It's Not Easy Being Green

Thursday, July 1, 1999
Once, being politically correct about the environment was simple. Newspapers were recycled, plastic bags were verboten, and no one in his right mind used Styrofoam cups. But knowledge and experience bring complexity. The good, the bad, and the ugly are not as obvious as the villains in a Clint Eastwood movie.

The Good: Spray cans and Styrofoam cups no longer contain ozone-damaging chlorofluorocarbons. Microwave ovens use a third as much energy as a conventional oven. But heating, air conditioning, and home appliances are responsible for 31 percent of greenhouse gases.

The Bad: Building a new house on undeveloped land fragments ecosystems. Already home construction accounts for a quarter of wildlife and ecosystem threats created by land use. Cotton clothes, despite their environmentally friendly image, aren't much better than polyester. Cotton-crops are sprayed with pesticides, fungicides, fertilizers, and herbicides, while synthetics come from petroleum.

The Ugly: A typical modern speedboat about 30 feet long consumes 25 to 30 gallons of gasoline in an hour. Many high-performance powerboats burn more than 100 gallons an hour. A weekend on the water in either could consume more fuel than the family car does in an entire year. Worse, almost all marine engines spew significantly more noxious fumes than auto engines.

Many sport-utility vehicles get about 15 miles a gallon, creating nearly twice as much pollution per mile as autos. And because they're considered trucks, they don't have to meet the same emissions requirements.

Wood-burning fireplaces send huge amounts of pollutants--including soot--into the atmosphere.

Source: The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices: Practical Advice from the Union of Concerned Scientists by Michael Brower and Warren Leon.
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