Monday, July 20, 2009

On "being green"

Some of you may know I don't consider myself "green" but it's usually the first thing people assume about me when they find out I use my bike for transportation.

I run into a lot of people who think "green" is cool. I also have started running into people who see environmental impact the same way I do, or close enough.

Here are some examples.

A guy I won't name is a pretty big sustainability geek. He's looking at any way to get as much as possible off the grid. Rain barrels, "alternative alternative energy sources" (think peltiers, piezoelectric, ambient/atmospheric electricity harvesting and the like) and some of the more efficient sustainable power generation technologies. Hint: Solar isn't there yet. Talking to him for a few hours, he told me I'm probably greener than I give myself credit for. I say bullcrap. I think he "gets it" when a good chunk of his peers fail at stewardship.

While having my mop chopped a few weeks ago, my stylist said he needed a new car and was looking at Toyota. I kind of rolled my eyes. He mentioned Scion and I breathed a sigh of relief. The conversation turned to fuel economy and eventually sustainability. He thinks people buying hybrids are playing an important role by beta-testing (and somewhat bankrolling) the technological bootstrap for highly efficient vehicles, but he doesn't understand why people think they're being green. He's also as perplexed as I am by on-grid charging of plug-in EVs and hybrids -- The fact is, they're practically coal-fueled and a lot more inefficiency is introduced in the delivery, conversion and storage of that electricity. The stuff just doesn't add up. This guy gets it.

Explaining how my bicycling habit affects the parts of town I'd be willing to move to to someone this afternoon, I had to bite my tongue when the gentleman sitting across from me decided to pipe up about his myopic adventures in being green. Recycling: okay. Civic Hybrid? Really? When he bragged about gas mileage, I couldn't resist telling him I can cover 30 miles on the energy contained in a decent-sized sandwich. The truth is, his hybrid gets worse mileage than some other small cars that use a small, efficient gasoline engine. They cost quite a bit less, and you don't send toxic batteries to the landfill (or at best, some re-processing plant) every 5-8 years or so. This guy doesn't get it.

Despite greenwashing's best intents, there are a lot of people shuffling resources around without actually doing anything good -- robbing Peter to pay Paul, so to speak -- people being "green" themselves without realizing that their actions cause problems elsewhere, to wit:

  • Manufacture and disposal of large battery packs for cars that get such "good" (not really) mileage
  • Allowing old, inefficient appliances and/or cars to remain in use (giving away or selling) or take up space in a landfill
  • Manufacture and disposal of mercury-loaded CFL bulbs
I guess that's my curmudgeonly rant for the night. It comes down to stewardship, really. As a civilization, we've inherited something great. It's a gift to us, really. We can either do things that make it a better place or we can trample on it. Let's just make sure our efforts aren't all for naught.

Speaking of off-grid energy. I found a good deal on one of these:

I don't really want it because it's sustainable. I got it because it was inexpensive and I love gadgets. Plus, some cool features that will make it a serious camping winner:
  • Small and light
  • Hand-Crank charging
  • Solar charging
  • Flashlight
  • AM/FM/Weather Radio
  • Has a USB port so you can charge things with the hand-crank.
Playing around with it, it appears that it will take a good deal of cranking to pump a few minutes of talk-time into a dead mobile phone. The weather radio on this picks up a better signal than any other weather radio in my house, aside from the one built in to the alarm clock -- but it's powered by house current only.


Josh Mitchell said...

Nicely put, Noah, kudos. I've had similar thoughts but don't always phrase the as well as you just have. Really like that you're focused on stewardship of this amazing thing we've been given, rather than "look at me, I'm green".

Noah said...

If you can't tell, I wrote this very close to bedtime (11:07 PM?! Crikey!) but I did mean to say that despite all the crap I've talked about "green folks" I really do have to make a concession. I have a lot in common with them. I find great beauty in efficiency and simplicity and I truly believe it's our job to take care of things here. I also can see shenanigans, and I can tell a good deal of "green folks" aren't doing any of this out of ill will. They're doing it out of peer pressure, out of pride, or simply by doing what the big mega-corporations tell them they should be doing:

"Yes. Buy our new efficient appliances, cars and light bulbs. It's what's right. It's what's good. The device we sold you 18 months ago is evil and bad for the earth. Sell it cheaply to some poor sap who can't afford to buy our new shiny earth-saving goodies. Then you can blame those suckers for destroying your planet. Obey. Consume. Feel good about yourself. It costs money, but saving the planet isn't cheap."

International corporations will be happy to unload your wallet while sweet-talking you into a blissfully unaware consumerism trance.

RANTWICK said...

Good rant! I agree on some of the misplaced faith in certain "green" initiatives. Like you, it's an added bonus to my cycling, but that's not why I commute by bike. I just love to ride.

A second funny coincidence is that we just picked up a red crank radio much like yours last night for an upcoming camping trip.

Anonymous said...

Nice one! I am really hoping this Cap and Trade bill does not pass through!

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that all the "Green" marketing is about more consumerism.

In ten years, the dumps and landfills will be filled with "green" products. and all the while, it won't have made a dent in the actual problem.

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