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Effective Environmental Choices

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has published “The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices” (Three Rivers Press, 1999), a book that confirms much of what is also in the book “Use Less Stuff: Environmental Solutions for Who We Really Are.” Here’s what the experts had to say about what we should worry about, what’s not that important, and what we need to do to create a more sustainable future:

The Big Picture – The key environmental issue we humans have to face is consumption, and the two primary things that we Americans over-consume are food and energy. Our consumption patterns are the cause of four leading environmental problems: air pollution, global warming, habitat alteration, and water pollution.

The activities primarily responsible for these concerns are:

·         Use of cars and light trucks

·         Meat and poultry production

·         Fruit, vegetable and grain production

·         Home heating, hot water use, and air conditioning

·         Household appliance usage and lighting

·         Home construction

·         Household water use and sewage

The Answer? Use Less Stuff! – Here are the actions which the UCS recommends to be taken by Americans. Don’t be surprised if they look very familiar:

·         Choose a place to live that reduces the need to drive.

·         Make your next car more fuel-efficient.

·         Eat less meat, especially red meat.

·         Buy organic produce whenever possible.

·         Work to improve the efficiency of home appliances, heating, and cooling systems.

Forget About It! – Based on a number of scientific analyses, the UCS concludes that it’s far more important to worry about the items listed above than items we more typically worry about, as described below:

·         Cloth vs Disposable Diapers: Basically, it’s a wash (pun intended). The environmental impacts are not that different. The real issue? Fewer babies to put in the diapers!

·         Paper vs. Plastic Bags: Again, there’s no big difference. Take fewer of each, bring your own, and reuse the bags you do take.

·         Disposable Plates, Cups, Cutlery, and Napkins: In moderation, their impact is small. Using these items once in a while is fine, but every day is probably wasteful.

·         Spray Cans and Styrofoam: Neither of these are made using ozone-depleting chemicals anymore, so moderate use is not a big deal.


Taken from the ULS Report: July-August-September 1999, Volume VI, Number 3