We all want to do our part to preserve the earth’s finite resources and improve environmental conditions for future generations, but sometimes what we think we know about sustainable living is really only the tip of an iceberg in an ocean of rising sea levels; sometimes there’s more to the green scene than meets the eye. Following are three commonly held paradigms about sustainable living that are a little less straightforward than you might think.
Many people believe that electric or hybrid cars are the most sustainable personal automobiles because they produce fewer carbon emissions. Electric cars, for instance, don’t burn oil-based fuel. However, in many states electricity is generated by pulverized coal combustion systems which can result in as much if not more carbon emissions than an efficient fuel burning automobile. Furthermore, efficient traditional nonhybrid vehicles can result in less pollution than a hybrid vehicle with poorer gas mileage. When it comes to choosing a sustainable transportation option, the devil is in the details.
Another notion commonly held is that products made from biodegradable materials do not contribute to our solid waste problem. In reality, while biodegradable material is made to decompose quickly, it is more likely to end up in a landfill than in a compost heap, and landfills simply aren’t designed to facilitate proper degradation of these materials; it’s possible to find readable newspapers in landfills that are decades old. Additionally, a material that is biodegradable is not necessarily recyclable or compostable, so if you aren’t going to put the time and effort into making sure that material makes it’s way to the proper degradation facility, you might be doing more harm than good.
Organically grown food is rising in popularity on the green scene, and many people believe that organic food is inherently more sustainable. After all, what’s not to love about naturally raised cattle, or fruits and vegetables that haven’t been doused in inorganic pesticides? There’s more to the story though. Organic farming often requires more land than conventional farming to yield similar results, and organic pesticides such as copper sulfate are acceptable for use on organic farms. What’s more, organic food that isn’t grown locally still incurs all of the environmental problems that accompany transportation of food. How did that organic mango make it into your fruit bowl again?
The moral of the story is that the green scene certainly isn’t white or black. Being a smart consumer is about knowing what your options are and making informed choices.