October 18, 2007

Belated Blog Action Day

Today I would like to go back in time to Blog Action Day and make two more environmental points. Because who DOESN'T enjoy a second helping of environmental preaching? Get yer butts back in the pews.

I suppose this is the whole idea of B.A.D. (which, incidentally, shouldn't be acronymed): it gets you thinking about environmental stuff even after the day is over. That insight is GENIUS, Capt. Swistle Obvious!

Anyway. Two things.

Thing the first: The fact that reusable items need to be washed between uses is not a reason to use disposable items instead. I keep hearing people say that cloth diapers are not really an environmentally-friendly option because they require the use of water and detergent and so forth. Well, okay: I admit those issues need to be taken into account, and that people who use cloth diapers shouldn't prance around talking about how THEIR actions have NO environmental impact, unlike OTHER people who use DISPOSABLES. But on the other hand, the plastic boxes I use for my kids' school sandwiches have to be washed, too. Does that mean I might as well use plastic baggies instead? My clothes need to be washed. Does that mean I might as well wear disposable clothing and throw it out at the end of each day? My dishes need to be washed. Does that mean it would be better for the environment to use paper plates and plastic utensils and throw them out after each meal? Answer = no. Reusable items require maintenance, and of course they also need to be manufactured at some environmental cost, and eventually they will be in landfills--but the balance still tips in their favor.

Thing the second: Doing one bad thing for the environment does not "cancel out" doing one good thing. If we use solar energy to heat our bath water, and then stand in the shower reading a book as water runs down the drain, it's tempting to see that as a ridiculous combination of activities. People also mock the combination of a double cheeseburger and a diet soda. Neither combination is in fact ridiculous. Leaving aside the issue of whether someone might prefer diet soda, or whether calories are a good measure of a food's worth--do we think that if you eat a lot of calories, it ONLY makes sense to eat A LOT MORE? Do we think that if you waste water, it ONLY makes sense to also waste water that came from a more environmentally-harmful source? If I keep accidentally leaving lights on, does that mean I should use incandescents instead of fluorescents? If I do a lot of driving, does that mean I should avoid a hybrid? Answer = no. Mathematically speaking, environmentally bad plus environmentally good is greater than environmentally bad plus environmentally bad.

24 comments:

Jess said...

I LOVE THIS POST. Those two things are my PET PEEVES. Especially the one about the Diet Coke. I have NEVER understood why people think that just because you eat something that isn't good for you means that you should just go all out and suck up as many calories as possible. It's not like you're drinking the Diet Coke and then justifying to yourself that the whole meal is healthy because the soda is diet.

Devan said...

Brilliant!

Misty said...

*Nods*

As I am eating a chocolate bar with my diet soda...for breakfast.

:)

LoriD said...

Your diet soda analogy is perfect!

I hate that cloth diaper argument too. I'm diapering my third kid with the same batch of diapers I bought SECOND HAND for the first kid. When the baby grew out of the smallest size, I freecycled them to someone else. To say that the laundry detergent and water I use to wash those diapers is the same as putting 2,000 diapers/year/kid in the landfill is insane.

Pann said...

Yup. Right again, Swistle!

Marie Green said...

Good points Swistle!

Marie Green said...

P.S. Disposable clothing WOULD be nice... especially for infants. ;) In fact, several of our onsies have become "disposable" when I went to change a diaper and found newborn-breastmilk poo all the way up to baby's ears... WHOOSH. Into the trash it goes. (In that case, I DO believe that the water/detergent/stain agent it would take to clean it DOES outweigh the environmental impact of tossing it... at least almost!)

But now! Now, I'm feeling guilty for throwing a onsie... All this environmental talk is making me think about EVERYTHING I do. That's the point, right?

Swistle said...

Marie- I've done the same with the occasional pair of toddler undies. At some point, the amount of work to remove the poop, plus the number of alcoholic drinks I would need to consume during/after, outweighs the benefits of reusing the stained underwear. And see how neatly this segues into the second point! Just because we occasionally do something that may or may not be environmentally perfect, doesn't mean our other environmental efforts are futile.

Tessie said...

I'm with Marie...and here I am sort of WISHING for disposable clothes.

This is all very excellent and explained well, and I was wondering how you were going to do it in a way that I could somehow pass off as my own thoughts on the matter, and then I got to the last sentence and...THAT IS IT! That is the way I shall plagarize it in the future. Hearty thanks.

laughing mommy said...

Amen!

Rachy said...

'Kay, I guess I'm a horrible person because I see this as something so different. I'm one of those people who can't believe the diet coke drinker eating a double cheeseburger NOT because I think they truly believe they are canceling their bad food consumption with a semi-good food consumption. My thinking is, if you are smart enough to order a diet coke, why aren't you smart enough to realize that a double cheeseburger isn't the best choice? If you take the time and spend the money to install a solar hot water heater why don't you realize that an hour long shower defeats the purpose? It's not that I condemn that person for indulging once in a while, but if that is the rule of their life, then I should think their convictions should be deeper. It's the inconsistancy that bothers me.

Nowheymama said...

Thank you for helping me feel better about my puny environmental efforts.

Woman with a Hatchet said...

