.
posted by snofoam at 10:07 AM on May 1, 2008


These kinds of things are good in a sort of PR way -- they get people thinking about how their actions affect the planet and how much they waste. But in a practical "making a real difference" kind of sense? They won't do much.

I think the risk is that it makes people say "I bought new lightbulbs, so I'm doing my part". They don't feel the need to pressure their government to bring about any real change, or even make major personal sacrifices like giving up their car.

If the upcoming environmental problems are the equivalent of nuclear war, then lists like these are the equivalent of duck and cover.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:09 AM on May 1, 2008


on preview, what everyone said.
posted by snofoam at 10:14 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


"these things - not having a car, not having kids, not eating meat - are basically too horrifying to even mention."

I hope this is irony...it's hard to tell. I don't have a car or kids, and don't eat meat. I'm not horrified at all.

rusty - how could a dishwasher possibly be more efficient than washing dishes by hand? I really don't understand how this is possible unless when you wash dishes you fill your sink up to the rim with scalding hot water several times over, and then maybe use some kind of hand held electric scrubber on them.
posted by crazylegs at 10:18 AM on May 1, 2008


peep: I don't think that tip is about "stop eating meat 7 times a week" but "eat 1 less meat meal than you do." So, since your family eats it 4 times a week, maybe you should go down to 3?
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:21 AM on May 1, 2008


Are there really people or families who eat meat at every dinner, 7 days a week? I'm not a vegetarian, but we only eat meat (including fish and poultry) about 4 times a week. How could anyone afford so much meat?

I whole-heartedly agree. When I mentioned to a friend of mine that I'm a vegetarian, he said he tried that once -- for two days. I told him that while I respect the effort to try vegetarianism for a short time even if you don't end up sticking with it, two days doesn't even count as "going vegetarian." That's like saying: "I've become celibate -- I haven't had sex in two days." No, you haven't gone "celibate" or "vegetarian" -- you've just slowed down!

Anyway, his response was: "Well, I did consider it going vegetarian, because usually I can't eat any meal that doesn't have meat." And he told me that he had to give it up after two days because it was just two hard for him to eat a single meal without meat.

And they say vegetarians are the ones with the restrictive diet?!
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:22 AM on May 1, 2008


I mean I'd love to think that I turn this light off, then others do, then less is used, then demand has thus gone down, thus prices go down, thus production goes down, thus more people can get electricity..... but... well I'm confused. So educate me.

Production definitely goes down, not as an economic effect, but because the the electric grid can't really store power. (It does a little bit, but we can neglect that for this consideration.) By and large, as much power is produced at any given time as is being used at any given time. When everyone wakes up and turns on whatever, the power plants start throwing more coal on the fire. At night, when power use lessens, they turn down the burners. When there's a heat wave and air conditioner use soars, they'll ramp up to maximum load and then start up inefficient and dirty peaking units.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:23 AM on May 1, 2008


I hope this is irony...it's hard to tell. I don't have a car or kids, and don't eat meat. I'm not horrified at all.

Imagine you have a car, and kids, and eat meat. Or that you're a year away from all of those things, which you've been looking forward to. That's the horror; that's the hard part. There's no irony to the idea that asking people en masse to make fundamental changes to their lives and life plans is tantamount to asking them to cut off a hand.
posted by cortex at 10:27 AM on May 1, 2008


Meat eating is fine as long as you're eating other humans. Solve two problems at once.
posted by crazylegs at 10:28 AM on May 1, 2008


cortex - I take your point, but maybe it's a bit overstated. I realize that many people are attached to their cars, but I can safely say they're even more attached to their hands.

Although if you did cut off your hand... there's one pretty ethical meal. Although it would probably be pretty tough...
posted by crazylegs at 10:30 AM on May 1, 2008


On a more serious note (?), I grew up eating meat, and gave it up in my early 20s. Didn't horrify me. It wasn't even difficult. I had a car and was thrilled to get rid of it. What horrifies me is that when I move back to Canada from the UK I will probably have to get another car. Now THAT'S horrifying.

As far as kids go, I won't go off on some anti-kid rant, but I will say that not producing a child would do more for ecological balance than all of these 50 suggestions many times over. That's an entire human lifetime of consumption and waste that just isn't happening. Now that's carbon neutral!
posted by crazylegs at 10:34 AM on May 1, 2008


cortex - speaking of diet, I just took a look at your photo... !?!
posted by crazylegs at 10:36 AM on May 1, 2008


not producing a child would do more for ecological balance than all of these 50 suggestions many times over. That's an entire human lifetime of consumption and waste that just isn't happening. Now that's carbon neutral!

That's why I go around getting women pregnant then paying for them to have abortions. Just doing my part!
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:43 AM on May 1, 2008


While the makers of these lists have, I am sure, only the best intentions, I've come to believe that they do more harm than good. We are facing very real environmental problems with very real consequences. We know how to prevent these problems, but we don't really want to change our lifestyles. Lists like these let people think that they aren't part of the problem anymore, because they don't use paper airline tickets or some other such bullshit. Statements like this are lies:

"Going green" doesn't have to be a daunting task that means sweeping life changes.

