Is Going Green Just a Feel-Good Choice?

Candice Gaukel Andrews by Candice Gaukel Andrews | November 18th, 2010 | 5 Comments
topic: Eco Travel, Green Living

Sandhill cranes

Buying a kayak qualifies as a “big purchase” for my family, and my husband and I recently took that huge step. Although we’ve had a canoe for a long time, this is our first acquisition of this type of silent-sports, aquatic craft.

While canoes still have my heart for their many charms (more room to haul things and easy access to gear), kayaks are often faster and quieter, and they ride lower in the water for added stability in a strong wind. And the particular kayak we purchased is perfect for those wanting to mount a tripod on top for taking nature photos. I can’t wait to get out in it next spring and start getting up close to wild waterfowl and lake-loving flora. No motorboat exhaust fumes, gas guzzling or noise for me. I’m very eco-conscientious and a totally green nature enthusiast.

Or am I?

One word: plastics

Of course, to get to that river or lake where I intend to launch our kayak, I’ll have to drive an automobile. And I think we all know about the copious amounts of carbon dioxide emissions each one of us releases into the atmosphere every year with our daily driving: anywhere from two to eight tons of CO2 annually — and that’s for a small- or medium-sized car. Then once I’m at my destination, I will promptly shift from my car seat to my perch in the kayak, which is made of some of the most poisonous resins, epoxies and plastic chemicals ever manufactured. And when my kayaking days are over, how will that huge hunk of plastic be disposed of?

Kayaking

Will our kayak purchase end up being a green choice after all? ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

It’s true that a recycled kayak can be reground and blended with other plastics to create other products, such as kayak parts, trash cans, road barriers and children’s playground structures, such as slides. But will I — and most other people — have the means to do the right thing and recycle? Even if my local landfill reclaimer will take a kayak (and in many cities such entities won’t), I’d probably have to cut it up so it can be handled and disposed of by the recycling center.

I’m guessing it’s not easy to cut up a kayak. And even if I managed that feat, I’d still have to haul it to the recycler, another carbon-spouting trip.

Glass houses

But kayaks aren’t the only indulgences that green advocates tend to be in favor of that, in the end, may not be the best for our natural world. For example, some “environmentally friendly” buildings turn out to be not so congenial — to birds. In North America, it is estimated that between 100 and 900 million birds collide with buildings each year, making this a leading cause of death for thousands of species. And the most deadly buildings are the green ones, the kind made of glass that are well lit. Most songbirds migrate at night, using the stars for navigation. Skyscrapers, with their twinkling office windows, easily disorient and distract them, leading the birds away from the open sky and smack-dab into the buildings.

Many green buildings are designed to take advantage of natural light during daylight hours and are decorated with natural or natural-looking trees inside. Birds fly toward the buildings, looking to land in the branches, making bird-building collisions during the day just as deadly.

The power grid

Wind Farm

A wind farm is located adjacent to the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge. ©John T. Andrews

The obvious green choice to power those LEED buildings would seem to be wind power. But while wind farms offer much-needed hope for transitioning humans off of fossil fuels, the reality is that not every area that has a wind farm is suitable for a large collection of tall, moving turbines. Where I live in Wisconsin, there is a wind farm not too far away. Unfortunately, it’s also not too far away from the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge.

The wind farm is relatively new (about three years), and it’s being monitored closely. So far, it seems that the Canada geese and sandhill cranes know how to avoid the turbines, but the smaller bird species are having a tougher time. And as hard as it is for them, bats are faring even worse. Not only do they run the risk of flying into the turbines, but the blades create a drop in pressure as they cut through the air, which can cause a bat’s internal organs to explode.

It’s been found that wind farms also cause a change in the local weather. In one California experiment, in fact, it was shown that a wind farm caused its surrounding area to cool down during the day and warm up at night. For instance, on one day of the study, the temperature at 1:00 p.m. upwind of the wind farm was about 100 degrees, but it was 93 degrees downwind. Researchers theorized that the turbulence generated by the turbine rotors, which can amplify the vertical mixing of warm and cold air, led to the temperature changes. Because many wind farms are located on agricultural land, these weather discrepancies could affect crop productivity.

From motorless recreation to green buildings to wind power, could we green advocates be kidding ourselves as to how much we are doing to save the environment? Do you think we are really as green as we think we are?

Happy trails,

Candy

Feature photo: Sandhill cranes seem to know how to avoid wind farm turbines, but smaller birds do not. ©John T. Andrews.

Comments

  1. Hm. In so many ways, I think we end up trying too hard. Coupled with the fact that we can only do so much as individuals, I feel like like the answer lies in attitude.

    Attitude is that one little thing at our core that can guide (or misguide) our tangible, daily choices and actions. Sure we slip up here or there, but as long as the fundamental attitude we harbor points us toward conservation on an internal, personal level, I think it becomes automatic for us as individuals to focus on achieving happiness in a less material sense (which in the very end produces less material waste) …and so on.

    Maybe rather than asking ourselves if we’re being green, we should ask ourselves what makes us truly happy. It’s not about eliminating every environmentally-unfriendly aspect of your life from the picture, that’s unrealistic. But I doubt it makes a huge difference that your kayak isn’t 100% sustainable, if your general attitude toward yourself, the environment and toward others is compassionate. In this case, conservation (and happiness, for that matter) come on their own.

    Shannon Smith | November 19th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  2. Absolutely not. I have the growing feeling that the “green” and even the “organic” monikers are an excuse to charge a premium. They’re elitist. I’m not saying that wind farms and chickens not eating the processed parts of other chickens aren’t helping reduce carbon levels and our hormone intake, respectively. But the use of those words allows a product or initiative to come at a higher cost, even if its not proportionate to potential damage it offsets.

    Travis John | November 21st, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  3. Not sure on your logic of “most deadly buildings are the green ones”. If you’re talking commercial and high-rise condo buildings, that’s not a green house exclusivity. Many deep green builders don’t like all high-rise glass buildings. Check out the Living Buildings movement at http://www.ilbi.org for one example.

    shayne | November 22nd, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  4. We have a long way to go before we’re truly green. But at least “going green” helps raise our level of awareness about how we’re living and how we’re treating the planet. I think each generation needs that reminder, in the same way mine did back in the 70’s with the advent of “Earth Day”.

    Art Hardy | November 23rd, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  5. There are certainly things that individual people can do to reduce their environmental footprint, but ultimately the largest contributors of environmental damage are the companies that run industrial processes. Without regulation of these industries, the impact of individuals using green technologies will be of negligible impact.

    NineQuietLessons | November 27th, 2010 | Comment Permalink

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