Our fair college sends all of us an e-mail everyday that includes news and notes about our college – from the profound (our faculty working on cancer cures) to the mundane (parking information). We are sent about 5 or 6 bullet points with links every day. About every week or two one of those links comes from the college’s “Go Green” team – the opaque “persons” behind the college’s “Sustainability” movement. Three points to make, in increasing order of interest:
(1) The “Go Green” team is utterly a mystery. The articles that are written are never signed, the green websites do not list the names or contact information of the people involved in putting out information, making green decisions, or planning green events. No comment on this for now, you just think about what that means. For example, I have learned that the college puts out a “Sustainability Manual” that is written by college undergraduates, and this manual is used to teach the first year “Eco-Reps” that are placed in each and every freshman dorm. You heard that right, and yes, we put Eco-Reps in every freshman dorm. You know – just to raise awareness.
(2) Why does Go Green get a prominent news slot every week or so? Is it more important than a “Get Healthy” slot (they actually do include some of this) or a slot for any number of the other student groups. For example, I think there are more people involved in the campus climbing club than the Go Green movement (we cannot actually verify this of course, see point #1).
(3) Let’s have some fun with the latest dispatch from the Green Team (you’ll notice another treat – that the linked article does not even have its own permanent link, so it will be buried somewhere as soon as the next article is written and it will be as if I am analyzing a ghost). Let’s just take it paragraph by paragraph.
But while this is the time of year known for giving, the truth is that it is also notorious for being the most wasteful time of the year.
Of course, no one actually defines for us what “waste” is – you’ll see below that they waffle between “too much packaging” and general gluttony. Keep aside the extremely troublesome notion that “they” get to tell us what is wasteful and what is not (I took a long way to school today so that I can listen to a longer podcast while I got used to driving my new car) and think for a minute about the entire notion of waste. Nowhere, ever, anywhere, will you find on their website or much in the popular press about why “waste” is a bad thing or why “waste” is particularly problematic at this time of year. Do our landfills just get overwhelmed at this time of year? Are we foregoing more efficient ways of doing things and thereby costing consumers too much and costing workers their jobs? Just what is the problem? Saying, “waste is bad” does not help us very much.
Where does all this waste come from? Just think about all the things that go into creating that perfect holiday; the gift-wrap and packaging, holiday cards, overly-abundant food, and decorations. It’s a staggering fact, …
Decorations are wasteful? Wrapping presents is wasteful? By that account having a cushioned seat at the local movie theater is wasteful. After all, think of all the material and chemicals that are in that cushioned seat when you could just as easily sit on the floor. I’ll leave aside the basic economic fallacy in this for now and focus on the bolded part of the quote. Overly abundant food? Overly abundant food! A crisis? Stop to think about how that food gets produced, and what we must do to secure it. Supply curves slope up people, they really do. And that food is not simply given away to us. Overly abundant food! What kind of a world have we morphed into. You know, one might even argue that Christmas Guilting is overly abundant at this time of year too.
First think WASTE REDUCTION. By making small changes to some of those holiday habits, you can make a big difference in the eco-friendliness of your holiday. Here are some ideas:
When decking the halls, choose sturdy decorations that can be used year after year, rather than those designed for one-time use.
Instead of wrapping packages in store-bought holiday paper, using old maps, posters, or comics can give your gift an edge. Or opt for gift bags, which can be repurposed and passed on over and over again. Remember that wrapping paper can be recycled and ribbons and bows can be reused!
Instead of a card, give a friend an old photo memory with a note on the back. It’s more personal and your friend will be much more likely to keep it instead of discarding it into the trash with the other snowmen and Santa’s. Plus, doing this doesn’t waste the energy or paper needed to make a brand new card.
One staple of today’s American holidays is the food. To minimize waste, send all of your guests home with plenty of leftovers. Also, avoid using disposable dishes and cutlery.
If one of your family traditions is to get a Christmas tree, buy a real tree. Real trees are more sustainable than plastic ones, and can be recycled into mulch.