To be truly green, we are going to have to make some significant changes in our lifestyles. We should speak the truth about the environmental consequences of our actions, not pretend that a few small changes are enough. I don't think most people know the scale of the changes we need to make and we should be taking it upon ourselves to educate them.
posted by ssg at 10:58 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


crazylegs: Seems counterintuitive doesn't it? Basically, dishwashers use less water by heating small amounts of water up really hot and putting it right where it's needed. They use less energy by heating small amounts of water rather than your huge 40 or 50 gallon tank. It's easy to find articles about this, but for one number that stuck with me: rinsing an average day's worth of family dishes one at a time by hand would use 25 gallons of water. A dishwasher will rinse them all at once with one gallon of water. Dishwashers are just far more efficient. Note also that this efficiency does start to break down at the level of one person living alone. If it would take you two weeks to fill a dishwasher, you're probably at least as well off just washing them yourself. But for a family, which is likely to fill a dishwasher's worth of dishes every day, it's by far the better way to go.

And I say this as someone who doesn't own a dishwasher and really ought to myself. At least I'm using watershed-replenished surface water, but the energy I use to heat dishwashing water is a waste. I'll get a dishwasher someday.

burnmp3s: The other risk of consumer-level stuff like this is it also makes people feel like "this is all my fault." Which it partly is, but mostly isn't. While we all concentrate on changing our lightbulbs, the coal companies are whistling quietly and sorta looking the other way, hoping we're sufficiently distracted.
posted by rusty at 11:05 AM on May 1, 2008


ssg has it. for most americans it ISN'T easy being green, unless you can change your mindset and your lifestyle radically.

if you can do that, then maybe it is easy. biking is fun, there's plenty of good food that isn't meat, not being kept up at night by screaming babies is great.

regardless, changing q-tip brands is not the answer and is in fact probably just a distraction from the real issues.
posted by snofoam at 11:08 AM on May 1, 2008


Americans use an average of six paper napkins a day? Sorry to sound harsh, but:

- Try eating at home now and then. With cutlery.
- Look in the mirror. Find out where your mouths are located, and aim for there.
posted by dowcrag at 11:21 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


how could a dishwasher possibly be more efficient than washing dishes by hand? I really don't understand how this is possible unless when you wash dishes you fill your sink up to the rim with scalding hot water several times over, and then maybe use some kind of hand held electric scrubber on them.

An efficient dishwasher uses 15L of hot water. That's equivalent to filling your sink with about 12cm of hot water (or a little more than half a full sink). The electricity required to run the pump in the dishwasher is pretty small compared to the energy required to heat up the additional water you would probably use to wash your dishes by hand.
posted by ssg at 11:21 AM on May 1, 2008


To be truly green, we are going to have to make some significant changes in our lifestyles. We should speak the truth about the environmental consequences of our actions, not pretend that a few small changes are enough. I don't think most people know the scale of the changes we need to make and we should be taking it upon ourselves to educate them.
ssg

While you are correct, your approach is exactly the wrong one, as cortex was trying to point out to crazylegs.

There's no irony to the idea that asking people en masse to make fundamental changes to their lives and life plans is tantamount to asking them to cut off a hand.

Fundamentally, this is a PR problem. The "in your face" attitude espoused by people like crazylegs is satisfying, and their suggestions might be factually right, but the point is not to be right. The point is to convince people to make changes in their lives.

And these really are huge, huge changes that are being advocated. Having kids isn't just something people like to do, it's basically considered part of being an adult across the worlde. Owning a car is ingrained in at least American culture, as is eating meat (burgers, BBQ, etc). If you want to get people to stop doing these things, or reduce it, shouting in their face won't help. That will have the opposite effect. Educating people on the scale of the changes will, I think, also have the opposite: the changes are so huge and so fundamental that people will either ignore it or be convinced that nothing can be done.

But something can be done. It's just all about presentation, so that you can convince others to join, and small steps like these are the way to do it. Don't lie about the scope, just change the emphasis and presentation to make people want to move your way. These 50 points are presented all wrong. I think it would be a lot more effective to present them in terms of saving money and effort to the individual. Presenting it as something you can do to save the environment is going to make a portion of the population roll their eyes and ignore your advice as "hippie bullshit". But telling them they'll save money and effort might get more listeners.

Similarly, high-level political changes need support. Congress will act if it thinks people want it (ie, if the Congressmen think it will help them get reelected). Small-scale efforts like this, as someone mentioned above, can make people more receptive to government plans. And those plans can also be framed in terms that better appeal to people, in terms of saving taxpayers money, making the American economy stronger, achieving energy independence and thus helping national security, etc.

