I appreciated reading Alec Brandon’s recent article (“It’s Not Easy Being Green,” 2/26/08). He reminds us that not all personal green efforts are easy to accomplish without environmental consequences of their own. However, his description of some of these consequences borders on hyperbole.
The mercury in a compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) is tiny, averaging five milligrams. Moreover, even in nuclear-powered Illinois, and certainly in much of the U.S., electricity is largely produced by burning coal, which emits mercury into the air. The lifetime mercury emissions avoided by switching to an energy-saving CFL more than offsets the mercury content of that bulb. Further, Brandon’s description of cleaning up a broken CFL (hazmat suit, thick rubber gloves), while funny, overstates the necessary precautions. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends simply damp paper towels or vacuuming after that 15-minute room clearing.
Likewise, the article Alec mentions on the greenhouse emissions of driving versus walking assumes an entirely meat-based diet, which no one actually eats. Saying that “the planet would actually be better off if you took the car and skipped a meal” ignores easier solutions like eating less meat.
Criticisms aside, Brandon makes a good point in the end. While personal efforts make a difference, halting global warming must include putting a price on carbon. One of the greenest things we can do with our time is push our government to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.