Kermit is right; “It’s not easy being green.”
Richard does his part to help the environment by putting forth every effort he knows of to be green. He recycles, purchases only green products, and also plants a tree every year to offset his carbon footprint. What Richard does not realize, is that his city’s recycling plant is powered by fossil fuels, which only increase his carbon footprint. Those green products he makes a point of buying have actually caused him to exponentially increase how much trash he both recycles and throws away. Last but not least, that the tree he plants each year does not even come close to offsetting the over 20 tons carbon dioxide he and every other individual American puts into the atmosphere on average every year (Revkin 581).
While it very important for us to make every effort to protect our environment and ensure a healthy future for our planet, it must also be recognized that being green is not as simple as it looks. Ignorance does not always constitute bliss. It is important for people to recognize that simply following the hype of going green does not always mean that they are actually helping to protect and improve the environment’s future. A lot of effort and research must also go into creating an individual plan of action for being green.
One issue that has recently become a topic of hot debate is that of carbon neutrality. “The carbon-neutral movement seeks to cut the carbon emissions of individuals and businesses largely by encouraging activities and purchases that in some way cancel out the negative effects of burning carbons” (Ramage, Bean and Johnson 580).
Some of the ways people and businesses go about being carbon neutral range from planting trees and funding environmental projects, to purchasing “offsets” from various businesses that sell credits for offsetting one’s carbon footprint. According to Andrew C. Revkin, a noted author of numerous books and articles concerning various different environmental issues, the “offsets” that these oftentimes lucrative businesses and organizations sell supposedly fund various projects in other places that help to “sop up an equal amount of emissions” by a number of ways such as fertilizing algae in the ocean so that it may pull the gasses out of the air or by simply planting trees for the same effect (581).
It should also be recognized that the ever-growing industry selling carbon offsets is completely unregulated. Some businesses will sell credits stating that they will offset one amount of carbon emissions, while they turn around and only offset a small fraction of that amount in actuality. While some groups and organizations are beginning to review and endorse some of the companies and organizations that actually do in fact offset the amount of carbon emissions that they originally promised, it is still considered to be a shady business market and should not be entirely relied on to offset one’s carbon emissions.
There is also a large debate about the actual environmental impact of being carbon-neutral. Many environmentalists find themselves divided about the topic, with opinions ranging from carbon neutrality not “accomplish[ing] anything meaningful-other than giving someone a slightly better feeling (or greener reputation)” (Revkin 581), to conflicted knowing that it at least raises environmental awareness, to completely for carbon-neutrality believing it to be necessary for all carbon emissions to be neutralized. Perhaps one argument that should be considered is that no matter how much carbon you are supposedly offsetting, it does not stop the carbon emissions that are actually being put into the atmosphere; the only way this can actually be accomplished is to stop putting them out there by stopping the burning of fossil fuels entirely-which is something not necessarily possible within the foreseeable future.
Another important issue that oftentimes has a number of downsides overlooked is that of recycling. In truth, recycling is not always the best way to go in every community, “Recycling … is a geographically narrow activity, and its costs and benefits vary accordingly” (Clement 10). According to Angela Logomasini, who was quoted in Ian Murray’s article “Time to Recycle Recycling?”:
[F]orced recycling can be a waste of both [money and resources] because recycling itself entails using energy, water and labor to collect, sort, clean and process materials. There are also air emissions, traffic and wear on streets from the second set of trucks prowling for recyclables. The bottom line is that most mandated recycling hurts, not helps, the environment. (591-92)
It also appears that the act of recycling can actually produce more carbon that that of new manufacture, according to Iain Murray, the Director of Projects and Analysis and Senior Fellow in Energy, Science and technology at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The act of recycling paper is a process that creates carbon emissions. De-inking recovered paper and the sanitation of reclaimed paper for consumer use both require the use of fossil fuels; while alternatively, the use of virgin trees produces almost no net carbon so long as the harvested trees are replanted (591).
With American society being so focused on consumerism, it is no surprise that most Americans seem to have forgotten the first two “R’s” of “The Three R’s-Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.” One cannot be truly green merely by purchasing green products. While it is a good sign that people are recognizing the need to protect the environment, the consumption of green products is not the solution according to Monica Hesse, a staff writer for the Washington Post.
In order to be truly green one must ascribe to the three R’s starting with reduction. According to Nina Rao, a communications intern with Zero Population Growth, an organization focused on finding a sustainable balance between the populations, resources and environments throughout the world, Reduction comes first because it attacks the problem at its core. “The idea is simple: the less we consume, the less we impact our environment. But the idea of reducing consumption seems un-American.” Just because a product is green, does not mean that it won’t end up in a landfill or have some other sort of detrimental impact on the environment.
The importance of reusing must also be addressed as well. While Americans do in fact have an appreciation of reusing things (the popularity of flea markets, garage sales, and antiques are all strong evidence of this), Americans are also bewitched with the concept of newness. Every American must have the latest and greatest electronics and appliances, and when something breaks down or becomes obsolete the cost of replacement is often less than that of getting it repaired or upgrading it (Rao).
It is only after these first two steps that it is environmentally feasible to resort to recycling. Recycling was never intended to be a holistic solution to the waste management problems that Americans face today. It does not come without its environmental and economic costs and should only be used as a last resort alternative to landfills.
As Kermit the Frog says, “It’s not easy being Green.” It is essential for everyone to recognize that simply following the hype of going green does not always mean that they are actually helping to protect and improve the environment’s future, a lot of effort and research must also go into creating an effective plan for being green.
The only surefire ways of going green are often some of the simplest and least expensive, such as following “The Three R’s.” You can easily reduce you carbon footprint by simply walking or riding your bike to work or while running errands around town. Doing this regularly eliminates a good amount of carbon emissions being put into the environment, which also means that you won’t have to offset anything.
You can also grow a “victory garden” for the environment, by doing this you are not only providing your family with fresh, organic, healthy, and green food, but you are also not buying into the consumerism, nor contributing to the carbon emissions that are normally expended to bring that same produce to you if you were to purchase it at a grocery store.
You can also consider some more permanent solutions to exclusively recycling in your home. Rather than buying bottled water and merely recycling the empty bottles when used up, consider using a reusable aluminum or plastic bottle and refilling it with filtered water from your tap instead. You will not only be cutting down on the environmental expenses of recycling, but, you will be saving a good amount of money in the end as well.
Clement, Douglas. “Recycling-Righteous or Rubbish?” Fedgazette March 2005: 6-10. Web. 11 November 2009.
Hesse, Monica. “Greed in the Name of Green.” Washington Post 5 March 2008. Web. 11 November 2009.
Murray, Iain. “Time to Recycle Recycling?” Ramage, John D., John C. Bean and June Johnson. 591-92. Print.
Ramage, John D., John C. Bean and June Johnson. Writing Arguments: A Rhetoric With Readings. 8th Edition. New York: Pearson Education Inc., 2010. Print.
Rao, Nina. “The Oxymoron of Green Consumption.” ZPG Reporter March/April 1997. Web. 11 November 2009.
Revkin, Andrew C. “Carbon-Neutral Is Hip, but Is It Green?” Ramage, John D., John C. Bean and June Johnson. 580-82. Print.