In trying to “do good,” we often end up doing exactly the opposite, putting the environment at greater risk instead of making the planet a better place to live.
1. Nuclear Power has been touted for decades as a cheap, clean alternative energy source, but as incidents at Chernobyl, Three-Mile Island and Fukushima have proven, nuclear radiation is life-threatening. What’s more, there is still no safe way to deal with increasing amounts of radioactive nuclear waste.
2. Natural Gas is often pointed to as a clean alternative to petroleum and coal in energy production, but it is still an unsustainable carbon-based fossil fuel of finite availability. What’s more, natural gas itself is a greenhouse gas. It is actually more potent than CO2 when released into the atmosphere.
3. Bigger Is Better may be true in many aspects of life, but not power generation. Large, modern gas-fired power stations only turn about 60% of fuel energy into electricity, with the rest lost as waste heat. Another 5-10% of the electricity generated is lost in transmission. Small plants closer to end-users are actually more efficient, although they cost public utilities more to build and operate.
4. Biofuels Replacing Fossil Fuels may sound eco-friendly on the surface, but it requires conversion of land currently used for food production, else forests must be razed to make room for crops. We can’t have our biofuel and eat it too.
5. Organic Farming, no matter how healthy its produce may be, is not the future of world agriculture. By 2050, the planet’s population will top nine billion. Even higher productivity will be required per acre of land farmed. Emphasis should be on developing safer fertilizers and pesticides, not organics.
6. Safe Pesticides, however, may be an oxymoron. Chrysanthemum extracts commonly found in bug repellants, flea collars, lawn-care products and carpet sprays are causing an increasing number of illnesses and deaths. According to the USEPA, incident reports have risen 300% in the past decade.
7. Building “Carbon Neutral” Homes is a wonderful marketing ploy for developers, but only about 1% of housing stock is newly built each year. It does little to impact the real problem—older homes that are energy inefficient. Incentives for retrofitting would have much greater environmental impact.
8. Urban Centers are often viewed as the antithesis of clean environments, but in fact they do less harm than suburbs. Think public transportation vs. commuting by car, elevators vs. lawn mowers, energy-efficient apartments vs. single family houses… surprisingly, the carbon footprint of a typical Manhattan resident is 30% smaller than the average American’s.
9. Recycling Plastic Containers is a laudable activity, but the ugly truth is that most of them end up in landfills anyway. Popular Mechanics estimates that less than 1% of polystyrene containers are recycled and about two-thirds of PET soft-drink bottles end up in the trash. Recycling plants just don’t have sufficient capacity or technology to keep up with the waste.
10. Waste Water Can Be Recycled, but not without risks—the primary one being contaminants. Reclaimed waste water is treated for use in irrigation, for example, but many leading scientists question the adequacy of such treatment in protecting people against pathogens. They recommend adding membrane filtration, reverse osmosis, ozonation or other advanced treatments for irrigation water, which adds to costs.
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