You shouldn't let your passion blind you to how important presentation is, because at the end of the day you are trying to persuade other people, people who are often skeptical about or openly hostile to your aims.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:05 PM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


I do 46 of those. Whaddya know. The Boomers had it right after all-- we used to refuse bags in stores with the mantra "Save a Tree." Think where we'd be if all the SUV-driving, conspicuously consuming Gen Xrs had listened to their older siblings. Sorry to snark on you GenX, but frankly, you piss me off. (Gets out the BenGay, because my arm aches from patting myself on the back.)
posted by nax at 12:06 PM on May 1, 2008


Sangermaine - I agree with you, and am very glad there are people like you in the world to convince the people who don't like people like me. I'm aware that my approach can be abrasive (I've been told that enough), but I think the situation is dire enough that somebody needs to be pulling the fire alarm while others try to gently convince.

I think there's too much energy being spent lying to people by advising them on things they can do to avert an environmental crisis. The crisis is already happening, and it has been going on for some time now. The only reason that many people are not more aware of that fact is because they're so alienated from the natural world by technology and social structure.

I agree with ssg's opinion about the line "Going green" doesn't have to be a daunting task that means sweeping life changes.

Allow me to edit once more: "Going green" is a daunting task that most certainly means sweeping life (and societal) changes. So get ready.
posted by crazylegs at 12:25 PM on May 1, 2008


i think in theory, someone could express the magnitude of the problems and the changes we need to make without being abrasive. i also think that getting people to make little changes may have almost no impact on whether they will make bigger changes in the future. also, from a PR standpoint, stressing these little things that are of marginal utility gives a chance for people to question the importance of these actions. it's easy to poke holes in the q-tips, phone books type tips, it would be much harder to refute the damage of car use.
posted by snofoam at 12:32 PM on May 1, 2008


nax, not to be snarky or overgeneralize, but perhaps there's a reason that GenXers overconsume?

Let's see...in general, boomers were raised by parents who had gone through the depression and thus were notoriously thrifty. On the other hand, many GenXers were raised in families where both parents worked. The solution to the absence of traditional parenting love was purchasing items for their kids. If people are upset that these newer generations are spoiled, well, look at the tense of that word: spoiled. If they are spoiled, then someone spoiled them. So the blame goes on your generation.

Overworking and overconsumption, for many many people, has replaced thrift and spending more time at home. It's a tradeoff that, honestly, most people seem very happy to make.

The phrase "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." was coined by the US government in the war period. Take a look at these posters. Do you honestly think the government today would ever have a "If you're riding alone, you're riding with terrorists" campaign? No. The government actually depends on overconsumption just as much as the corporations do.

Like everyone else is saying, this problem is structural.

Which is to say, it isn't generational.
posted by Deathalicious at 12:37 PM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


in the war period. in the WWII period.
posted by Deathalicious at 12:37 PM on May 1, 2008


On the one hand, these lists are usually fairly lame, in the sense that it's all relatively easy stuff people should generally be doing anyway. A lot of it is common sense that cuts down your utility bills or just reduces your own waste stream with a little forethought.

On the other hand, no one I grew up with does any of these except me. This is the low-hanging fruit, but the U.S. overwhelmingly not reaching up even that far. And even among my grad school bionerd friends, we could be doing better. It's tricky to keep challenging yourself and do better when your personal resources are limited and most people you interact with regularly don't even bother to sort their trash from the recycling. Or do the opposite-- the entirely uninformed "recycler" who contaminates the bin with all kinds of crap they assume is recyclable due to the magicks of technology.

Meanwhile, I am on a quest for a list like this that is neither "effortless morale boost! yay!" nor "all must become (fill in the blank now) vegan/bikers/carfree/organic/childless/local just like me." Something with real science behind it. Something that isn't just propaganda or a guilt trip or individualized greenwashing.

My quest continues. Maybe I should give up and start a blog. I keep wanting to look up facts for comments in threads like these, but it's exhausting to track down all the information and present it to someone. I remember things here and there, but it takes research to really explain to someone unfamiliar with coal, acid rain, and bioaccumulation just how it is that the mercury in fish and damage to forests in New England are partially due to how much coal we burn in the U.S. to generate electricity.

So, my general answer to cashman: it's not about demand going down and prices changing. It's about moderating what you use so that you A) contribute less to pollution and global warming in the case of electricity, and B) lessen stress on your local watershed in the case of water. If you go to the USGS site, you can look up your local watershed. Your electric company should make the source of your power public information. Start there, then look into issues affecting your watershed and the environmental impacts of however it is that your electricity is generated.
posted by Tehanu at 12:52 PM on May 1, 2008


Sorry to snark on you GenX, but frankly, you piss me off.

But, we have so much in common! Why, just this morning, I pulled several baseless generalizations out of my ass.
posted by everichon at 12:55 PM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


One-size-fits-all throw-away-your-car environmentalism, whether before or after some larger scale environmental cataclysm, is just dogma and doesn't do much to help out your stated cause. If you want to pull fire alarms, go ahead, just be prepared to not only be ignored, but to raise resentment and reduce the effectiveness of everyone else who shares your stated goal.

