May 3rd, 2008

Green at the gills

A contrarian's view of going green.
By Brandon Wybenga

Going green has become the new religion among fashionable liberals, progressives and undergrads. Recycle. Drive a hybrid. Use only one-ply toilet paper. If we all just minimize our carbon footprints a few sizes, all will be right in the world. As with most movements, though, it's not that simple. The majority of eco-friendly initiatives are sound--or at least not counterproductive--but some have consequences as problematic as the Beijing skyline. Here are a few items to consider before drinking every once of that green-colored Kool-Aid.

The evils of ethanol. Brazil has made it work, so why can't we? But Brazil's use of ethanol from sugarcane might also promote global warming, thanks to all the trees that are cut down in the process. Last March, prior to a U.S.-Brazil ethanol deal, the Associated Press ran a story titled: "Proposed ethanol alliance threatens Amazon rain forest," which apparently went unread by proponents of the alternative fuel du jour. A few months later, the Washington Post reported that Brazil was "Losing forests to fuel cars: Ethanols sugarcane threatens Brazil's wooded Savannah."

Biofuels = Starving Babies. In a recent piece titled "Grains Gone Wild," New York Times op-ed columnist Paul Krugman addresses the global food crisis, pointing the finger at a) "Meat-eating Chinese;" b) "Price of oil;" c) "Run of bad weather;" d) "The rise of demon [my italics] ethanol and other biofuels." The economist states:
"The subsidized conversion of crops into fuel was supposed to promote energy independence and help limit global warming. But this promise was, as Time magazine bluntly put it, a 'scam.' ... And meanwhile, land used to grow biofuels feedstock is land not available to grow food, so subsidies to biofuels are a major factor in the food crisis. You might put it this way: People are starving in Africa so that American politicians can court votes in farm states."
Not so bright. Self-respecting tree-huggers--that is, those not attempting to thwart lumberjacks by actually dwelling in trees--are all about the spiral, fluorescent bulbs, or CFLs. The household product is more expensive but also more energy-efficient, and they last longer than the old-school incandescent bulbs used for generations. Unfortunately, the funky light sources also contain mercury, which can reportedly do serious kidney or brain damage to Junior if he gets his curious paws on one. More germane, even durable CFLs eventually go bust, which means most consumers will toss 'em in the trash, resulting in increased toxins in our overstuffed landfills. "This is an enormous amount of mercury that's going to enter the waste stream at present with no preparation for it," said Ellen Silbergeld, professor of environmental health sciences at Johns Hopkins University, in an article published on April 7.

Winds of change. Wanna be declared a cretin by every lefty within earshot? Stand on a soapbox and question global warming. After a posse of catastrophic hurricanes attacked Florida in 2004, even the state's most devout good ol' boys wondered if all that shit we were pumping into the atmosphere might be coming back to bite us in the ass. But cooler heads--those willing to face the wrath of Al Gore's growing congregation--argue that changing weather patterns have little to do with carbon dioxide output. These same scientists point to more productive preventive measures than going green. The Los Angeles Times ran a story in March titled: "Global warming: Just deal with it, some scientists say; The 'non-skeptic heretic club' says it would be easier and cheaper to adapt than fight climate change. Critics say the flaw in the theory is that the effects will be unpredictable." In it, Roger A. Pielke Jr., an environmental policy specialist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, maintains that, "after analyzing decades of hurricane data," higher carbon dioxide levels had little to do with hurricane damage. "Pielke's analysis, published last month in the journal Natural Hazards Review," the Times reports, "is part of a controversial movement that argues global warming over the rest of this century will play a much smaller role in unleashing planetary havoc than most scientists think." Just don't quote Pielke in the presence of your proudly eco-friendly friends, they might take you for a member of the Flat Earth Society--or worse.

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