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Wanting To Stop Global Warming?


well, think again... because life causes global warming

So I’ve been writing about trying to do something about global warming (though at the same time saving energy for the long-term also means saving money in the short-term), but I remember vaguely that (A) Al Gore even said in the beginning of his movie An Inconvenient Truth that humans probably only account for less than 5% of any emissions that could contribute to global warming, and I also remember from researching (and reporting in the October 2007 editorial called A Different Light on the Global Warming Debate) that a lot of our efforts to try to be “green” make sense in the short-term (a hybrid car that uses electricity, or efficiency light bulbs versus fluorescent light bulbs) actually harm the environment (like the mining of Nickel for the electric car batteries completely destroying the land for the chance of any future life on it, or the man-made methyl mercury used for efficiency light bulbs — which is a lot more dangerous than other forms of mercury — that is just usually thrown away, or ignored when put into the recycle bin for glass).

So after all my research, I had come to the conclusion that working so hard so fast to try to be energy efficient to combat global warming didn’t seem like the smartest idea, because in our haste to “help” the environment, our actions might actually be doing more damage to the environment. But, in my effort to try to lose weight, I’ve been walking over 5 miles every day, and I bought a bicycle so we could go for bike rides instead of taking the car places... But then my husband had to pass this Times article on to me, with the headline: Walking to the shops ‘damages planet more than going by car’. So, I guess I have to start researching again, because apparently my doing anything to be healthier for myself is probably worse for the environment than if I just sat around all day until I had to drive to the store.
But, apparently a leading environmentalist has calculated that walking does more to cause global warming than driving, because “food production is now so energy-intensive that more carbon is emitted providing a person with enough calories to walk to the shops than a car would emit over the same distance.” So, I suppose if my diet changed to reflect my increased walking, that would make a difference (and it seems that when you exercise more, even if that means just walking more, your desire for food increases, trust me). A lot of that may be “created by intensive beef production”, which may not apply so much to a vegetarian, but if nothing else, the transporting of food any distance means the energy used to bring the food to you in the first place is even higher than you’d expect. And if that’s the case, Chris Goodall (author of How to Live a Low-Carbon Life) flat out said that “The troubling fact is that taking a lot of exercise and then eating a bit more food is not good for the global atmosphere.”
And this survey talks a lot about the amount of energy used in the production of beef, for cows (I love being a vegetarian at times like this), and they noted that methane from cows “released during the digestive process, is 21 times more harmful than CO2 . Organic beef is the most damaging because organic cattle emit more methane.” In fact, “Organic dairy cows are worse for the climate. They produce less milk so their methane emissions per litre are higher.”
And speaking of organic, I also read a stat that said the getting imported foods versus local foods is also a lot more damaging to the environment because of the distance these foods are transported. This British article even stated that “Someone who installs a “green” light bulb undoes a year’s worth of energy-saving by buying two bags of imported veg, as so much carbon is wasted flying the food to Britain.”
But the thing is, it’s not just the transporting of food that uses a lot of energy — the processing of food also has a huge effect. Consider the amount of fresh food the average person buys, versus the amount of processed food (which took a lot of energy to get into that form for the supermarket). And if you think you’re not like that (as a vegetarian, over 3/4s of what I purchase is fresh fruits and vegetables), then think of what is contained on your grocery store - the fresh produce section (and I’m not even talking about meat, because that’s been refined, chopped, processed and packaged for the store) is probably less than one tenth of the size of the entire store. With everything from sodas and bottled water to potato chips to canned and frozen foods to prepackaged ready-made meals (even a frozen pizza), a lot of work was put into the creation of these foods, so they can sit — along with their packaging that will be thrown away — in a store, waiting to be purchased and eaten. With industrialized food production, we’ve got many more mechanical hands using a lot of energy to prepare our food for us just the way we like it. And if that’s not bad enough, remember that a third of all of the food in a grocery store needs to be refrigerated — and yeah, that’s more energy that has to be paid for before it gets to your home.

•••

So when it comes to driving to the store versus walking, maybe we should just shop online and not travel to shop (not a bad idea, I don’t even have to get off my butt to order something I want). But no, don’t worry, another article from Times can prove that idea wrong, with the headline Boom in internet shopping may be adding to carbon dioxide emissions. Shopping at home means I stay seated on my butt, but “the boom in home deliveries has resulted in a rise in overall emissions from vehicles.” So even though emissions from our own cars have dropped since 1997 with more efficient cars, that savings has been outweighed by the emissions from vans and trucks and other large vehicles to get our Internet products to us.
Well yeah, if it’s not me moving my product to me, someone has to do it, even if it is in a large shipping truck instead of my small car.
And I don’t know if there’s proof that this claim is accurate or not, but “online retailers claim that it is more efficient for one van to deliver to several addresses than for each household to travel by car to the shops.” And a lot of the time that product you’re ordering starts from the other side of the country, and can even take an airplane ride before it comes in a large truck to your house.

•••

I read one more statistic that made me sick, and that is that “trees, regarded as shields against global warming because they absorb carbon, were found by German scientists to be major producers of methane, a much more harmful greenhouse gas.” When I heard that one, I had to research that more for myself, and found that Sid Perkins in Science News (in the article Greenhouse Plants? Vegetation may produce methane) discovered that “Lab tests suggest that a wide variety of plants may produce methane in significant quantities.” This means plants from grasses to trees, which threw many scientists for a loop. So do plants absorb carbon dioxide, but release methane (which is worse for the environment)?
Want harder evidence? Perkins pointed out that “from their data, the researchers estimate that the world's plants generate more than 150 million metric tons of methane each year, or about 20 percent of what typically enters the atmosphere” (This date was shown in Nature). And Science Buzz (from the University of Minnesota) even concluded that “scientists at the Max Plank Institute in Germany have discovered that living trees are a major source of methane in the Earth's atmosphere.”
So I thought I was doing something good for the environment by growing more plants in my house. But it seems that in many respects, any amount of living we choose to do will have an effect on the environment.




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Chicago poet Janet Kuypers
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