The dishwasher thing makes it feel like Green is just another party where membership is telegraphed by conspicuous behaviors with an ascetic, sacrificial appearance which earn the right to belittle those who do not behave as you do... whether your behavior has your desired effect or not.

Along those lines, this notion of not having kids as an act of conservation is laughable. Taking that argument to its natural conclusion, you should burn yourself for fuel to cancel out future resources you might consume because, really, are you somehow more important than your environment?

(My bona fides: squarely in a conservationist, non-car-having, little-waste-tolerating, re-using, re-cycling role... but I'd also consider myself a member of a family, a culture and a society where other things are priorities.)

Children, those environmental black holes, are also the only means we have to affect how things turn out when we no longer have the energy to scoff at others and inspire them with withering acts of sacrifice.

Meat, though top-heavy in energy cost is also very hard to beat in terms of energy density - presuming that nobody is actually proposing they themselves be burned for fuel, we all still need to eat no matter where we live and settle, so energy needs different packaging for different people.

Cars - while I have trouble defending the American Car Culture, I know that a good 90% of the square footage of the US is built with the expectation that you have a machine to get you through it. This is probably the point on which you could get the most traction if you approached it as an enlightened-self-interest exercise.

Maybe conservation is like dieting - instilling a notion of balance and a means to detect what is "enough" is more effective in long term sustainability than any given crash or willpower-proving sacrifice. What's more, one person's diet may or may not apply to another person due both to innate physical qualities and environmental factors (from resource availability to societal pressure).

What's worse: I agree that this list is weak tea, that the reforms necessary are structural, and that major sacrifices are necessary but I'd like some recommendations based empirically rather than rhetorically.

And of course I was writing all this Tehanu came along and said all this but shorter and better.
posted by abulafa at 1:10 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


it's easy to poke holes in the q-tips, phone books type tips, it would be much harder to refute the damage of car use.
snofoam

This is the core of the problem with your approach. It's not about refuting or not refuting. You assume that if people just knew, they'd act. This is emphatically not the case. Nothing about this is new. There is decades of info, and efforts to spread that info, on the problems caused by cars and other things. You could drive around in a U-Haul full of data on it and lecture people on it. The problem is not that people don't know, it's that they don't care.

I advocate better presentation not out of a desire for civility (well, maybe partly), but because it's literally the only way the problem can be solved. You have to make people care. You have to make people want to change themselves and the world. Just giving info, even really good info done in an awesome way, will be ignored. We've seen that. Unless the world was literally ending this very moment in a way that viscerally affects everyone, people won't change their lives in the fundamental ways you want. People will ignore, people will rationalize, people will be resigned.

So, if you want them to care, attach your aims to thins they do immediately care about: their wallets and their well-being. It'd be nice if people could be moved by abstract principles of conservation, concern for collective well-being, and calls for personal responsibility. And maybe they can be, over time. But if you want fast results, appeal to their self-interest.

I also reject crazylegs' approach because not only is it literally no help at all in solving the problem, it probably actively harms any efforts at change. No one is going to change their mind if you yell, "Hey, there's a problem! Make huge life changes now! DO IT!" (and, though crazylegs himself didn't say it, it's often accompanied by "You morons/selfish bastards/etc!"). You will either be ignored, or piss people off and make them hostile to any change at all. People will act of spite. It will just confirm their image of environmentalist as nuts advocating fairy-tale policies with no conception of the real world. It's not "rational", but if you give a person a reason to confirm what they already think and dismiss you, they will. Especially if the alternative is enormous personal change.

I think Tehanu embodies what I'm talking about:
Meanwhile, I am on a quest for a list like this that is neither "effortless morale boost! yay!" nor "all must become (fill in the blank now) vegan/bikers/carfree/organic/childless/local just like me." Something with real science behind it. Something that isn't just propaganda or a guilt trip or individualized greenwashing.

I think if someone could produce the happy medium he proposes, such a list would be a lot more effective.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:18 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Imagine you have a car, and kids, and eat meat. Or that you're a year away from all of those things, which you've been looking forward to. That's the horror; that's the hard part.

Actually, I've done that with meat and cars, and it's not that hard. (I live in a not-that-small American city.) To call it a "horror" is ludicrous.

