Lately in class we’ve been doing a bit of critical thinking. Our professor asked us: “in the new student union building, should they put hand dryers or paper towel dispensers in the bathroom?” Seeing as I was in the clean energy program after all, my choice was obviously hand dryers! He then said, “well sure, hand dryers don’t create garbage as paper towels do, but where does the electricity come from to run the hand dryer? In many places it’s produced from burning coal”
He continued with more examples such as compostable cups vs. plastic cups, electric cars vs. gas powered cars and organic vs. inorganic foods. The conclusion was that the obvious choice is not always necessarily the best, and many factors must be taken into account before making certain decisions.
Here’s a quote from a study done by Troy Hawkins on electric cars (sorry it’s kind of nerdy tech-speak but you get the idea):
“Although EVs (Electric Vehicles) are an important technological breakthrough with substantial potential environmental benefits, these cannot be harnessed everywhere and in every condition. Our results clearly indicate that it is counter-productive to promote EVs in areas where electricity is primarily produced from lignite, coal, or even heavy oil combustion. At best, with such electricity mixes, local pollution reductions may be achieved. Thus EVs are a means of moving emissions away from the road rather than reducing them globally.” – Troy Hawkins
I don’t want to make everyone sad that the good vibes they got from using a compostable cup were all for nothing- it’s still steps in the right direction- I’m just saying we need to think critically before we make consumer choices. But I know what you’re thinking- it’s so hard to make the right choice! You’re right, it absolutely is. So what do we do? Well here’s the thing: it doesn’t really matter if you buy an electric or gas-powered car, it’s all about how much you drive it.
Someone who uses their truck only once in a while and rides their bike the other 90% of the time creating a smaller footprint than the other guy who drives his Prius all over the city every day. We face so many little choices daily, so as long as you try to make every decision based on living simply and treading lightly, you can’t go wrong.