Posts Tagged ‘consumer’

We use more electricity now than ever, and since 2007 our energy usage in Texas is outpacing population growth.  How many of us charge our cell phones or laptops all night so they’re ready for use in the morning?  Or perhaps run the AC 24 hours a day during the blazing Texas summers?   Several years ago the Legislature passed a bill to bring down our consumption, but there’s still much to be done.  On one hand, legislation can continue to push down the maximum levels of energy consumption, thereby compelling energy companies to utilize more efficient forms of energy.  On the other, consumers and business owners can decide to individually pursue energy efficient technology, such as light bulbs, solar panels, and more efficient appliances.

Both suppliers and consumers must pursue energy efficiency to push it into the mainstream.  It’s the simple market equation of supply and demand—but who is going to push first?  Will energy companies supply more efficient forms of energy, or will consumers demand it until it really catches on?

While trolling the halls of Legislature during the last session and passing around information on efficient energy, I was pulled into a conversation between two gentlemen in one of the offices.  We discussed a slew of topics, including the Austin rodent problem of Fall 2008, the general usefulness of cats, and (prompted by my flier) light bulbs.   One gentleman was insistent that LEDs do not provide near the quality of incandescent bulbs, and therefore refused to use them in his home.  I was not exactly sure how to respond to that (I’m no bulb expert) but in my research I found the video posted below.


So why aren’t these alien light bulbs everywhere?  Some are too expensive for the average consumer, but I had no idea that so many varieties exist.   Since they save so much on energy usage, why aren’t they more popular? (more…)

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By Kirsten Bokenkamp

organic-boxDo you ever find yourself in the grocery store stuck in a moment of indecision?  Should you go with the $2 conventionally grown – flawless enough to win a beauty contest – cantaloupe, or the $4 smaller, uglier, but organic one; a regular tube of toothpaste for $3.50 or the organic brand that costs double the price for half the amount; Wolaver’s sustainably produced organic beer for $9, or good old Lone Star for half the price?  The marketplace sure doesn’t make it easy on our wallets to do the earth-friendly thing – that’s for sure.

True, organic products are almost always more expensive than their conventional counterparts and it is not unanimously agreed upon that they are always safer to eat, or that they offer greater health benefits. But one thing is certain: Organic farming practices reduce harmful greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

Organic agricultural practices reduce carbon dioxide emissions by sequestering carbon in the soil. In Europe it has been shown that organic farming decreases greenhouse gas emissions by 48-66%.  According to the Rodale Institute, “if all 434 million acres of U.S. cropland were converted to organic practices, it would be the equivalent of eliminating 217 million cars” from the road.  The University of Puget Sound shares similar findings: If all corn and soybeans were raised organically, 580 billion pounds of CO2 would be removed from the atmosphere.
Some argue that we would not be able to feed the almost 7 billion people on the planet with strictly organic practices, but many studies actually show increased yields from organic farming. And, let’s be honest – with more than enough food to feed all people on earth, more than a billion people are still not getting enough food to eat – which leads one to believe it is a problem of distribution and access, not of quantity.  An added bonus of organic farming is that it is more labor intensive, which would help decrease the current rate of unemployment.
But back to the subject at hand. Organic farming:

  • Promotes healthy soil, which reduces erosion and increases soil nutrient retention;
  • Reduces ground water pollution attributed to industrial agricultural practices that often lead to various problems from the threat to public health caused by pesticide ridden water coming out of our kitchen sinks to the dead-zones as seen in the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay;
  • Maintains biodiversity which helps crops naturally resist diseases and adapt to different weather patterns;
  • Collects 180% more solar energy than conventional agriculture – which saves 64 gallons of fossil fuel per hectare.

Are you convinced?  If so, start shopping more at an organic-foods store, or ask the manager of your neighborhood store to increase the amount of organic products on the shelves. (While organic is important in and of itself, buying fresh and local will always cut down on carbon emissions.  Frozen foods take 10x the energy to produce, and buying local can cut emissions by up to 20%.)

It doesn’t stop with food,either.  According to the Pesticide Action Network, “conventionally grown cotton uses more insecticides than any other single crop and epitomizes the worst effects of chemically dependent agriculture.  Each year cotton producers around the world use nearly $2.6 billion worth of pesticides — more than 10% of the world’s pesticides and nearly 25% of the world’s insecticides”.  Wow – pretty gross! Luckily, a growing number if stores sell clothes made with organic cotton (Patagonia is a good one).  Don’t have organic clothing stores at your fingertips?  Check out online sources, such as the Organic Mall.  Finding that buying new, organic clothing doesn’t fit in your budget?  Find a thrift store – buying used clothes is even more environmentally friendly than buying organic ones.

As environmentally aware consumers, the more we demand organic goods, the more the market supply will adapt to fulfill our needs, the more inexpensive these products will become, and the happier our planet will be. Think about changing products from your shampoo to your coffee; from your bed sheets to your sunscreen; and from your carrots to your wine.  It all makes a difference.  Next time on Green-up your life: how composting reduces global warming.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is going to be one of our ongoing series on climate change and how we can all make a personal impact.  Since today is World Vegetarian Day, I think this is an appropriate way to kick things off.

With various climate change proposals circulating on Capitol Hill, and the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen right around the corner, we are all reminded that legislative action and global cooperation are needed in order to protect our planet. While it is the responsibility of our leaders to work out an effective agreement, we must not forget that normal people like us can also make a big difference in reducing greenhouse gases. The Green-up your life! blog series will discuss the many ways in which we can all make a difference, just by making small changes in the way we live. Today, it is about what’s for dinner.