We Americans should feel lucky if this is all we have to deal with, living in the richest country in the world. Except we don't even need to deal with this, because it's so easy to keep on eating meat and driving cars and ignoring the effects. I'm not sure where the "horror" is in all this.
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:19 PM on May 1, 2008


No one is going to change their mind if you yell, "Hey, there's a problem! Make huge life changes now! DO IT!" (and, though crazylegs himself didn't say it, it's often accompanied by "You morons/selfish bastards/etc!"). You will either be ignored, or piss people off and make them hostile to any change at all. People will act of spite. It will just confirm their image of environmentalist as nuts advocating fairy-tale policies with no conception of the real world. It's not "rational", but if you give a person a reason to confirm what they already think and dismiss you, they will. Especially if the alternative is enormous personal change.

which comes back to the argument that the problems are structural, and if you gave systemic economic benefits to push people towards the green, they'd do it. would anyone gripe about switching to CFL or LED bulbs if they were ten cents each? The existing tax credits to buy an energy efficient dishwasher or fridge or prius are drops in the bucket, and you'd see huge adoption in solar panels if energy companies were paying you hand over fist to put the energy back on the grid. We need these things to come from the government, the only entity configured to encourage such things on a societal level.
posted by acid freaking on the kitty at 2:32 PM on May 1, 2008


sangermaine, all i meant to say is that if we make the conversation about the little stuff, it's easy to get distracted and derailed. just look at this thread. if i had to guess, lots of comments taking exception to these tips are by people who care deeply about the environment. in some ways, it's analogous to making presidential campaigns about who made a worse gaffe rather than who is a better candidate. plus, some of these tips are ridiculous (see: e-ticket), and that does undermine the credibility of what was a well-intentioned effort.

i don't think it's impossible to have a civilized dialog about making big changes, either. i don't see why that is somehow inherently more divisive, or why discussing those issues is more likely to be done with a holier-than-thou attitude. it's almost more annoying to me to have a laundry list of nitpicking type stuff.

i'm totally with tehanu in wanting something that accurately conveys the magnitude of different actions in a way that really helps me understand the damage i am doing and prioritize.

and as far as the "horror" of the big changes, i think it all depends on your perspective and how much you would have to change. i live in brooklyn and take the subway, so not having a car is easy. i would like to move back to portland sometime and i would choose to live in a neighborhood where i could bike/bus most of the time. for me, not driving doesn't seem horrible. if i lived in the suburbs of atlanta and commuted an 90 minutes each way to some suburb on the other side of atlanta, not having a car would seem totally unrealistic.

that said, i have no idea how to convince someone with a big suburban house and kids that they don't really want that lifestyle.

thought exercise: if you think no car/no meat/no kids/etc sounds fine, imagine what someone would have to do say convince you to move to a big house in the suburbs where you have a bunch of screaming kids and have to commute hours every day and drive five miles just to get a loaf of bread. there's nothing around you but strip malls and you have to eat hot dogs and chicken wings every night. i don't know that i could do it, even if the future of the earth depended on it.
posted by snofoam at 2:46 PM on May 1, 2008


oh. not "to do say" just "to say"
posted by snofoam at 2:47 PM on May 1, 2008


Another good way to save energy is to use black backgrounds on your web pages, instead of white ones. In this, the link fails.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:55 PM on May 1, 2008


That doesn't do a consarned thing on an LCD, though.
posted by cortex at 3:31 PM on May 1, 2008


Why we should use less water.

How homeowners can learn sound practices for using fertilizers and chemicals to avoid contaminating the groundwater supply further than it already has been.

Explanation of nitrates in water. Nitrates come from agriculture, individuals, and corporations who use fertilizers, natural and man made, on their crops and/or lawns (which is why the 2nd link advises using slow-release fertilizers). In the late 1990's, I led a group of school kids on a tour of a rare forest fen in Illinois. The stream was so clean and pure it had once been a source for bottled water. When we got down to the bottom of the hill, I saw a strange green plant growing throughout the stream. I asked the Steward of the fen what it was. He told me it was watercress, and since the stream's source was an underground spring, fertilizers as far away as 20 miles had seeped from people's lawns, into the ground water, and caused an imbalance in the ecosystem. There were no farms in the area, it was all due to heavy application of lawn fertilizers in a concentrated urban sprawl area. He was also seeing changes in other plants, some were decreasing as the balance changed. These plants were so rare that it was illegal to collect their seeds without a permit.

Later on, I moved to a town that had a history of EPA problems due to contaminated water. During my correspondence with the state EPA rep, I was told that most agricultural practices, such as application of fertilizers, are not regulated. Why this is important.

I would venture to say the biggest difference you could make would be to pick an issue, set an example for others, and tell other people about the negative effects of fertilizers, chemicals and overusage on our groundwater supply. I have since moved to the East Coast from the Midwest and I am looking at supporting Friends of Taunton Bay, as it's an area we visit and it's in our state.

Nobody's perfect, just be aware and do the best you can within your means. I really do think every little bit counts, because if you have kids or friends are over seeing you do stuff, it has a ripple effect. We probably won't have system-wide changes without further regulation, especially in regards to agricultural practices.

Thanks for the post. I'm really interested in groundwater and environmental issues in general. I loved #17 on the list, very creative!
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:06 PM on May 1, 2008


Sangermaine:Fundamentally, this is a PR problem.

Educating people on the scale of the changes will, I think, also have the opposite: the changes are so huge and so fundamental that people will either ignore it or be convinced that nothing can be done.


