The Five Ways Environmental Friendliness is Screwing up the Planet

August 19, 2009

Between the ozone layer, deforestation, and global warming, it’s clear that the planet is having trouble. So, with effort, determination, and lots of money, we started doing what we do best: We started making it worse.

Source: Cristian Baitg/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

By Marc Russel

5. Ethanol Fuel


Source: Paul Eekhoff/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Why it’s "Good" for the World:

It produces less CO2 than gasoline and helps stop global warming.

Why it Really Isn’t:

It's true that Ethanol, in and of itself, produces less emissions than gasoline when burned. Unfortunately, people forget where ethanol comes from. Most ethyl-alcohol is distilled from sugarcane, corn, or grain. In a world with six billion mouths to feed, we don't have much food to spare, and turning an important resource that's already in short supply into fuel for your Pinto is what economists refer to as "f***ing retarded." You see, the amount of grain needed to fill up an SUV with ethanol could feed one person for about a year. Since grain is used to make just about anything with bread, and corn is mostly used to feed livestock, the increased demand for grain, corn, and sugar would cause the prices of bread, meat, dairy, and candy to go through the roof (these of course being the four essential food groups).

In order to cope with the demand, whole sections of rainforests get burned down to pave the way for fields of sugarcane. Not clear-cut. Physically burned to the ground. At least clear-cutting got you some goddamn lumber. All you get out of this is enormous amounts of smoke, which on its own is probably worse than if you had just stuck with gasoline.

4. The Ban on DDT


Source: Ben Mills

Why it’s "Good" for the World:

DDT causes cancer and kills birds. They’ve done studies, you know? It’s science!

Why it Really Isn’t:

It's true, there were several studies that concluded that DDT is a carcinogen, and does cause thinning in bird's eggshells. Unfortunately the actual science itself was about as solid as a dollop of Miracle Whip on the surface of the Sun. The study that showed DDT was a carcinogen found that a group of mice exposed to DDT had a higher rate of leukemia, but that turned out to be a result of the test group being fed moldy bread that contained a fungus known to cause cancer.

There were a number of studies that attempted to demonstrate DDT as causing thinning of birds' eggshells, but virtually all of them were cavalier with the scientific method, at best. The most often quoted one is where they took a bunch of birds, fed them DDT-laced food, then compared their eggshell thickness with those of wild birds. This is already scientifically iffy, since it wasn't double-blind and didn't even have a control group. On top of that, their captured birds were being fed calcium-deficient diets, and it turns out that calcium is kind of important for making eggshells.

We aren't necessarily saying that DDT doesn't cause environmental issues. We're just saying there isn't really any solid evidence that it does. Of course, you may argue that even the possibility of harming the environment necessitates a ban on the substance, but then you should consider the millions of people who die every year from malaria. Within five years of the ban on DDT, Malaria cases went from 17 deaths a year to 2.5 million! Permitting 2.5 million deaths a year based on what amounts to the suspicion of the existence of a problem we don't even understand the workings of is at least unreasonable, if not completely f***ing insane.

3. Organic Food


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Why it’s "Good" for the World:

Not using pesticides is healthier and better for the soil.

Why it Really Isn’t:

First off, it isn't healthier. A Swiss study by the Research Institute for Organic Agriculture found the nutrients "in the organic systems to be 34 to 51% lower than in conventional systems." Organic methods also aren't better for the soil. Using organic fertilizer (cow crap) is great for replacing the nitrates in the soil, but does nothing to replace things like phosphorus and potassium. Without artificial versions to replace them, the levels of these nutrients drop over time, making organic growth even less efficient than it already is and making the soil increasingly barren.

We will give you one thing--they don't contain pesticides. But that's not really a good thing. On average, the crop yield with organic farming methods is about 20% less than with conventional farming methods, since a good fifth of your crop has to be thrown out after it gets infested with creepy crawlies. As previously pointed out, there are six billion people on the planet, with a good portion of them already starving, so having to throw out 20% of your crops might not be very good for us.