Many discussions about climate change are full of scientific jargon and are political in nature, making them hard to follow. We hear about increasing wind and solar power, implementing cap and trade, and reducing industrial carbon emissions. For those of us who want to personally contribute to the effort, we might switch to more fuel-efficient vehicles, or install solar panels on our homes. In addition to these large (and sometimes expensive) personal changes, there are many little things we can all do on a daily basis to make our planet healthier. One thing we can all do to decrease global warming is not always on the top of the list: eat less meat and dairy.

So, does the agricultural industry really contribute that much to climate change? Yup. Meat production accounts for a whopping 18% of total global greenhouse emissions–more than all forms of transportation put together. About 9% of anthropogenic (read: derived from human activity) carbon dioxide emissions are attributed to agriculture. In addition, methane, the smelly heat-trapping gas emitted from both ends of livestock, warms the world 20% faster than carbon dioxide. Almost 40% of methane in the U.S. is generated from enteric fermentation (which takes place during a ruminant animal’s digestion process) related to animal husbandry. Beyond carbon dioxide and methane, agriculture is responsible for ­65 % of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide only accounts for 5% of total greenhouse gases, but has heat trapping effects 310 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Unfortunately, that’s not all. More than 37% of the earth’s land is used for agricultural purposes, and as the global demand for meat increases, the creation of more grazing land is a major contributor to deforestation, especially in Latin America, where 70 % of previously forested land in the Amazon is used as pasture, with the remaining 30% largely used for growing feed crops.

Beef is the largest culprit, but there are similar stories for all farm animals, including seafood. There is no doubt that agricultural practices contribute to global warming, both directly through emissions created from all levels of production, and indirectly through deforestation. Beyond this, it is just plain inefficient (as tasty as it might be) to get our calories this way. While most grains, fruits, or veggies require 2 calories of fossil fuel energy to create 1 calorie of food, this ratio grows up to 80:1 for beef!

When breaking bad news, honesty is the best policy. Nobody really wants to hear it, (and the agricultural industry most certainly doesn’t want to tell it), but as responsible stewards of our planet, and as daily consumers of food, one of the best things we can do is to eat less meat and dairy products. (Cutting down just on meat, but not dairy, will not make a big difference, because dairy cows burp and produce manure too). The silver lining is that what is better for the earth is also better for our health. Studies show that veggie-based diets decrease the chance of suffering from numerous types of cancers, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. When we do choose to eat meat, buying from local ranchers who raise pasture grazing livestock will ensure that we are limiting our impact on the earth. It appears more expensive to buy meat this way – but not when all the hidden costs are accounted for.

Nobody is asking that we all take up a diet of strictly brussels sprouts and brown rice, but if we all spend a little more time learning about the impact that our food systems have on the planet, a greener diet may just start to look more appealing. Stay tuned for next time, when, sticking to the topic of food, the importance of purchasing organic products will be discussed.

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Maybe I am underestimating the reach of this blog, but I am guessing that if your are reading this you probably a pretty well- educated American (if not, you certainly are an English speaker, and are probably from a western country — but most likely yer from Texas), who has the ability to access a computer. You’re a likely to be concerned about the environment and consumer protections, or are at least interested in what Public Citizen Texas is doing in this area.

That is why today’s blog post is interactive. Instead of just sharing my opinions with you and updating you on Public Citizen activities, I want to talk about things we can do as consumers to address some of our biggest environmental problems. As the educated westerner that I am assuming you are, your consumption is the engine driving the modern economy. Much of the greenhouse gases and other pollutants that are emitted these days have been done so to make our lifestyle possible. But  many people in the developing world are also aspiring to live our lifestyle, putting us in a great position to lead by example.

I know that some will say that I am trying to guilt trip our readers into feeling bad about their success or their consumption. That is not the case at all. If anything, I am simply trying inform you of the influence you have in the global economy as consumers and the ability you have to shape the modern economy into a more sustainable version of its current self. Let’s face it: our country has not exactly taken a proactive stance on global warming, so it is up to us to be proactive while our government gets its act together. Our influence as consumers will also influence countries like China and India, who produce a lot of pollution making and shipping consumer goods for American consumers.

There are a lot of things consumers can do to reduce their impact on the environment. For example, my concern about pollution caused by confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) has led my giving up industrially produced meat. Since CAFO-style operations are also a cause of much deforestation and emissions from shipping from refrigeration, this measure alone can make a huge impact. I’ve also, like many other Americans, chosen to buy a smaller more efficient car — or use no car at all when I get the opportunity. I personally advocate and support public transportation measures where I live and have chosen to use them instead of using my car multiple times.  I avoid using Styrofoam and disposable products, often at great inconveniences to my self. Since discovering the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement I will now make a point to influence the city governments of any city I live in to join if they have not already.

Not all of these measures are doable for all of us, and some people will be able to do things others will not. The point is that we the consumers have the power to shift the global economy into a more sustainable direction and influence our local governments to take more environmental initiatives. Fortunately there are numerous books and websites dedicated to differentiating between products and practices that are environmentally friendly and those which are not.

Consumer activism works: the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group subsidiary Eco-pledge (an environmentally motivated consumer boycott group), was successfully able to influence Apple into recycling ipods, and Dell into better management of its E-waste. They also contributed to Conoco-Phillips and BPs withdrawl from Artic Power, an industry group set on opening the Artic Wildlife Refuge for drilling.

Economists tell us that for markets to function properly buyers need to be fully informed to make rational decisions. What could be more rational than making purchase decisions that will preserve our environment? Hopefully we will see more people willing to fight for environmental justice in their communities and with their purchasing decisions.

The Disappointed Environmentalist

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