I think that approaching this as a PR problem is entirely wrong. Maybe I'm an optimist, but I think that people have the capacity to understand the problems we face and the potential solutions. When we approach it as a PR problem, we are saying that we are smarter than the general population and so we have to trick them into doing what we want. However, it is much harder to trick someone into demanding political change that will significantly alter their lifestyle than it is to trick them into buying some soda. On the other hand, we don't need to trick people into doing what we want, because we don't need to lie to them. We can tell the truth.

Finally, a lot of people know when they are hearing PR and when you are trying to sell them something. We are highly attuned to PR and we block a lot of it out. If you deliver your message like all the rest of the bullshit out there, people are going to recognize it as bullshit and then they will stop listening to you.

We need to make major, systematic changes to our society. Those changes are unlikely to take place anywhere but on a governmental level. We need voters that are educated about the changes that are needed and demand them of politicians. Telling people to do 50 things that will reduce their environmental impact by some tiny amount isn't going to help because it moves the problem from the realm of public policy to the realm of individual action. We have a commons problem and I think we have seen pretty clearly that individual action is not going to solve it.
posted by ssg at 4:10 PM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


ssg ,
First, I think you and several others are drawing a false dichotomy in what I'm saying between small actions and large actions. I stated above that we need both, and that we should move for both simultaneously. I believe creating a culture of conservation in people's minds will help ease through the big changes needed politically.

You are right, I am a pessimist. I do believe that "people have the capacity to understand the problems we face and the potential solutions", I just think they don't care enough to do anything about it. You talk about telling the truth, but it's been told. It's not like environmental problems, or their solutions, are grand secrets. They're known, widely. People have been talking about them for years, but both the problems and the solutions fall on deaf ears, because of the ham-handed approaches of past supporters. If you want to get serious, you have to get disciplined and think about your message and your delivery.

We DO need systemic changes, but the Powers That Be won't make them if they don't feel the need to. Alternative energy hasn't risen up as an issue because people, after decades of talk about the problems of oil, have suddenly gone green. It's because energy costs are rising. Companies see that they can make money on the green issue now, so they act. Governments see that people are pissed about high prices and foreign oil producers, so they act. Political action will only happen when people prod the politicians into doing it, when they think they'll lose the election if they don't.

And people simply won't do that unless, as with energy, they feel an immediate need to get change. Yes, that's cynical, but I say plan for the worst and hope for the best. The term "PR" seems to throw you off, because you are envisioning "tricks" and ads and such.

Perhaps I should have said, "This is about framing." I feel what has kept people from caring is that the issues have been framed in ways that aren't appealing to people. I think a message of, "We should reduce our use of oil so that we don't have to rely on foreign powers and we can reduce your costs," instead of "We should reduce our use of oil to save the environment and stop global warming," it's not a "trick". It's not a lie. Both things will happen, it's just one, I feel, would get more support than the other. One would make it easier for Congress to take action than the other. This works for actions both large and small: just think about how to put the issue to fire up the most people. It's not lying, it's common sense.
posted by Sangermaine at 4:24 PM on May 1, 2008


Sangermaine: We have been working to create a culture of conservation in people's minds for decades. Trying to get people to make small changes in the hope that they will somehow later make larger changes just doesn't seem to work very well. Our consumption of energy and of natural resources continues to rise. We have larger houses, drive further, and buy more stuff. While we increase our consumption overall, we turn to lists of these "small changes" that are insignificant in the face of the overall trend.

I disagree that environmental problems are widely known. For example, people may recognize the term global warming, but I don't think most people know how many GHG emissions the US produces per capita or how much they could produce sustainably. Why was Al Gore's film successful? It wasn't because everyone already knew all about it.

Finally, I fundamentally disagree with your belief that we shouldn't frame environmental problems in terms of environmental damage. Relying on economics to force the needed changes is foolish. We won't be able to live sustainably until we account for all the environmental externalities of our economic choices.
posted by ssg at 5:15 PM on May 1, 2008


#5: Recycle Glass
#32: Recycle Aluminum and Glass

See, you get two for the price of one, there.
posted by obvious at 8:35 PM on May 1, 2008


#44 actually suggests that I break off a piece of dry pasta, stir my coffee with it, and then eat it.

Three comments: 1) This will accomplish nothing. 2) Maybe the unpleasant experience is meant to cleanse the conscience of consumer guilt. 3) We should call that "hobo biscotti."
posted by PM at 10:21 PM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


Well, sadly, I agree with the people who have criticized me here. I think it's true that a shrill tone turns people off and gives them the excuse to ignore what you're saying.

The bottom line is, people will only listen if you're suggesting things that they want to do anyway, which are generally things that are totally insignificant.

People won't make big changes until they're forced to. So I should probably just give up and let nature take its course. Because as I said earlier, it's already happening, whether I irritate people or not.

I do find it strange though. If somebody's house was on fire, and I ran up and smashed their front window and screamed at them, and they escaped, I don't think they'd be mad at me for being forceful. I see the current situation as identical, except that it's a billion times worse.
posted by crazylegs at 11:55 PM on May 1, 2008


People won't make big changes until they're forced to. So I should probably just give up and let nature take its course. Because as I said earlier, it's already happening, whether I irritate people or not.