I'm with you, Swistle. Although I have to tell you the argument about cloth vs disposable diapers is generally related to energy costs to produce and dispose of them, as opposed to long term environmental effects (chemicals and plastics breaking down over time vs wash water, detergent and electricity required for cloth maintenance). It's the same argument used for paper vs plastic bags. The energy it takes to produce either is roughly equal, however it takes way longer for the plastic to break down but an equivalent # of paper bags is a much larger physical amount and uses up many trees.

Um...ahem. Anyway! Maintenance is the continual cost you have to pay for anything. Those darned kids require constant maintenance whether they are eco kids or not.

What would be REALLY cool would be a Star Trekkian device that you toss all of your old clothes/items into that breaks them down into component pieces and builds you new ones on the fly. Instant reuse! Then again, I'm still waiting for my flying car and silver jumpsuit....

Artemisia said...

Oh, Swistle! I am soooo glad you brought up the energy consumption and environmental impacts of PRODUCTION. That doesn't get considered much.

I agree; there are those costs of production, but if it ultimately uses less energy and creates less waste, then that option is our only option as yet.

Swistle said...

Rachy- The point here is that it's NOT inconsistent. I might choose to take hour-long showers every day--but then feel that this would have less of a negative impact if I used a better/safer energy source to fuel the water heater. I might eat a double cheeseburger, and prefer to have a diet soda because I prefer the taste. It's only inconsistent if you believe everyone feels the same way about things--which obviously they don't, and good luck trying to make someone change the depth of their convictions. I'm not going to be able to "care more" about something by telling myself it doesn't make sense that I don't.

Your way, you're just going to get into big trouble. If you're "smart enough" to have a diet soda (this makes an assumption I'm not prepared to make, but it's yours and I'll go with it for the sake of argument), then you should be smart enough to know that diet sodas contain chemicals that are bad for you, and that you should have water instead. Pretty soon the only acceptable option is to be "smart enough" to be absolutely perfect every second. That's not going to work out, is my guess.

MadMad said...

Yeah, I agree with everything you said. Just curious, though... who is reading a book in the shower...?

Pickles & Dimes said...

Well said. *claps*

Swistle said...

Madmad- Stupid PAUL is. And the title of the book is _Solar Energy_. It was while trying not to kill/berate him that I got the idea for this post. The reading-in-the-shower thing is a long-term fight.

Pickles & Dimes said...

Ooh, what's your thoughts on disposable underwear?

http://www.mytagalongs.com/en/Product/ProductListing.aspx

I've also recently read about a line of disposable underwear called "Once." (I think that was the name.) It's meant to be worn during your period (hence the period in the name).

Tessie said...

Oh, I'm glad I checked back so I could be reminded that we are both members of the Sisterhood of the Husbands Who Read In the Shower, Those Freaks.

Marie Green said...

Yes, I agree that it doesn't negate our other environmental efforts; it just makes me more aware of them, which makes me want to do more, which makes me feel like I HAVE TO DO A LOT MORE, which leads to be overwhelmed.

Also, HOW do you read in the shower??

Swistle said...

Marie- This is EXACTLY my question to Paul. Because the only answer I can imagine is that he stands there with the water running over him while he reads. And that would be so intensely annoying, I would have to contemplate the wisdom of my decision to marry him.

1hot&tiredmama said...

Swistle - I commented about the use of hankies only to point out that even though you're not putting tissues in the land fill, you're still using precious resources to clean them. Everything is totally a give and take. For you, hankies are probably a great alternative. For me -- not so much. I would wash them in a separate load with probably lots of hot water and bleach (I know, I have serious laundry issues). So for me, hankies are not so good and I don't worry about it so much because tissues are probably the most easily biodegradable paper products we use. (They practically disintegrate in your hand.)

On the diaper issue -- I can see how using cotton cloth diapers can reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills (which is important) but I can also see that they use water, energy, & soap products and I don't know anyone who washes diapers with other loads of clothes. I am not saying one way is preferable to another, I'm just saying no one should be on their soap box telling someone else that they are not doing their part to protect the environment. (Also, a lot of moms are going with fleece-lined diapers because they are softer. Well, fleece is 100 percent polyester and is not biodegradable so I have to question as to whether this is the way to go or not. I just am not convinced that this is any better or worse for that matter.)

Do sandwich bags biodegrade faster than plastic containers because they are thinner? Is it more important to preserve our water? I don't know the answers. I do know that we should all be carefully considering these things (which we obviously are). I also know that we should not be judging others or tooting our own horns because we think that our way is the right way and that someone else's way isn't.

Swistle said...

1hot&tiredmama- I understood why you commented as you did: you were pointing out that all contributing issues need to be taken into account. I completely agree, which is why I said in this post that people who use reusables "shouldn't prance around talking about how their actions have no environmental impact." Which is, I believe, what you're saying too.

We disagree only in that I feel pretty confident that, in general, disposable items have a larger environmental impact than reusable ones--even though, as I said, reusable ones ALSO have impact, and not an insignificant one when manufacturing, maintenance, and eventual landfill residency is taken into account.

Note, however, that I use disposable diapers. And that the entire second half of the post is dedicated to the topic of how each person should choose his or her own best combination of environmental action, even if it looks funny to other people.