How not to save the world
There are many articles online claiming to debunk popular beliefs about the environment, health or tackling poverty. So, which of these claims are true, and which are not?
This is a critical question. If we're feeling good because we carefully separate our recycling, but live in a uninsulated house in a car-based suburb and drive an SUV, then our priorities are probably wrong. We need to be informed. So, which of these "myths" are really myths? How can we really have a concrete impact?
Note: this should be a summary and index page. If there is more than a couple of pages on a specific topic, it should be moved to its own page, with a summary and link placed here.
Modern farming methods, and especially the green revolution, have saved hundreds of millions from the starvation that was predicted (e.g. By Paul Ehrlich in 1968). How bad is the downside, and what are the alternatives?
"Organic farming will save the environment."
Note that there are many factors in how sustainable farming practices are, besides use of chemicals. E.g.:
- Transport used - not just distance, but the type of transport.
Why do farmers use chemicalsEdit
Pesticides and healthEdit
Most of the pesticides in our food, by far, are natural pesticides produced by the plants. This leaves open the question of whether the artificial chemicals are much worse for us. Some (such as DDT) do linger in the environment for far longer than others. The usage of DDT and related pesticides has been restricted - exactly how bad are the remaining pesticides. It's also true that something is harmful given to lab rats in large quantities, yet not significantly harmful in small quantities - or even beneficial, since there has been research suggesting that toxins in small doses actually benefit an organism by making it react to the mild stress.[verification needed]
There is a common perception that "the poisons are killing us." So why are we living longer than ever? If there is a negative effect from these traces of chemicals, the effect is much smaller than positive changes (e.g. better medicines and medical treatments).
The argument has been made[verification needed] that pesticides may contribute to better health of the population as a whole, by improving yields, making fruit and vegetables cheaper, and thus allowing people (especially those on limited income) to eat a more healthy diet, with higher levels of vitamins and other nutrients that fight cancer and improve heart health.
Note that these arguments are not saying that "pesticides are good for you" - using them inappropriately, without following directions, has the potential to be very harmful. But when used properly, they appear to not be significantly harmful, and may not be harmful at all. Worrying about them may do us more harm than the chemicals themselves.[verification needed]
There's actually little doubt that fertilizers harm ecosystems. But is this inevitable, and what are the alternatives?
Limited use and precise application reduce the effect of eutrophication on waterways.
More recent discoveries, e.g. the role of soil fungi and the impact of compost teas, show that there may be much greener ways to create abundance in food production.[verification needed] However, this knowledge is still in its early years - the knowledge is still being developed, and the valuable knowledge that already exists has not yet spread widely.
Food miles: food grown locally is greenerEdit
- Long distance travel by cargo ship uses tiny amounts of fuel. More fuel is likely to be used by the truck that brought the food to the store, or your car on the shopping trip, than was used by the ship.
- The food grown at the distant location may be more farmed more sustainably, as with a recent comparison between UK lamb versus the same product imported to the UK from New Zealand.[verification needed]
Telling how green your food is is harder than looking at where it came from.
See 5 Ways People Are Trying to Save the World (That Don't Work) Feb 23, 2009, by Son Tran.
Technology is improving, and recycling is becoming more efficient.
However, the focus on recycling in recent decades was probably misguided, when far more critical challenges faced us - especially the need for cheap renewable energy to support development and fight climate change.
See hybrid vehicles, especiall the "Criticisms" and "Lifetime cost" sections. Some of the better known claims made that hybrids are not green actually come from groups known for consistently taking an anti-green line, including climate skepticism.
However, this does not always mean they are the greenest choice. A small, clean, manual transmission diesel car (or possibly biodiesel - depending on the source of the biodiesel) is likely to have lower fuel use, and much lower long term fuel use.
There are also tiny, affordable electric runabouts available now, claimed to have energy usage equivalent to 250 mpg What is their impact?
Carbon offsets and planting treesEdit
- A recent one is 5 Ways People Are Trying to Save the World (That Don't Work) Feb 23, 2009, by Son Tran, but many more can be found by searching for "green myths" or other phrases with the word myth.
- The link given is broken - the figure is plausible, but we need more than one unattributed figure. Note also Billions Served: Norman Borlaug interviewed by Ronald Bailey, April 2000, on Reason.org - this is a skeptical and conservative site, so it needs to be checked for bias.
- New ‘food miles’ report shows NZ dairying still more efficient than UK, greenhouse gases included, Lincoln University, NZ. 27th July 2007
- 250 mpg based on American gallons; which is equal to 300 mpg based on imperial gallons, or less than 1L per 100 km).