Or give up and start looking for ways to organize real incentive to change. Which is non-trivial—inducing dramatic and widespread change likely requires providing a dramatic incentive—but you said it yourself:

The bottom line is, people will only listen if you're suggesting things that they want to do anyway

So there's your real challenge. How do you make it worth someone's time and effort and derailing of some of their current major priorities?

A crisis will do it: if gas prices triple, we'll see a fall-off in fuel consumption. If meat prices soar, we'll see people favor cheaper-to-produce (in both a price-tag and likely a macroeconomic sense) veggie-based diets. If it's just too expensive to raise n kids, people will be more likely to stop at n-1.

But no one really wants it to come to an undeniable crisis. So how do you pre-empt that? And the big discursive issue here is that predicting the crisis just isn't sufficient; nor, even more so, is doing so aggressively or in a proselytizing manner: nobody likes a street preacher telling them how to live their life or whether to drive to work instead of taking the bus or etc. People don't listen to other people yelling at them, but they do listen to money; to their local/state/federal law; to systemic forces. So find a way to work on those, to make change happen at the level of the system.
posted by cortex at 1:34 AM on May 2, 2008


"But no one really wants it to come to an undeniable crisis. So how do you pre-empt that?"

See, this is what I was referring to earlier. You can't pre-empt it, you can't prevent it, because it's already happening. And people are so divorced from reality that the few who are thinking about it are still thinking 'oh, something bad may be in our future. What can we do to prevent it?'

You make some good points, but I think perhaps you're overestimating people. I agree that money is the only thing that some people listen to. But I see people in the USA screaming because gasoline is up to 2 or 3 bucks a gallon or so, and others saying that it needs to go higher and that will change people. Well guess what? It's now at about 8 bucks a gallon in the UK. The roads and highways are absolutely choked with cars, which are getting bigger and bigger; people bitch and bitch and just keep on driving. How high will it have to go?

I might as well put it right out there: while a minority of people care enough and are strong enough to make sacrifices for the common good, most people are not. The few who do care foresee some giant crisis or breakdown, but I doubt it will happen that way. Natural systems will continue to be degraded over a period of decades, quality of life will decline, but for the most part people will adapt. It's not some sort of 'cataclysm' I'm worried about; it's the crisis that, as I keep saying, is already happening: degradation of natural systems, loss of biodiversity, and a human population that becomes ever more divided into a) the ones who are cushioned enough by technology that they can still pretend that nothing's wrong, and b) the ones who are beginning to riot for food but are too powerless to do anything.

I find it frustrating that in the midst of such a crisis, the priority seems to be that nobody should be inconvenienced or uncomfortably challenged. I understand the theory behind this, and I think you're right that when people are challenged they tend to shut down and not listen. I just think it's a pathetic and cowardly way to be. If it annoys people to hear things like that, I think they ought to be examining the source of their own annoyance, rather than marginalizing the person who says it. That's an easy and utterly unproductive way to avoid dealing with what's being said.

Obviously recycling, turning off lights, and not wasting water are good things. I've done all of these things for decades, but they don't seem like ways to 'save the world' to me. The fact that it's even necessary to tell someone to turn off a light when they're not using it is something I don't understand, it's like telling someone to tie their shoes, or wear a coat when it's cold. It really seems to me like people in general are becoming more and more infantile. They have to be told the most basic things, and even then most don't listen, and if anything is said in the wrong tone their faces get all red and they start to cry.

If all of this makes me sound 'arrogant', well, that's not really the point, is it?

I think it's time for humanity to grow up and face reality. Enough said.
posted by crazylegs at 2:11 AM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


By the way, cortex, I do agree with your basic point about systemic change, and I'm sure that people with your attitude are more effective at convincing others than I am. I just get really, really frustrated sometimes, and metafilter seems like a relatively non-destructive way to let off some steam. That's not to say that I don't believe everything I just wrote, I absolutely do. But I'm fully aware that it doesn't go down well with most people.
posted by crazylegs at 2:14 AM on May 2, 2008


How is #45 a way to help the planet? It's basically, don't use rock salt or some other ice melter b/c dogs might eat it and it might hurt them. While that might be bad for the dogs, I don't really see how it harms the environment.

When the ice melter melts that ice into water, the water -- which is now mixed in with the rock salt or other chemicals from whatever other gak you put on your driveway -- now mixes in with the rest of the water supply. The same water supply that is used to irrigate nearby farms, fill up resevoirs, evaporates into the atmosphere, etc., and eventually comes back out of your tap, so you're not just drinking water, you're drinking the rock salt and chemicals you put on your driveway.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:48 AM on May 2, 2008


Around here, in the DC metropolitan area, our runoff ends up in the Chesapeake bay water system. Because the area is so developed and paved, runoff is far greater than in the past, reducing the salinity of the bay and leading to blooms of algae, spread of disease and reduction of salt water and brackish estuary space. Therefore, my use of rock salt (not chemical ice-melt) could be improving the environment!
posted by Pollomacho at 9:37 AM on May 2, 2008


deathalicious, I couldn't have said it better myself.
posted by nax at 9:40 AM on May 2, 2008


and eventually comes back out of your tap, so you're not just drinking water, you're drinking the rock salt and chemicals you put on your driveway.

