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Green trend: fact or fake?

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By David Karnowski
Magazine Editor

If you don’t like the color green, then just say so. But for many people green means a lot more than a fashion statement or someone’s preference of M&M’s. Being green is a type of lifestyle, one that strives toward the ability for everyone to drink clean, healthy water, breathe air that doesn’t agitate asthma and eat food that won’t incite cancer.

Unfortunately, some corporations and individuals have latched onto this growing trend of environmental responsibility and used it for self-promotion and repairing tattered reputations. The result is a skeptical public that wonders about the concept of man’s effect on the Earth. After all, nothing is more ironic than an oil company making claims of being green-oriented.

Despite a recent isolated and politically polarizing scientific scandal involving a few experts in the field not keeping proper records of their research, the majority of environmental scientists still agree that man’s effect on the planet is a real and serious threat to our survival.

It may be difficult science to determine exact influences on global temperature changes over the decades and centuries, but other hazards to our climate are measurable and significant.

Bakersfield’s air is a prime example of a localized and damaged part of the environment caused directly by our society. A combination of the dairy, oil and agriculture industry’s byproducts have clouded our skies with smog and earned our city a place in the record books for some of the worst air in the nation.

According to a 2009 report titled “The Most Challenging Places to Live with Asthma” by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, a 57-year-old not-for-profit organization, Bakersfield ranks 34 on the list of 100 metropolitan areas. A variety of health risk factors including air quality and pollen score are used to determine the placements. Additionally the report lists Bakersfield’s air quality as “worse than average.”

Unfortunately, things don’t seem to be getting any better for our local air. The American Lung Association published the 10th annual State of the Air Report in 2009 and it states that Bakersfield, along with cities like Pittsburg, Los Angeles and Houston, as actually having a worsening particulate matter pollution rate.

The detrimental effects to our local climate do not end with our atmosphere woes. Rather, the use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers and diesel powered farm equipment in this hotbed of valley agriculture contribute to the contamination of groundwater.

So, that’s it folks. Go buy a Toyota Prius, use less oil and we will all live happily ever after, right? Of course if we honestly believed that driving a small bubble of a car could save the world from all of man’s formulated toxins, one might accuse us of smoking something green.

Having said that, we shouldn’t be discouraged if an over-priced hybrid isn’t in our personal future. After all, going green can be simple, cheap and most of all, it can include small acts that create steppingstones toward a sustainable future.

With freshwater becoming an ever-dwindling resource in the Central Valley, the conservation of this vital element is key to a sustainable life here. The practice of turning off the sink while brushing one’s teeth is a simple way to improve our footprint. The only associated cost is the use of your brainpower to remember to actually do it, and if you are on a metered water bill then you will actually save cash.

Planting more acclimated landscaping around our homes can greatly reduce the consumption of water for esthetic purposes while still maintaining a pleasant and earthy feel around the house. Almost any kind of lawn, tree or shrub must be irrigated to survive here, but the difference in how much water a plant needs to stay healthy in our desert climate varies greatly.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs are another cheap and easy way to reduce carbon emissions and actually save extra household cash. Rebate programs from power companies have made these more efficient light sources readily available at places like the dollar store.

Energy Star, a joint program of the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was established in 1992 as a rating system for the energy consumption of appliances. According to their website, the replacement of just one incandescent bulb with a CF device by each American household would save enough energy to power 3 million homes for a year. They also equate this amount to the carbon emissions of 800,000 cars.

So whether you believe global warming is real or think it’s a liberal farce, there are direct impacts to our immediate health from the everyday activities we participate in. Don’t dismiss the more and more popular green lifestyle as a fad that will go away or quite simply, we will go away. Perhaps we should take the advice of an old adage: don’t shit where you eat, my friend.

