Reducing, reusing, and recycling are extremely important in today’s green-conscious society; however, your efforts don’t always mean as much as you may think. Have you changed your life in small ways to reduce your carbon footprint? Maybe you’ve switched to environmentally friendly cleaning supplies, purchased a filter instead of bottled water, or started using energy-efficient light bulbs. These are all great habits, but how do you know that your “green” choices are actually helping the planet?
It can be difficult to understand the facts when adopting a “green” lifestyle. While the big problems are easy to spot (think of a factory pumping pollution into the sky), it’s the little ones that can catch us off guard. Keep reading to discover the truth behind several common misconceptions regarding the environment and “going green.”
There are many myths surrounding the topic of renewable energy (RE). To name a few:
- RE will completely replace fossil fuels
- RE is unreliable and insignificant
- RE is not cost effective
- RE is actually bad for the environment
- Wind turbines are dangerous and loud
- Solar power is not available during winter months
Let’s start with the first myth. Very few proponents of renewable energy imagine a future that is 100% dependent on reliable and affordable renewables. Electricity is the main focus. According to a study conducted by a team of researchers at the National Renewable Energy Lab, there is no reason why 80% of power in the U.S. can’t be generated from renewable sources. In fact, scientists predict this theory will become a reality by the year 2050.
Many claim that renewable energy isn’t reliable enough to, say, power a hospital 24/7. The key to acquiring a continuous supply of RE is to get it from multiple sources, i.e. solar, wind, and natural gas. As for the amount of power, many claim that renewables are insignificant. These people often forget about hydroelectric power (like the Hoover Dam). All sources considered, nearly a quarter of the power generated in the U.S. during 2014 came from renewable sources.
The claim that RE is too expensive is bogus. In fact, most renewables are already cheaper than other forms of power. Solar energy and wind energy require no input costs. One unit of electricity from an Eskom coal plant costs about 97 cents. The same amount of energy from renewable sources costs about 89 cents.
A strong argument against wind farms is the likelihood that turbines will kill birds and bats. However, such problems can be reduced if we take the time to study migratory patterns before construction begins. Plus, since wind turbines do not affect livestock, that land can be used for farming and cattle grazing as well as for power. As for the sound of wind farms – have you ever stood in one? If you have, you know that they are not loud. In fact, you can have a normal conversation standing right beneath a turbine.
Finally, many people worry about the availability of solar power during the winter. As long as there is sunlight, there will be power! The amount of power will be smaller than the amount generated during the summer, but output wont drop to zero unless you live in a part of the world that receives no sunlight at all.
Myth: Going Green Always Saves Money
Going green doesn’t always mean you have more green in your wallet. In fact, many times “going green” is more expensive than the alternative. Just think about the grocery store: organic foods are almost always more expensive than non-organic foods and environmentally friendly cleaners can cost more than twice as much as traditional cleaning supplies.
That being said, many methods of “going green” do save money. For example:
- Driving a fuel-efficient car to save money on gas
- Biking, walking, or carpooling to save money on gas
- Planting trees around your house to lower the cost of A/C (long term)
- Using energy efficient light bulbs
- Selling instead of discarding whenever possible (old phones, furniture, clothing, etc.)
- Utilizing a compost heap instead of purchasing fertilizer
- Using a filter instead of buying water bottles
- Air drying clothing instead of using the dryer
There are many people out there who practice a “green” lifestyle only in ways that save money. And that’s perfectly okay. According to Sally Herigstad, a 51-year-old CPA from Hawaii, “$12 laundry detergent doesn’t make the cut.” So no matter how much you may love the planet, “going green” doesn’t always mean you have to spend more money.
Myth: Electric Cars are Always Better for the Environment
The media leads us to believe that electric cars are always the right choice for the environment. While it’s true that electric cars do not produce tailpipe emissions, scientists remain concerned about the following:
- The process by which EVs (electric vehicles) and their batteries are produced
- The process by which the electricity used to power EVs is generated
A recent study conducted by a team of disappointed scientists shows that – in some cases – EVs actually have a bigger effect on global warming than traditional cars.
“The electric car has great potential for improvement, but ultimately what will make it a success or failure from an environmental standpoint is how much we can clean up our electricity grid – both for the electricity you use when you drive your car, and for the electricity used for producing the car,” said one of the scientists.
Not only does the process by which lithium-ion batteries are produced require tons of energy and raw materials, but the environmentally friendly aspect of EVs also depends heavily on the country. For example, since China generates most of its power using coal, electric cars in that country cause far more pollution than traditional cars.
In Norway, on the other hand, EVs outperform traditional cars because most of the country’s power comes from hydroelectricity.
The following are common myths regarding electric cars:
- Plummeting gas prices will kill EV sales
- Tesla will see competition when the 2017 Chevy Bolt is released
- EVs are doomed unless huge changes are made to public infrastructure
- Electric cars are not safe and the batteries won’t last
- EV sales are failing because they do not equal sales of traditional cars
While the above claims may be common, none of them are even close to being true. Nonetheless, the decision to keep your car or to switch to an EV is complicated. The environmental effects of your new vehicle may not be clear.
“Everything has emissions, but sometimes they are just further away from the user,” says Norwegian scientist Majeau-Bettez.
To make matters worse, oil companies have been accused of endorsing fake reports in an effort to harm the EV market.
Myth: Rechargeable Batteries are Always Environmentally Friendly
Did you know that some rechargeable batters can withstand up to 1,000 recharges? Not only does this save money and resources, it also reduces the amount of toxic metals in landfill. If you live in an area with unpredictable electricity, having a backup supply of rechargeable batteries is a must. That being said, not all batteries are created equal.
It goes without saying that using one item instead of thousands is better for the environment, but not if that one item – in this case, a battery – is a million times more toxic.
Dry-cell (disposable) batteries used to be a huge concern in regards to toxic waste. These alkaline beasties contained lots of mercury. While mercury levels are much lower today than they used to be, it is still very important to recycle disposable batteries – especially considering how popular they are.
Button batteries (like the kind found in small lamps and watches) are still a problem because they contain high amounts of heavy metals like cadmium, lithium, silver, or mercury. Button batteries should always be recycled.
While rechargeable batteries used to be even more toxic than dry-cell batteries, things are improving. There are three main types of rechargeable batteries:
- NiMH (nickel metal hydride)
- NiCd (nickel cadmium)
- Li-ion (lithium ion)
You can forget about NiCds; they have highly toxic components, contain less power, and will soon be obsolete. Lithium ion batteries pack lots of power, hold their charge, and do not lose power capacity over time like many other batteries. The next time you purchase a gadget, take a closer look at the product specifications, chances are they contain a Li-ion battery. Most rechargeable home use devices, like hair removal devices using laser technology, use Li-ion batteries as do cell phones, computers, and digital cameras (in other words, you can’t use them to power household devices).
That leaves the NiMH battery as your best choice. The best kind of NiMH is something called a low self-discharge NiMH. These are great for backup because they don’t lose nearly as much power when in disuse compared to standard NiMHs.
If you’re looking for a charger, choose either a solar charger or smart charger. Smart charges are great because they shut off automatically when the battery is fully charged. Our recommendation for best rechargeable battery is a pre-charged NiMH called the Sanyo Eneloop.
I have one more green myth to debunk. Last but not least is the false belief “small changes don’t matter.” This is certainly untrue. At the end of the day, every little thing matters. While we encourage you to make “living green” a personal goal, it’s important to consider your health, comfort, and finances first. If overcoming prejudice is another one of your personal goals, click here to read about intolerance as a result of bias in education.