Health News Digest

April 21, 2008

A Critical Look At Some Earth Day Promotions

Earth Day

By  Michael D. Shaw

Time Magazine’s  How to Win the War on Global Warming

This is the cover story of Time’s April 21st issue, and what a cover—and what a story—they are. The cover image is a ludicrous riff on Joe Rosenthal’s famous Iwo Jima photograph, that replaces the flag with a tree. In the words of Donald Mates, an Iwo Jima veteran:

“It’s an absolute disgrace. Whoever did it is going to Hell. That’s a mortal sin. God forbid he runs into a Marine that was an Iwo Jima survivor.”

Beyond the image, we would note that invoking “war” in an environmental pursuit is a foolish analogy. Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to describe a human activity that is more destructive to the environment than war. Moreover, “war” implies at least two belligerent factions. Since Time clearly buys into anthropogenic global warming, even as many are abandoning that viewpoint, will we be at war with ourselves?

As to the article, which raises a variety of draconian—and mostly speculative—means to prevent or mitigate global warming, Dr. Indur M. Goklany and others have made the excellent point that if climate change will be causing certain problems, a much better approach would involve attacking those problems directly.

[T]hrough the foreseeable future, climate change exacerbates existing environmental and human health problems, but only to a modest degree relative to contributions from other factors not related to climate change. Hence, the threats posed by climate change are more robustly and cost-effectively addressed, at least in the short- to medium-term, by policies that address the underlying causes of the environmental and human health problems that are exacerbated by climate change.

Replete with mind-blowingly simplistic solutions such as “turning off the lights in offices at night”; touting marginal technologies as credible; ignoring the negative environmental impacts of technologies such as wind power; and relying far too much on authorities that can politely be called biased, the 3900-word piece is a major disappointment.

PayItGreen:  Switching to electronic bills, statements, and payments

This alliance of banks and utilities makes a good case for both businesses and consumers to make the move away from paper. The annual numbers are staggering:

With 26 billion bills and statements mailed and 9 billion payments in paper form, 755 million pounds of paper, 9 million trees, and 512 million gallons of gasoline are consumed. Put another way, if one average American household made the switch, each year…

  • 6.6 pounds of paper would be saved
  • 171 pounds of greenhouse gases would not be produced
  • 63 gallons of wastewater would not be released into the environment
  • 4.5 gallons of gasoline would be saved

The alliance also notes that almost 85% of identity theft cases are due to offline transactions—lost checkbooks and stolen bills, statements, and check payments—and that credit scores are raised when a consumer employs electronic transactions.

To determine your financial paper footprint, PayItGreen offers a nifty calculator on its website.

Electronic payments are better, quicker, easier, and they help the environment. That’s mighty hard to beat!

Wilson Sporting Goods’ Rebound Basketball

Described as the planet’s first “green” basketball, the Rebound boasts a surface that is made from 40% recycled rubber. The company says every 70 Rebound basketballs they produce is the equivalent of one less tire ending up in a landfill, and the retail packaging is comprised of mostly recycled materials.

While the new basketball is a small factor in the Green revolution, Wilson demonstrates that most companies can probably do something that will make a difference, and it would be relatively painless.

Travel Green on Amtrak

National Railroad Passenger Corporation, DBA Amtrak quotes US Department of Energy figures, indicating that its mode of transportation—on a per-passenger-mile basis…

  • Is 17 percent more efficient than domestic airline travel
  • Is 21 percent more efficient than auto travel
  • Emits only 0.2 percent of the travel industry’s total greenhouse gases

If they had stopped there, the promo would have been perfect. Unfortunately, the e-mail links to one of the carbon offset companies, offering its particular form of what has been widely debunked as snake oil. Offsets are offered in the form of reforestation projects, renewable energy, and energy efficiency.

Not only have many reforestation projects been exposed as dicey arrangements that force third world farmers off their land so that a national park can be expanded, the projects seem to portray the notion that planting and growing trees requires no energy, and that trees in the ground require no resources to sustain them. Renewable energy sounds wonderful, but is not without environmental impact, and even then might replace 20 percent of energy demand. Energy efficiency also sounds good, but judging from what is proposed by the organization, they are clearly not emphasizing this approach.

Even on Earth Day, it’s Caveat emptor   (Let the buyer beware)