By Gregory D. Cook
Multimedia Editor

“Going green” seems to be one of the more popular catch phrases in pop culture today, but it is not a new idea. The Keep America Beautiful organization traces its roots back to the mid 1950s and appealed to Americans with slogans such as “Every litter bit hurts,” and the famous commercial with a Native-American shedding a tear as passing motorists throw trash at his feet. Woodsy Owl took up the cause with his “Give a hoot, don’t pollute” campaign in the 1970s. But these days, going green is bringing in a lot of green for big business and we are being force-fed a constant diet of it.

We are bombarded by messages of how greenhouse gases are holding in the planet’s heat, making the polar ice caps melt, destroying polar bear habitats, and somehow, homeless polar bears mean the end of life as we know it. But if we buy the laundry detergent with the picture of a tree on the box, we can wipe out polar bear homelessness, and save the world.

It may be a bit more complicated than that, but the general idea of what consumers are being told is that if you care about the environment you need to buy a hybrid car, buy the funky spiral light-bulbs and buy things that can be or have been recycled. Buy, buy, buy, but remember to buy green. In fact, according to a study by market research provider Packaged Facts, sales of “greenly” labeled products in supermarkets rose 8.7 percent in 2009. Destruction of the environment may be an inconvenient truth, but it was also a very convenient source of $38 billion in sales for supermarkets.

Is going green in the consumer sense really helping things? Those energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs contain toxic mercury. It’s a small amount, but when you consider that we buy over 270 million of them a year, nearly all of which are produced in China, it means we are importing over 104 tons of mercury into our homes each year.

And that brings up an even more pressing concern. The mercury used in the production of most of these funky little bulbs that are so integral to saving the environment comes from open-pit strip mines that devastate the local environments.

Electric motors and batteries in hybrid cars have a similar tale to tell. Their production requires rare earth metals such as neodymium and lanthanum. Each of the over 2 million Toyota Prius hybrids speeding down U.S. roads in the name of environmental responsibility contain around 25 pounds of these minerals, which also come from strip-mines in China. And they don’t call them rare for nothing, Chinese officials say they will run out by 2012. Not to worry though, they are beginning to strip mine them right here in California.

Perhaps one of the most misunderstood areas of going green is recycling paper and cardboard. Most of the world’s paper production is supplied by carefully maintained, sustainable forests in northern Europe. Also, paper and cardboard completely bio-degrade in landfills. The box your Big Mac came in is already eco-friendly, enjoy.

Of course, if you still feel guilty about destroying the environment, but you’re not ready to give up your gas-guzzling SUV, you could always purchase a few carbon credits to ease your worried mind. There are a multitude of Web-based companies that will be more than happy to sell you the environmental equivalent of a medieval Catholic indulgence. The principle here behind what has got to be the best money-for-nothing idea since the Pet Rock is that if you are too busy to be bothered with going green yourself, these services will “sell” you a credit to make up for the pollution you are creating. Many of these sites have calculators that will allow you to determine your “carbon footprint” based on the size of your home, the number and type of vehicles you own, and other habits you may have that are hurrying the world down the road to ruination.

According to one such site, a family of two adults, in a moderately sized home with two cars would have a carbon footprint of 23 tons a year. And for the mere pittance of $322, or 12 easy payments of $26.83, you can be completely relieved of any guilt. The money supposedly goes to fund a wind farm in a town that is rebuilding after having been devastated by tornadoes, which seems odd, as in a fight between a tornado and a wind farm, the smart money would be on the tornado.

Pay your money and drive your Hummer from sea to shining sea with the air conditioner going full blast. Feel free to run over any cute baby fur seals you come across in your travels. Isn’t green living great?

If we are to be the true stewards of our environment, the answers don’t lie with rampant consumption of so-called green products. Over-consumption is at the very heart of environmental damage. The answer is in the simple things, doing more with less, taking only what you need, and making sure you leave your little piece of the planet as nice or nicer than you found it. In fact, picking up a piece of litter just might be be a good place to start.

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The news site of Bakersfield College
Green trend: fact or fake?