After listening to last week’s Energy Swap, it became clear that well-intentioned people often have a hard time identifying the relative environmental impact of different aspects of their behaviour. For example, is it ok to fly to Spain once a year if I recycle all the time? If I switch off all the stand-by functions on the tv, dvd and so on, does that mean I can use a halogen light instead of a cfl?
In the face of this uncertainty, it is all too easy for environmental myths to be propagated. An extreme example might be this list from the US Chamber of Commerce. Similarly, Björn Lomberg’s argument in the Skeptical Environmentalist that limited resources should be spent on poverty alleviation, rather than climate change, was misinterpreted by many who conflated improvements in local air quality with denial of climate change. Confusion can also happen on the domestic scale and it is easy to understand how households who want to reduce their environmental impact might be tempted to throw up their hands in frustration when told the truth about behaviours they believe to be green.
What we need to solve this problem is a reputable clearing house of environmental information: myth-busters, like Snopes, who clear the air about popular rumours, misconceptions and so on. This would be a long-term project but one worth pursuing. In the meantime though, households who want an initial assessment of their environmental impact should explore online tools such as Best Foot Forward’s environmental footprint calculator, the RSA’a carbon limited site, or Oxford University’s iMeasure electricity measuring site. The government also recently announced plans to introduce a CO2 calculator to help with this problem.