Sunday, May 18, 2008

Faux Environmentalism

With the trendiness of environmentalism, many are engaging in what I'm calling "faux environmentalism." Faux environmentalism is when you do something for the appearance of being pro-environment, but in reality your actions have worsened the environment. Here are two examples of faux environmentalism:
  1. Buying a Hybrid Car: Recently, Paul McCartney received a hybrid Lexus. The car was flown to him in a jet. According to NPR, with the fuel used to deliver the jet, Sir Paul could drive the Lexus around the globe 300 times. But even for those who buy a hybrid the usual way, most could do more for the environment by keeping the car they own. Sure, you would be saving energy by using less gas in a hybrid, but have you taken into consideration all the energy used to get the hybrid to you in the first place? Think about all the energy required to manufacture the parts, ship the parts to the plant, construct the car, and ship the car to you. Will your energy savings be more than these energy costs? I suspect that for most hybrid buyers, the answer is no. It only might make sense for those who are really in need of a new car (diesel engines are more efficient for highway driving).
  2. Buying a Solar Panel: Solar cell manufacturers have yet to produce a solar cell that can produce more energy than it takes to manufacture the solar cell. This means that if solar panels are produced at a plant that gets its energy from a coal or oil plant, you are consuming more energy and putting more carbon in the atmosphere by buying a solar panel than if you were to get the energy from the same coal or oil plant through the power lines. Solar cells make sense in certain applications, such as calculators and RVs, but if you want to help the environment, this is not the way to go.
If you really want to help the environment, here are some alternatives that would really lead to less energy consumption:
  1. Keep your car a little bit longer: Imagine how much energy we could save if everyone would keep their current vehicle a year longer than they would normally.
  2. Take the bus: Using public transportation is a great way to save energy. If everyone who currently doesn't use public transportation would commit to using it just once a month, we could have a dramatic impact on fuel costs.
  3. Move closer to work: Instead of buying a hybrid, why not use that money to buy a house closer to work. If it's in walking or biking distance, even better.
Congress has over 200 years of experience at faux policies. It has become expert at activities that are more for appearance than substance and here we have another good example--you can get a tax deduction for buying a hybrid or putting a solar panel on your roof. If Congress wants to have a real impact, however, how about tax breaks for those who take the bus, or live close to work?

Can you think any other examples of faux environmentalism?


drarturopp said...

If it takes all that energy to make 1 solar panel - will it pay off in X amount of years - or the energy exerted is just too much?
Seems like we (the USA) should be closer than we are - to an alternative energy source. any input?

Anonymous said...

Most solar cells are made from silicon. Silicon is refined from sand, silicon dioxide, by heating it to 1500-2000 °C in an electrode arc furnace. The silicon is melted (mp=~1450 °C) to make ingots. It takes a lot of energy. Extimates in the past (20 years ago?) have suggested that it takes 20-30 years for a cell to generate the energy required to manufacture it. Current technologies have reduced that time down to a few years, depending on who's life cycle costs you are using. (Example - see Wikipedia's entry on Photovoltaics, subcategory Energy Payback Time and Energy Returned on Energy Invested.) Current life cycles for solar cells are estimated around 30 years.

There is great promise in using organic based solar cells, but the technology is mainly still in the lab. Even then, the organic solar cells will still have to be manufactured - including refining the source of organic materials - often petroleum.

Fr. Peter Doodes said...

It is a huge problem, often we do that which seems right, only to find out later that we overlooked some facts.

Perhaps if the energy input was from wind generated electricity the figures would start to make more environmental sense?

Tax breaks for those that use the bus... what a great idea, as for faux environmentalism try

Greensumption... amazing!!!

Anonymous said...

Scientists like the folks at or are a better source of information on the environment rather than folks like