Paper vs. plastic vs. something that ACTUALLY makes a difference: green power
As every environmentalist knows, it can be fun to indulge in being superior. There’s that lofty, erudite feeling you have — my lifestyle is more pious than your lifestyle — when you see a fellow citizen doing the wrong thing (whatever that is).
Here’s where I fall into the sin of eco-smugness: when I see people proudly declaiming their choice of bag — paper , plastic, or [huffing a bit] “I’ve got my own bag.” Think of it in terms of pure weight, I lecture in my mind, a bag weighs a few grams, but the stuff in your cart weighs 10, 20, 30 kilograms, not to mention your car at 1000+. Your choice in this matter is dwarfed by all the other choices you are making!
Even when I’m feeling more generous, I’m still snotty. I think “well, paper-vs-plastic agonies are good for making people aware that what they do has consequences. Then they can move on to more important things.”
I’ve often assumed that more important things are harder. Not true! I’ve become convinced you can do something vastly important in less time than it takes you to check out of the grocery store.
Please, everyone who can: switch to green electrical power by calling your local power company. It’s just one phone call to switch the source of some or all of your electricity from nonsustainable (coal, natural gas, nuclear) to sustainable sources. Follow the map above to see how to get green power in your state.
Why does this make such a difference? Here are the plain facts.
Residential energy uses a very large amount of energy — in the US, about 21% of total consumption. So it’s a good place to look for savings. Moreover, as this graph from the Department of Energy shows, electricity is a steadily rising part of total consumption, whereas other sources of power have declined or flattened off.
Now here’s the really important part. See that line “electrical losses”? That means all the energy that’s wasted when electricity is generated and transmitted. Basically, what you receive at home is only about ONE THIRD of what they started with when they were generating the electricity.
And since electric power usually comes by burning some non-renewable source (coal, natural gas, etc), that means any time you use electricity the ultimate effect on the environment is TRIPLE what you intended. All other things being comparable, heating with electricity will generate perhaps THREE TIMES the carbon dioxide emissions as heating by burning natural gas directly in the home.
Of course it’d be nice to cut those emissions down to near-zero by using solar or wind or geothermal power. That used to be hard, requiring you to get into a complex generating system of your own. Now you can just buy into somebody else’s renewable power generation by calling your power company. It’s so easy. They handle it all. The service is reliable as ever.
Ok, it will cost you a little more, probably 0-2 cents more per kilowatt hour. Where I am it’s about a 15% increase in electrical bill. But now every time I pay my power bill, I am supporting the creation of new wind farms, solar fields, and geothermal projects. And I haven’t contributed at all to global warming, acid rain, nuclear waste, or all the other consequences of traditional electrical generation.
Put down that reusable bag and make that call. Soon we can join together in an entirely new thing to feel eco-smug about. Maybe it will even be just a little bit legitimate for once.