Apr 012012
Authors: Jefferson Freeman

We live in one of the most environmentally friendly states in the country. From the wind-powered beer to the solar-powered trash cans, most people in this mountainous state try hard to be as “green” as possible.

“Being green” is the trendy phrase these days –– not because of Charlie Kelly’s Green Man persona, but because there has been a turnaround in people’s attitude toward their everyday choices. However, many of these choices may have unintended consequences. So are we really helping the environment or just helping our egos?

Let’s take the hybrid car, the poster child for those who want to keep up with the green trend. They use less gasoline than a similar size car without batteries, but they are as green as similar-size diesel cars. Diesel’s have long been getting over 40 miles to the gallon but never really caught on in the United States like they have in Europe.

They have the added benefits of not having potentially poisonous batteries to dispose of. The nickel in most hybrid car batteries is potentially a carcinogen and the increase in mining has caused a fair amount of environmental damage.

Even with these problems, hybrids are a step in the right direction. But when considering a car, make sure to consider the entire environmental impact, rather than just the fuel savings. And when considering a fuel, make sure to learn how it‘s made rather than just whether it’s renewable or not.

Ethanol has recently been the go-to way for the United States to cut our addiction on foreign oil. We have a lot of corn, but not a lot of oil, so making oil from corn seems like a perfect solution. However, ethanol doesn’t appear magically in your fuel tank –– it takes a fair amount of oil just to produce it.

Meaning, in trying to cut our dependence on foreign oil, we have to import more in order to make the corn-based fuel. On top of this, ethanol drastically reduces the gas mileage of the vehicle it’s used in, making it necessary to use more fuel overall than conventional oil.

To reduce our dependence on foreign oil, we should concentrate on being more efficient, rather than creating a whole new fuel that, at best, is no better than what it replaced.

Of course, even these problems with ethanol in its current form doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to pursue second generation ethanol made from biomass or algae. This evolution of plant-based fuels eliminates almost all of the problems with the corn-based current way. Just as ethanol has evolved to account for its problems, so has sustainable eating.

We should not assume that every solution presented to us will work perfectly the first time; we must always be evolving the way we look at things, and sustainable eating is a great example of this. It used to be that if you merely bought organic you were being green because you were reducing the use of pesticides and other chemicals.

However, as the practice grew, people began realizing that merely eating organic didn’t account for every part of being green, and in fact, sometimes organic food’s overall impact was worse than conventional.

When eating non-seasonally, some organic food would need to be flown in from halfway around the world, using tons of fuel and creating more carbon than the conventional alternative, which may have been grown in a more local, hot-house greenhouse.

But now, the sustainable eating movement has moved to concentrating on eating seasonally and locally, which helps reduce the impact of transporting food and supports more local farmers. This example perfectly illustrates how we need to approach all environmental issues: When problems with an old way of doing things arise, simply change the approach to find a better overall solution.

Being kind to the environment isn’t about being Republican or Democrat, and it’s not about being pro-economy or pro-environment. We merely need to weigh the negatives and positives of all our decisions as a species to reduce our effect on the rest of the earth and the rest of our population. Getting hung up on certain buzz words like
“gas-mileage” and “foreign oil,” often causes us to ignore bigger problems behind the issues.

Put differently, we need to start concentrating on facts rather than hype.

Jefferson Freeman is a senior economics major. His column appears every other Monday in the Collegian. He can be reached at letters@collegian.com.

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