Friday, October 26, 2007

Footprint in Randomness

Nonny Mouse has recently ventured into the world of blogging and discovered the joy of having her very own internet troll. Having written a well thought out entry on the NASCAR immunization furore, she was soundly attacked by a member of what I like to call the Holier Than Thou EnviroNazis. I commented then, and now I think I will address the issue of carbon footprints here.

Everyone -- yes, everyone -- leaves a carbon footprint.

Some try to clear their consciences by purchasing offsets. This is hardly the solution that some seem to think it is. Buying offsets only means that the amount of CO2 remains the same, it rarely means that the commonly called greenhouse gases are decreased by any sizable amount.

Others get on the "Man Powered Transportation" kick and then on everyone else's nerves as they spout off on how much better their lifestyle is for the environment. Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those folks who deny that there is the possibility of global warming; I'm just not interested in having someone else's lifestyle forced on me.

In one of my courses, I pose the following question: Is it better to have a good decision imposed on you or to have the freedom to choose the wrong one? Almost universally the students choose the freedom to make the wrong decision. I may be only guessing, but my feeling is that most folks -- whether in college or no -- would pick the same option. I choose to drive a car, which I bought second-hand. I also choose to recycle. I've chosen my lifestyle and I'm comfortable with the amount of carbon dioxide that that lifestyle produces.

Which is very little.

I know this because I've used the Friends of the Forest Foundation website for calculating the amount. According to the site, I produce 3.62 metric tonnes per year. That's a little over 1/3 of the amount produced by the average American.

The truth of the matter is that even the best of calculators do not factor in all of the impact caused by human activity. Let's take a look at that average "My bike is better than your car" cyclist.

First, the bike frame. The traditional kind is made out of metal that had to be mined, transported, smelted and forged, then transported again. Last time I checked, those activities caused CO2. Then there are the paint, the rubber for the tires, the petroleum byproducts of helmets and biker shorts -- which, if you ask me, can be far more offensive than any carbon belching sedan -- and the various other components; the production of which causes the release of gases.

I've been accused, when presenting the above ideas, of making a "specious" argument because I own a car that is made of more of those same components. I am not arguing that my choice of transportation is better than that of the cyclist, rather that all human activity impacts the environment.

Let us then take up the issue of the ground on which the cyclist rides. The push lately has been to create special bike trails so that cyclists and cars need not share the road. To build these trails, miles upon miles of concrete must be laid. Each mile takes up a goodly amount of cement to make up that concrete. Just one tonne of cement generates about 900 kilograms of CO2. That makes the cement industry worse polluters than the airline industry, as airlines as whole produce half as much in a given year. In other words, my flight to Japan last year put out less in the way of greenhouse gases than the cement used to build -- and let's not forget repair -- the bike trail Mr EnviroNazi uses to get to his office.

I don't have a problem with cyclists and their bikes and trails; I do have a problem with the "I'm Better Than You" attitude that a few of them project. The EnviroNazis of the world like to say that I would change if only I knew what harm I was doing to the world my grandkids will inherit. I know. The choices I make are informed choices; I am aware of the impact of living my life has on the environment. If I have one more person attempt to tell me what a horrible person I am because I drive a car that uses regular petrol, they will feel the impact of my footprint.

Exhaling causes the release of carbon dioxide into the air. If one is so concerned with the release of such gases, one need only to stop breathing out.

1 comment:

Dain said...

"First, the bike frame. The traditional kind is made out of metal that had to be mined, transported, smelted and forged, then transported again. Last time I checked, those activities caused CO2. Then there are the paint, the rubber for the tires, the petroleum byproducts of helmets and biker shorts -- which, if you ask me, can be far more offensive than any carbon belching sedan -- and the various other components; the production of which causes the release of gases."



The worry over resource depletion and pollution, and subsequent finger pointing over who is using more than who, is remedied in a market system in which costs are properly internalized and the price system is allowed to work. (And yes, many industry shills and think tanks apologize for essentially market VIOLATING corporate actions that go uncompensated - like pollution.) That is to say that that prices alert suppliers and demanders (customers) to relative scarcity and the need to find alternatives. It's this basic notion that prompted Mike Gravel to say that he wasn't interested in regulating gas pump prices (caused by threats of war in recent times...and hurricanes) because he WANTS them to go up so people will get outta their cars!


"I don't have a problem with cyclists and their bikes and trails; I do have a problem with the 'I'm Better Than You' attitude that a few of them project. The EnviroNazis of the world like to say that I would change if only I knew what harm I was doing to the world my grandkids will inherit. I know."



Though one can't assume that all zealous environmentalists are also pro-choicers, I've found the argument for "future generations" funny coming from those that are both (which is most). So people have an obligation in the here and now to provide for those that aren't yet in existence, but no obligation to bring them into existence in the first place? Hm.