It Ain’t Easy Living Green

Made in China

Which is probably why I don’t.  Don’t bother lecturing me about it.  I do what I can here and there, but like everyone else, I can only do so much.

Jeez, come on, people, don’t judge me yet.  I’d love to be able to, and plan on living a more environmentally friendly life someday.  I just don’t have the cash, time, or resources.

Really now, is living green really all it’s cracked up to be?  Are we actually making an impact, making it worse, or just breaking even?

Well, that’s probably more research than I’m willing to do, but I did poke around a bit to find some thought-provoking tidbits of information about being environmentally friendly.  You can draw your own conclusions, I’m just here for the…

Hey, why am I here? A question for another post, I suppose.  Moving on.

A few years ago (2007, actually) there was a worldwide movement for the average person to turn off everything in their house for an hour.  It was called Earth Hour.  It was advertised all over the place, the internet, TV, the newspaper, the radio, and has been repeated annually since.  The premise was that we’d save money, energy, and the environment by shutting off our lights and other non-essentials like TV or the computer for an hour just one time a year.

This organization and its followers have over 12 websites with pages dedicated to Earth Hour.  Google yields 49.1 million hits when I enter the term.  It seems to me that a lot of people have expended energy in advertising and discussing Earth Hour.  This really got me thinking.  Does anyone have a clue about how much energy they are using to make this (or any other environmentally friendly effort) happen?  How much are we really going to save by turning off the lights for an hour if more energy is required to advertise?

How much energy?  Hell, I don’t know; this isn’t the science blog.  Hang on, I’ll do some research.  What I do know is that servers (those things that are required to run websites) use a LOT of energy.

[15 minutes later]

Okay, so According to the EPA and this article, 124.5 billion(!) kilowatt-hours per year of energy use is projected by 2011, just for running the internet in the United States. That’s about the same annual energy use of approximately 12 million average American households.

To compare, a 100-watt light bulb uses just 876 kilowatt-hours of electricity if left on 24 hours a day for a year. The amount of energy used to run the internet for a year could power over 142.1 million light bulbs for a year.  In 2007, 2.2 million people participated in Earth Hour.  Holy crap.  Not so green.  Even if we’re turning off the lights and computers and TVs in our homes, those server farms aren’t shutting down.

So are people really being green, or are they just victims of savvy marketing?  When you do the math, the impact of turning off lights and electronics would be higher if we passed the word by mouth and did it once a week instead of once a year.

I see plenty of people out there who look pretty green.  The Prius-driving folks with their bike-racks on the back look pretty green, those folks pedaling all over the college town in which I attend classes, the hippie-looking guy at the little healthfood store wearing a hemp necklace who smells like Nag Champa, the woman at the big grocery with her re-usable bags and the organic produce in her cart, or how about the PETA spokesperson who refuses to wear leather or eat eggs?  They’re all green, right?

I don’t think so.

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the little status symbols that make us and others think we’re “saving the environment.”  Here are a few questions I’ve asked myself about the green life:

  • How much energy has been used to advertise living green/turning off the lights/deforestation/naughty meat-eaters/naughty leather-wearers?
  • If you aren’t buying your organic fruits and veggies locally, are you actually helping anything?  Fuel is required to get that stuff to you.
  • As a matter of fact, all of your green goodies were likely imported.  From overseas.  On fuel-sucking cargo planes and ships.  Non-imported items are few and far between anymore.  How green is it to buy a reusable bag which had to be shipped to you from the other side of the world?
  • Server farms.  The cute mini computer or smartphone you use to connect to the internet is great, but consider the amount of energy it took to manufacture it, and now that it’s in your hands (and the hands of millions of others who simply MUST get online every day, including me), how much energy is required to keep everyone connected.
  • Alternative energy sources.  Surprisingly, they aren’t as green as you might think either.  The process required to make solar panels, wind turbines, and ethanol all require carbon fuel and are not cost effective.
  • Speaking of cost, being green simply isn’t accessible to the average person.  The newest electric cars, the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt both have an MSRP of about $32,000, yet are not built for long commutes or people like me who prefer that their car payment not exceed their house payment.

So, until nuclear fusion is perfected (which, unlike nuclear fission, is 100% safe and offers unlimited energy as long as the reaction can be sustained with no deficit or need for carbon energy usage), being green isn’t going to be as easy as we might like it to be.  Don’t be fooled by that cute cloth grocery bag.

It’s your turn, lurkers.  I turn to you for your thoughts and reactions.

About DrPretzel

Student of philosophy and medicine, mother of 2 Creatures of Mass Destruction (a.k.a. "boys"), Soldier, sister, daughter, friend, cat person, social inept, INTJ, blah, blah, blah...are you even reading this?
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2 Responses to It Ain’t Easy Living Green

  1. AJ says:

    Thirty or so years ago they were all running around saying we’re going to freeze to death. Then they said the ozone layer was disappearing. No one talks about the ozone anymore because they are all saying that we are going to melt.

    All I know is that is freezing in Miami and no one is going to trade Schofield Barracks for Drum on account of fantastic weather any time soon.

  2. Majeh85 says:

    I’ve never bought into the whole go green crap. There are too many variables being ignored to make their case, like the fact that the earth is in the middle of a warming trend currently and has actually cooled in the last few decades globally compared to past warming trends by carbon amounts in ancient rock.
    When it comes to recycling the only thing I have a problem with is paper. It takes more chemicals to treat the paper and make it reusable than the paper weighs, and the chemicals aren’t reusable. Add to hat over 90% of our paper comes from tree farms just for making paper, not the rainforests wherever. A better use would be burning the paper and mixing it with manure to make better fertilizer, ashes are excellent as long as they aren’t used over too long a period of time by themselves.
    Plastics I haven’t come across much information on so I’m not sure there, and metals would have to be heated in a nuclear power plant to cause a material loss or other problems, the common metals like aluminum, copper, etc not lead or mercury.
    I see no problem with solar panels or wind turbines as long as they’re made for very, very long term use and, unless designed to be a major power supplier, used to supplement current energy sources.
    Hybrid cars wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t pretty much two engines in one car. From the ones I’ve seen the gas and electric each have their own pistons and almost everything, overlap all the common parts to cut weight and they might get better mileage. And for the fully electric cars, there are so many moving parts in a car it’s ridiculous, all of them could be harnessed to charge a rechargeable battery or even keep the car running after a quick start from a small battery. I am not mechanically inclined so this is all theory and I have no idea how to build such engines.
    But as for the people, “earth this earth that, make it better everyone.” “Global warming” could be seen as the earth’s immune response to a virus or bacteria, humans. And all the “green” people are doing is making the situation worse for the earth and they’re trying to make earth comfortable for us longer as opposed to letting the earth weed out what it doesn’t want here, kinda counter productive isn’t it?
    Plus, no matter what we do the earth is still going to be here after us, unless the sun explodes before our race dies out. I really don’t think we have the ability to truly obliterate our own planet, regardless of all the weapons we have created, remember we harnessed them from the earth itself so it’s not like we would be introducing something new to it, maybe in a more condensed area than usual but nothing new.
    That sound good overall? Feel free to elaborate or disagree on any point. 🙂

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