A Philosopher's Blog

Going Green the Easy Way

Posted in Environment, Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on March 24, 2008

Going green is a big thing these days. This seems to be a good thing for almost everyone. The green folks are thrilled because their views are popular. The old greens can say “I told you so” and the new greens can bask in their newfound green goodness. Companies are cashing in on the greening of the West and thus often making plenty of green from the green folks. The environment is probably doing better, too.

I’m pro-environment for both moral and selfish reasons. From the moral standpoint, t seem best to avoid harming other people and living things (this is an appeal to consequences). Also, there are the responsibilities that we have to future generations. Using and ruining the earth would be like going to a party and eating up all the food before all the other guests had the chance to even arrive. Oh, and then setting fire to the house.

From a selfish standpoint, I’d rather breath clean air and drink clean water than be exposed to harmful chemicals. I also enjoy being outside in the natural world. Hence, all these are reasons for me to pro-environment.

That said, I do find dealing with the “carbon cultists” a bit annoying. These are people who have taken on a cult like devotion to being on the right side of the hot button environmental issues of the day. The cult like devotion is because their views are not based on a rational and ethic assessment of the matter. Rather, they believe what they do because how they feel and because other people they follow tell them to be this way. In this case, they are often on the right side. But, believing in anything without due consideration and rational assessment is problematic. One problem is that such people can be easily duped into acting in ways that are actually not consistent with their professed beliefs. They can also be easily swayed into believing things that are not actually true.

One example of this is illustrated by the fluorescent bulbs we have been encouraged to buy in order to go green. They do save electricity relative to standard bulbs. But, as others have pointed out, they contain mercury. Unlike normal bulbs, these bulbs are supposed to be turned in at special places that can handle mercury. I’m guessing that most people will just toss them, thus adding more mercury to the landfills.

An easier and safer way to be green is to take steps to use less electricity. One obvious way is to turn off the lights when you leave the room. Another easy way is to plug your appliances and re-chargers into power strips that turn off completely. While most people don’t know thing, chargers and appliances draw significant amounts of power even when not actually on. Switching to devices that use less power can also help. For example, if your next computer is a laptop rather than a desktop, you’ll be using less power. Of course, there is the matter of disposing of that old computer and all the toxins in it.

Another example is the hybrid car. While they can, under the proper conditions, use less fuel than normal vehicles, a hybrid car is still a car. Producing those “smug machines” most likely uses up at least as many resources and produces as much pollution as a normal car.  Some people have expressed concerns about the batteries in these cars-they do, after all, contain heavy metals. In reply, some car companies have taken steps to maintain their green reputation by setting up recycling programs for these batteries. In any case, as I have said, a hybrid car is still a car. The same can be said for other types of non-traditional cars.

Yes, it is a good idea to get away from fossil fuels. But, it is also important to be realistic about what we are actually accomplishing when we do so. I freely admit that I am writing this primarily because I have grown tired of the hybrid smugness I have encountered. But, reason also shows that we should look past the mystique of the hybrid and the alternative cars and carefully consider the matter.

The same can be said for bio-fuels. There is a great deal of enthusiasm for bio-fuels,  especially among those who can make a fortune from them. However, these bio-fuels should be carefully considered. One concern is that the creation of such fuels requires energy-in many cases energy provided by fossil fuels.  Some fuels, such as that based on corn, might actually use more fossil fuel energy than they yield themselves (so that their creation is a net loss).

A second concern is that many bio-fuels (such as corn and soy bean version) are made from crops that are also used for human food. As such, converting such food to fuel will raise the prices of food by reducing the supply and increasing the demand. Already, corn based food are more expensive because of the increased price of corn.

A third concern is that environmental damage will be done to raise the crops used in bio-fuels. It is hardly a gain for the environment if parts of the rain forest are stripped  so that soybeans or other such crops can be grown.

That said, bio-fuels have a great deal of potential. One of the most appealing types is that which is made from the byproducts of agriculture. This approach could solve some of the problems associated with the other types of bio-fuels.

While bio-fuels  and hybrid cars are promising, approaching them with a critical eye is important-for the reasons given above.

For now, an easy way to go green is to manage your driving. My hybrid owning friends love to point out that I own just a normal Toyota truck. But, I actually create far less pollution than they do. The main reasons are that: 1) I only drive when I must. If I can walk or bike somewhere, or get a ride with someone else, that is what I do. 2) When I have to drive, I plan out what I am going to do. For example, I’ll run errands on the way to work and go to places that are on my way.

These little things don’t require much effort on my part, but they save me money (thus appealing to the selfish motive) while also helping the environment.

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One Response

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  1. montag said, on March 24, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    We might expand the second concern about bio-fuels to state that even if the crop is not a food crop, such as switch grass, farmers will tend to plant more switch grass and less corn or wheat, and this will also reduce the rfod crop supply.
    I am not sure how one escapes this particular problem, other than a “Manhattan Project”. What I mean by a “Manhattan Project” is what we all usually mean, but also total government control, for the original “Manahttan Project” was not a free market enterprise.


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