2. Wind Farms


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Why They're "Good" for the World:

They produce no emissions, they provide fairly consistent power, and they aren’t terribly expensive. They’re practically the only environmentally-friendly power source!

Why They're Really Not:

It's true, they don't produce huge emissions, they're fairly consistent with their power supply (unlike solar power), and they aren't that expensive. Sure they take up a lot of space, but hell, what can you do? All that considered, they still aren't environmentally friendly. Why? Birds. A good-sized wind farm will kill thousands of birds a year, including endangered ones. But that pales in comparison to the problem posed by the bats.  Of the winged things that get pulverized by wind turbines bats make up about 60%, since their echolocation can't pick up the curved blades. It isn't actually the blades that kill them though, it's the sudden pressure drop which causes their lungs to explode (cool, huh?). Depending on location, a 44-windmill farm can kill up to 2,000 bats in a 6-week period. Incidentally, this gives us a sweet idea for a Batman villain.

Of course you're thinking, "Who cares about bats? The birds are what we should really be worried about! Bats are creepy, and they just get caught in your hair!" Well, actually no. One insectivorous bat can eat over a thousand insects a night. With wind farming having such a detrimental effect on the bat population, insect numbers flourish, spreading disease, devouring crops, and making us wish we kept using all those pesticides.

It's a lot like in 1958 when Chairman Mao decided that sparrows were detrimental to China because they ate grain seeds, so he ordered them all killed. While it's true that they eat seeds, they also eat locusts, and without sparrows to keep the locust population in check, massive swarms descended upon China and ate all their food. It's worth noting that that was the first confirmed time government cock-uppery directly resulted in a biblical plague.

1. Recycling


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Why it’s "Good" for the World:

What the hell do you mean “Why it's good for the world”?! IT'S RECYCLING! It’s cheaper, it's better for the environment, and it’s the only thing that keeps us from drowning in our own garbage. Plus, everyone likes to know they're doing their part for the environment.

Why it Really Isn’t:

In 1987, the Mobro 4000, a barge owned by a mob boss named Salvatore Avellino and carrying several thousand tons of junk from Long Island, docked in North Carolina trying to turn a profit by dumping its trash on them. The Mobro 4000 then spent six weeks driving up and down the east coast trying to unload the trash. The media, presumably looking for something new to panic about, decided this meant that there was no more room at the dump, and started screaming about people having to do something about their waste. And so the recycling movement was born. Never mind that the Mobro 4000 was turned down due to ownership issues and changing regulations, not space problems. Never mind that we not only had plenty of empty landfill space then, but even more now. Garbage was the new ozone layer! Besides, as previously pointed out, recycling is cheaper.

Well, no. It's not. It costs about three times as much money to process recycled materials ($150/ton) than garbage ($50/ton). New York City alone spends $50-$100 million dollars of taxpayer money on its recycling program. But at least it's good for the environment, right?

Uh, not so much. Once you factor in carbon emissions from the pick-up vehicles and the energy required for processing, it becomes easier on Mother Earth just to make your crap out of virgin materials. Of course, you may say, we have to remember the landfills. A Styrofoam cup will sit in a landfill for two million years!

But what exactly do you think it will be doing for those two million years? Nothing. It will be sitting there. Nature doesn't mind. It's just another rock as far as she's concerned. But the production offset of using a Styrofoam cup versus a ceramic mug is enormous. Factoring in the amount of energy used to make a Styrofoam cup versus a ceramic coffee mug, as well as the amount of energy used to wash the mug, scientists at the University of Victoria found that you would have to use a ceramic mug for 1,000 cups of morning coffee before it becomes more efficient.

In the end, all recycling has going for it is that it makes you feel good about yourself to know that you're helping the environment. But if that's enough to keep it going, then maybe you should consider just cutting out the middle man and doing heroin. After all, it makes you feel good, it's just as good for the environment, and probably just as cheap.