With 'green,' are we cleansed, or hosed? - The Explorer: Voices

With 'green,' are we cleansed, or hosed?

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Posted: Tuesday, August 11, 2009 11:00 pm | Updated: 1:23 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

You may have noticed that everything is becoming "green" these days, but that doesn't guarantee they're ecologically friendly, healthy or safe. I'll offer some examples and let you decide whether or not we're getting environmentally cleansed or simply hosed.

Let's begin with an item that would seem to be a loser in the battle for eradicating bad things from the environment and our bodies — tobacco and cigarettes. I saw a magazine ad the other day for additive-free, natural organic tobacco cigarettes. Naturally, the page was presented with a predominately green background color and numerous uses of the words 100 percent organic, 100 percent certified organic, natural, no additives, and organic farm.

The smokes were pushed in two options: 1) regular full-bodied taste, and 2) light mellow taste. Alternative blends were offered such as menthol and perique (no explanation given for this term); several other different colored packages were pictured but the writing on them was so small that I couldn't read it.

Ironically, the company's website showed a large warning about safety and suggested plugging all electronic devices into a power strip. I have no clue how that related to tobacco or smoking. Two additional warnings were listed as well: 1) Surgeon General's warning, and 2) a reminder that having no additives doesn't mean a safer tobacco.

Moving on to fuel, oil has taken a lambasting for years, but almost nothing was available to wean us off of it until ethanol came along as the save-the-planet alternative. Overnight, cars with ethanol burning engines and ethanol stations began proliferating, and the politicians were on the bandwagon touting it as an initiative whose time had come, that we could finally break free of our polluting, gas-guzzling vehicles. And then as quickly as it came, it fizzled. It seems that the few Americans who gave ethanol a try hated it, some screwed up their gasoline engines by using it, and a number of scientists who studied and reported on it concluded that it corroded automotive fuel lines and exhaust pipes, impaired some onboard safety features, overwhelmed existing emission control systems such as catalytic converters, and gave off more noxious pollution than regular gasoline engines.

In addition, ethanol literally ruins motorcycle and ATV engines and all gas powered lawn and gardening equipment. Even the National Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club oppose the use of it because there's minimal evidence regarding its reduction of carbon dioxide emissions; most reports suggest that it might be worse than gasoline. But government subsidies for it keep growing in legislative districts where corn is a huge revenue producer. Go figure.

The current rage is smaller vehicles, and fuel economy zealots insist that ethanol is the perfect additive for this oncoming transportation makeover. Problem is the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently reported that crash tests for smaller cars resulted in significantly less protection for their passengers than mid-size and larger models. Fuel saving supporters cited lopsided testing that pitted Hummers against mini-cars, but out there on the roads that's the reality of many crashes. Even in single car crash tests, the mini models fared three times worse for passenger injuries. A straight across trade for fuel economy over safety isn't prudent.

The feds and various groups want to green everything, but it might be a good idea to begin with their own facilities. Many government and activist organization properties are anything but eco-friendly. And one of the first fixes for this problem is the addition of solar panels because politicians and marketing firms have lured in uninformed consumers.

The problem isn't with the value of solar as an energy option; it's the current up-front cost that makes them unrealistic unless you're positive you'll own the structure for at least another decade or longer in some instances.

Another critical factor is the overlooking of quick, inexpensive energy saving repairs such as adding insulation and caulking leaks around windows and doors. Eco-friendly home appliances are another expensive option that may not be worth the initial cost. How long will it take you to recoup the $2,500 spent on a "green" refrigerator that saves $100 a year on electric bills? Compare pricing and payback value before writing the check for a high-tech energy upgrade.

A final warning: Just because the label is green and it says eco-friendly or sports a green certification statement doesn't guarantee anything because to date there's virtually no oversight or solid enforcement procedures in place on ecological labeling. Buyer beware.

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