Friday, August 1, 2008

Why worry?!

There was this article on the NY Times' Science section recently, titled "10 things to scratch from your worry list".

A better title would've been "10 things that disappear when we bury our heads in the sand".

The article seems to have been written with the express purpose of creating reasons to not feel guilty about many of the things they discuss. This to me seems mostly irresponsible and cowardly.

If we do something that we know isn't good - good for the environment, or good for our own health (like smoking), we should at least be ready to say - "yeah, I know that's not good, but I do it anyway", rather than find a way to say "No - that's really actually good for you".

Let me go over specific points:

3. Forbidden fruits from afar. Do you dare to eat a kiwi? Sure, because more “food miles” do not equal more greenhouse emissions. Food from other countries is often produced and shipped much more efficiently than domestic food, particularly if the local producers are hauling their wares around in small trucks. One study showed that apples shipped from New Zealand to Britain had a smaller carbon footprint than apples grown and sold in Britain.

This isn't a good argument - while it may be true that apples produced in Britain are trucked around inefficiently, the way to reduce carbon footprint (if that's the goal) would be to make that transportation more efficient (eg- solar powered transport), rather than try to fly apples over from NZ! It's obvious that less energy is needed to transport things over smaller distances - can't refute that.

BUT, if the goal is to eat apples from NZ, that's a different issue. That's also perfectly fine, but these apples have to be more expensive. The true cost needs to be paid for it.

What do I mean by true cost?? At the moment, the "cost" that's factored in by the company that transports the fruit from NZ is just cost of production and cost of fuel to fly the whole thing over, and other misc costs - of labor, etc etc.

Who pays for the pollution?? Nobody. The health effects of that pollution? - The one with the health problem. If the company had to pay to clean up the environment for the amount that it pollutes with each flight, the cost of those apples would be higher.

This applies to everything else we consume. I'll go more in detail about this in another post. This is getting too long.

4. Carcinogenic cellphones.

I wouldn't want to gamble on my life and health. Remember thalidomide and vioxx? Better to be safe than a statistic. I will use my cell phone with an earphone extension cord.

5. Evil plastic bags. Take it from the Environmental Protection Agency : paper bags are not better for the environment than plastic bags. If anything, the evidence from life-cycle analyses favors plastic bags. They require much less energy — and greenhouse emissions — to manufacture, ship and recycle. They generate less air and water pollution. And they take up much less space in landfills.

Whatever happened to using a canvas bag and not depend on disposables at all?? From this you would think that our only options are "paper or plastic". This is really irresponsible.

I find it impossible to believe that plastic bags generate less pollution than paper bags. I read an entire book (one among several that have been written) on the issues related to pollution from plastics. Please read Our Stolen Future if you haven't already. It is very well-written, translating research from many, many labs all over the world for lay people, giving full citations if we want to explore further.

But strangely enough, I haven't come across even one book on "the dangers of paper bags". While it might be true that we do not dispose of them properly - or that we manufacture them in ways that make disposal difficult, we need to change that side of things, not irresponsibly use and throw plastic bags.

6. Toxic plastic bottles. For years panels of experts repeatedly approved the use of bisphenol-a, or BPA, which is used in polycarbonate bottles and many other plastic products. Yes, it could be harmful if given in huge doses to rodents, but so can the natural chemicals in countless foods we eat every day. Dose makes the poison.

Sure - dose makes the poison. But is this writer so naive (read - stupid) as to imagine that the only plastic bottle that he is exposed to is the one he owns??!! What about the cumulative effect of the billions of plastic bottles that float around in the world and are being churned out even as we breathe? We have one huge whopping dose of poison if we add it all up!

To his credit, this person realizes there are poisonous chemicals in foods we eat every day. This is a whole other problem that needs a solution. Not a validation for exposing ourselves to even more poison!

This writer needs to look up "the organic farming movement" in Wiki and familiarize himself with that concept.

Nalgene has already announced that it will take BPA out of its wonderfully sturdy water bottles. Given the publicity, the company probably had no choice. But my old blue-capped Nalgene bottle, the one with BPA that survived glaciers, jungles and deserts, is still sitting right next to me, filled with drinking water. If they ever try recalling it, they’ll have to pry it from my cold dead fingers.

Did this ignoramus realize that there is BPA and other harmful, but microscopic residue from plastics in those very same glaciers, jungles and deserts that he blissfully wanders in?! Or does it have to walk up to him and slap him awake to make him realize it??

8. The Arctic’s missing ice.

Now come on - it is not even cool anymore to deny that global warming is happening. How unscientific is this person that he sees a "trend" in comparing last year to this year?

This is irresponsible journalism at its worst (or should I say best?). That this got published in the Science section of the NY Times is even more disturbing.


Raghav said...

There is no doubt in my mind that the author, John Tierney, a self-professed libertarian, is also an unscientific moron.

His arguments are like this: Since there has been no rain in my neighborhood in the last week, it must've stopped raining in the world for ever.

His viewpoint is so short-sighted, another way of looking at his thought process is this:

This is all so, duh, confusing, that lets just let it all go to hell. The future generations can take it shove it. Why worry about rising oceans when I'm going to be dead in another 10 years. It doesn't matter that our kids and grand kids will be walking tumors with dysfunctional organs.

Srividya said...

Hi Bindu,

The first couple of items were fine. There is too much discussion on which food is good and which food is bad and it changes on a daily basis.
Then the article went downhill. I guess that's why you have started from number 3 as well.