Do they understand that their first two points and this last one are dissonant? Why do they say buying a real tree is sustainable? After all, that is a decoration that you have to buy year after year after year – driving your ghastly car many miles and then forcing mulch companies to pick up our trees from curbside and then expending all that energy to turn the trees into mulch? Isn’t this precisely what we are urged not to do by the Green Team. Or how about the idea that we should use recycled paper and how that contrasts with the sustainability of getting a live tree? I suspect someone mentioned to them that most harvested Christmas trees come from farms dedicated to planting trees – it’s not like we are pulling a Chevy Chase every year. Indeed, I think planters put down 4 saplings for every tree that is harvested – so it is possible that the high demand for fresh Christmas trees leads to their being more trees than would otherwise be the case. Sure, I believe that, it’s an empirical question, but it is consistent with good economics. Then how can we see in this very same e-mail that using old comics for wrapping paper or giving out old photos instead of new cards is a good idea? It’s the same principle folks, the very same principle. And again, you should all conveniently overlook the fact that we like shiny clean new paper. Are we living in a world where any preference for something “un-sublime” is to be denigrated, dismissed, demoted and condemned? I know this is a “self-help” piece – but I also would appreciate at least one hyperlink pointing to research that shows that any of this makes sense on environmental grounds. No need to evaluate the other claims, if you understand the points above, you should be able to comment yourself on whether using disposable cutlery is a bad idea. Seriously – ignore our preferences and the fact that I don’t want to sit in front of the sink for hours doing dishes – did anyone actually do any calculations to ask what kinds of resources are “used up” in the production and disposal of plastic cutlery (now sustainably produced by the way from biomass?) as compared to running dishwashers, sinks, using soaps and bleaches, and the time spent doing all of this?
Second, think LOCAL. Buying local is a big word in sustainability. Not only does buying local help to protect the environment by reducing transport carbon emissions, but local businesses likely maintain more sustainable practices than the massive international factories which mass-produce consumer products as cost-effectively as possible.
This is flat wrong. Buying local will wreck the planet. Yet the Green Team will push that down folks’ throats like an evangelical pushes his agenda. What will it take for this to be carefully reconsidered? This doesn’t work. This doesn’t work. This doesn’t work. And reread that paragraph again. It is asserted as a matter of religion that a golf club producer here in Rochester does things more sustainably than one in Brazil. If we say it, it must be true. And once again do they not recognize the flat contradiction inherent in the last clause of the sentence? Mass producing consumer products in the least costly way is sustainable.
Aside from being a better choice for the environment, buying local does visible good for the community. The holidays are meant to be a time of giving thanks towards one another and caring about the people around us. As truth would have it, buying local is one of the best ways to do that.
Is there an editor to these things? If I ever wrote that phrase at my old job I would have been politely asked to reconsider my career. As truth would have it? Can you please explain that to me? And I guess now we care simply about appearing to do visible good for the community, like this, right? My links above address the rest of this claim, but again let’s consider what this sort of a sentiment means? I am told that I should spend my money at Tom’s Toy Shop and not at Walmart. So Walmart workers are not from the “community?” So, the folks in the factories in China and all of Walmart’s suppliers don’t matter? So, all of the money I could have saved by shopping at Walmart is best given to Tom? I guess I’ll have to take back the donations that we make to places like this and places like this that our family chooses to support at this time of year? Or do you think that we are all so rich that we can make a nice holiday for ourselves and our family AND for the kids at St. Joseph’s and the kids in Kenya by giving them locally made stuff?
The final step in your path towards a sustainable holiday is ENERGY CONSERVATION. Whether you are leaving home to take a holiday trip or taking some time away from the University to be at home with family, there are some things you can do to reduce energy consumption while you are gone.
Well, that seems unobjectionable. Although maybe if we used more energy we would provide more stimulus to producers to find creative ways to supply it. On a more serious note – ask why kids leave their computers plugged in, their lights on, their thermostats up, etc. when they leave their dorms? They don’t pay for it. Maybe the college should take it’s entire “Go Green” program and make sure they install dynamic pricing thermostats and electricity modules in every single dorm room and send bills to families directly for how much energy each student uses. We know that works. Oh, wait, it works, so maybe that’s a reason not to do it – after all, we can’t take people for campus tours to see everyone’s electricity bill, and if we “solved” our sustainability problem what would our Green Team do with their time?