The real concern is the aquatic ecosystems your storm sewer drains out into, and whoever is downstream of you. Your own drinking water would be mostly affected by whoever's upstream of you. It's interesting what all that road salt in the winter does to the plants nearby, too.

Around here, in the DC metropolitan area, our runoff ends up in the Chesapeake bay water system. Because the area is so developed and paved, runoff is far greater than in the past, reducing the salinity of the bay and leading to blooms of algae, spread of disease and reduction of salt water and brackish estuary space. Therefore, my use of rock salt (not chemical ice-melt) could be improving the environment!

I don't think it's reduced salinity that leads to algae blooms-- it's the nitrogen, phosphorous, and other limiting nutrients that run off into the bay. The information I've seen on salinity suggests that in this area we're actually increasing salinity in freshwater systems that drain into the bay, and I've never seen a conservation group suggest that the salt and other deicing agents are doing the watershed any favors. Quite the opposite. A better way to approach the problem of increased runoff is to reduce it by reducing impervious surface area. This requires different building and landscaping practices. Things like rain gardens and pervious pavement.
posted by Tehanu at 9:52 AM on May 2, 2008


Small changes are good, and some of the suggestions have at the very least the effect of making individuals aware that the problem is theirs. However, I think a lot of this kind of individualist approach is smokescreen by Big Biz, Big Money and Big Military to reinforce their position that collective action is evil-- the whole neo-con bullshit that anything government does is bad, only "individual responsibility" is worthwhile, and anything the government tells you to do/makes you do is evil per se. yeah-- change your lightbulbs it's a great idea. But I cannot personally switch our transportation system over to rail, or stop developers from putting golf courses in the desert, or change tax policy to support education and conservation. This needs collective action, which is anathema to the evil multi-nationalists for whom today's profit is the only virtue. I vote, and I write my elected representatives, and I take action and I march and I have made all these changes in my own life, and yet the lobbyists still rule, profit is paramount to saving the planet and not a goddamned thing ever changes.
posted by nax at 9:55 AM on May 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


Make that "not a goddamned thing ever changes, except for the worse."
posted by nax at 9:55 AM on May 2, 2008


I was actually being a smartass, but interesting links Tehanu!
posted by Pollomacho at 10:14 AM on May 2, 2008


However, I think a lot of this kind of individualist approach is smokescreen by Big Biz, Big Money and Big Military to reinforce their position that collective action is evil-- the whole neo-con bullshit that anything government does is bad, only "individual responsibility" is worthwhile, and anything the government tells you to do/makes you do is evil per se. yeah-- change your lightbulbs it's a great idea.

I know a lot of people who educate people on this kind of thing, either as a living or related to what they do a living. The power of individuals and communities to change is a loud, persistent message coming not from those in power, not from the corporations and the government, but rather from people trying to effect change from the ground up. And they're usually hardcore liberal. Those who lose profits if we change don't need to invest in a smokescreen of individual change, since human habit and American complacency are big enough obstacles to overcome on their own.

Instead, the messages that those in power invest in are:
1) There is not a problem, only alarmism ("Scientific debate" over climate change! Short term cooling shows up their lies! etc)
2) There is a problem, but you are small and powerless and entitled to your lifestyle. Put your faith in the status quo, we will solve it for you without any sacrifices or changes for anyone (we need to cut corporate taxes more; technological magicks will save us; let's drill ANWR)
3) There is a problem, but we can't solve it, it's (pick your developing country)'s to solve (we emit 25% of greenhouse gases in the world, but we will not change until China does)
4) There may be a problem, but if there is we've got it under control; chill, it's cool; we are on the case and we have green-sounding initiatives to magnify the problem while sounding all awesome (we don't like Kyoto but we will spin our wheels developing our own prettier version for effect; Clear Skies; Healthy Forests)

Pollomancho-- I have read much just like it that isn't sarcastic. Not on this particular issue but on others.
posted by Tehanu at 10:24 AM on May 2, 2008


Pollomancho Pollomacho
posted by Tehanu at 10:27 AM on May 2, 2008


I've also encountered: There may be a problem but all-powerful market forces will take care of it, no need to change your lifestyle.

Of course if no one changes their consumption then how exactly would the market forces change?
posted by Pollomacho at 10:32 AM on May 2, 2008


re:43, what the hell is an answering machine? is that like google?



seriously what year is this from? #37 Let your fingers do the walking...online
wait
you're
saying,
i should look things up online??????
posted by tedruxpin at 12:18 PM on May 2, 2008


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