The Best Way to “Go Green” According to Science
By Alex Erlenbach
I have been interested in the environmental movement since 7th grade, when my siblings came home for Thanksgiving during their freshman year of college to tell the family about Global Warming. I was fascinated and alarmed. That conversation eventually led me to push my high school to adopt a more comprehensive recycling program, winning me the “Keep Brevard Beautiful Youth Recycling Award” and to create an anaerobic bioreactor in college, turning food waste into energy.
After graduation, I started working for Broward County as an Environmental Engineer. I am the government red tape making sure solid waste facilities are adhering to the regulations instead of dumping all their trash into the rivers. When not at work, I travel to schools teaching students about environmentalism and climate change. This article is a shortened version of that presentation, without all of the fun diagrams and cool PowerPoint slide transitions.
The science is clear. Greenhouse gasses (Carbon Dioxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxide, etc) are being pumped into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, & oil). These greenhouse gas emissions are increasing the level of carbon dioxide in the air, which is normally regulated through soil, vegetation, and the ocean via the carbon cycle. At the time of this writing, we have reached 413 parts per million (ppm). Before the industrial revolution, it was around 260 ppm. The planet has not experienced this level of carbon dioxide for millions of years.
But we all knew that already. We’re here for solutions! A large amount of what we’re taught to believe is “eco-friendly” does practically nothing except making us feel good and, in some instances, is actually counter-productive. Remember CFL’s? Full of toxic mercury. Bringing reusable bags to the store? You’d have to use them hundreds of times to break even. Recycling? Oh don’t get me started.
There are two driving philosophies in the environmental movement: One asserts that if we all do our part as individuals to make the changes we need, those individual efforts add up to make a difference. The other philosophy calls for systematic change and asserts that the first philosophy was concocted by those in power who are actually causing the impending climate catastrophe in order to shift blame from themselves to the people. This article includes suggestions from both camps.
And counting down from least to most effective…
5: Invest in renewable energy for your home. Many local, state, & federal programs exist to make going solar more economically feasible. If that’s not possible for you, many power companies allow you to buy “green energy” credits that help them invest in more sustainable energy sources.
4: Go vegan! And if you can’t do that, go vegetarian! And if you can’t do that, cut back on beef! Beef has the largest carbon footprint of any food we consume. But no matter what you eat, don’t waste it. Food waste is a huge contributor to our carbon footprint and easily preventable.
3: Avoid flying and driving whenever possible. Bike, walk, take mass transit, and carpool as much as you can. Invest in a quality commuter bike or electric scooter. For work meetings, telepresence and high-speed rail are your best sustainable alternatives. Need a car? Look into electric vehicles. The infrastructure in major cities and along highways makes “charge anxiety” a thing of the past.