Welcome Greenophobes

Today there is a growing awareness that business-as-usual corporate and lifestyle practices jeopardize the health of the planet and the ability of future generations to sustain a good quality of life. Awareness in turn has created a confusing array of sustainability-oriented decisions. The Greenophobe takes a skeptical, practical, informed look at a variety of sustainability topics. Explore a mix of common sense solutions and in-depth discussions that demystify how to live green and live well.

28 January 2010

Environmentalism is dead.

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"-Ism's in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself..."

- Ferris Bueller

Environmentalism is dead. Environmentalists are not the key to salvation. They're often the door blocking our way to it.

-Ists and -isms sometimes make for great headlines and fiery debates about the environment and how best to protect it. But at this stage in our universal global enlightenment on environmental issues, the consumer is the last and only line of defense. Governments and luck play strong supporting roles.

Picking on -ists and -isms is just a bit of semantics on the way to a powerful point. So don't throw a fit if you self-identify as an environmentalist. Same as Catholiscism or liberalism, your -ism is a descriptive label for the way you feel and it may suit you just fine. Unfortunately, in the case of the environmental movement, -ists and -isms aren't harmless labels. They're impediments to change that perpetuate obsolete beliefs about what we need to do to save the world.

One of the main reasons for the existence of the rift between mainstream consumers and so-called environmentalists has been the notion of sacrifice. Those who are actively engaged in living with conveniences and luxuries are "average consumers." Those who are willing to forego such consumer delights in the name of planetary protection implicitly join the ranks of the "environmentalists." Environmentalists throw paint on people wearing furs. They drive tiny Smart cars that look stupid to the rest of us. If you can't fit your groceries or go for a romp in the back of your car, how is that possibly smart? They think hemp is a plausible answer to most environmental problems and can be spotted sequestering themselves in trees and being arrested while blocking progress in any number of highly visible and sometimes illegal ways. -Isms unfortunately denote an extreme dedication to a cause, regardless of the reality. While the extreme examples may be the outliers, society at large interprets them for the average.

It's no wonder we are inclined to fear things that are green rather than put in the time to understand them and find the solutions that fit our lives. The Greenophobic perspective aims to be a clear voice of the new reality, for people who don't want their beliefs or behaviors concerning the environment to create a new label or direct their lives.

One of the underlying realities about people who care enough to actively fend off climate change and preserve the environment is that, right out of the gate, eco-aware individuals have a larger-than-average baseline environmental footprint.

The reasoning is simple: unless you are an avid consumer of the world's many splendors, you may not care to go out of your way to protect them.

02 January 2010

What's for dinner, lower on the food chain

"The higher your food is on the food chain, the more energy that's required to produce it -- and the more global warming pollution it releases into the atmosphere." Source: NRDC Green Eating Guide
Greening your eating is one of the best ways to achieve significant environmental and economic benefits because it's good for you and good for the Earth.  Short of switching to a diet entirely comprised of algae and rainwater, it's possible to live a healthier, greener life by simply "eating lower on the food chain." This means taking a look at your diet and finding ways to incorporate more things that don't eat other things that require lots of energy to raise and bring to your table.

Before getting into the food chain strategy, check out the massive impact food waste has on the environment. 

If you've done everything you can to limit the amount of food you waste, the NRDC's green eating guide describes some of the logical next steps.

Be prepared: a major theme you will see across nearly all resources pertaining to greening up your eating is limiting consumption of red meat.  Beef production is highly greenhouse gas intensive and consumes vast amounts of petrochemicals and freshwater along the supply chain.

Making the decision to actively substitute grains, vegetables, and some kinds of seafood for a portion of your typical meat-based protein consumption results in less energy usage and lower emissions. 

Specifically when considering seafood choices, it's important to limit intake of overfished species and fish that are known to contain high levels of mercury.  Mercury accumulates in all organisms along a particular food chain, which means that predatory fish including Tuna and Shark can contain elevated levels that are dangerous to humans.

Supersized catastrophe: the environmental blight of food waste

This New York Times graphic shows the equivalent food wasted by an American family of four in one month, according to data from the USDA and Census Bureau.
“Americans spend a smaller share of their disposable income on food than citizens of any other country and choose from an average of 50,000 different food products on a typical outing to the supermarket. In 1994, the food supply provided an estimated 3,800 calories per person per day, enough to supply every American with more than one and a half times their average daily energy needs.” Source: Estimating and Addressing America’s Food Waste, a report by the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service

In the United States, the United Kingdom and other wealthy nations, today’s estimate is that 25 to 30 percent of food that’s bought ends up in the trash, uneaten.

In the U.S., specifically, this amounts to about 32 million tons per year according to the EPA. 97 percent of this waste decomposes in landfills or is incinerated. While decomposing, it produces methane gas, which is over twenty times more effective than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. Food waste is very much a Greenophobic problem requiring a rapid solution in three places: production, consumption and disposal.

The problem exists at a household level as well as anywhere that food is produced, marketed or consumed. It is perpetuated by restaurant and institutional economics along with generally low food prices.

Combined, these forces mean that we’re literally in the business of wasting food and it’s killing our planet and our wallets in many different ways.

This problem should register near the top of the list of environmental concerns for Earth-wise consumers because of the scale of the problem and the myriad solutions. Food waste is a massive drain on our natural environment and valuable resources, it has a huge economic cost, it is completely solvable at the household level, and it’s not a problem of luxury – that is, greening our eating can happen without sacrificing quality of life.