Friday, July 11, 2008

@#%* Planet green

I don’t know if I have mentioned the Planet Green Channel before. Discovery something or other changed into Planet Green a few weeks ago. I noticed it because I wondered if there was going to be a new season of “Living With Ed” or at least repeats (there are repeats on “PG”).

The Planet Green channel specializes, obviously, in environmentally themed programming. They have managed, amazingly, to combine environmentalism with good old fashioned American competitiveness. Every show has a greener than though element to it, and to someone not familiar with the environmental movement (or even some who is), it would seem that it must be very expensive to save the earth. The programs feature things like renovations with triple paned windows and blue jeans insulation (just try to find it, then marvel at the cost).

I thought part of the point of the environmental movement was to find cheaper, more sensible alternatives to our ostentatious lifestyle. Instead, Planet green is creating a whole new way to be ostentatious, and of course you get to flout it. Here are some of my suggestions for environmental improvements, and then what I think their suggestions would be:

For windows, that plastic film you buy in the hardware stores is 70% as effective as changing single pane windows to double pane windows. That may not sound good until you consider the price differential; five bucks versus one hundred fifty or more per window. Oh, and the five bucks covers three average windows. PG (for Planet Green) wants you to consider triple pane windows for the ultimate in insulation.

For insulation, insulating you attic with a foot or more of fiberglass in rolls or batts is one of the cheapest ways to save energy around. The recycled newspaper insulation is another way to go, about the same price, but to do it yourself you are supposed to blow it in (with a rented machine), I don’t what you are supposed to do about a vapor barrier, if you already have some fiberglass you are not supposed to mix them, yada yada. You can insulate your walls, but that absolutely has to be blown in, and by professionals. So you should max out your attic insulation first. PG would have you use the blue jean insulation, or some esoteric sprayed on insulation made from natural materials. And go ahead and rip down the plaster from your walls, put in the spray, and then re-cover with recycled timbers from a farmhouse in Vermont.

For transportation, I say first a used bicycle from Craigslist. People sell bikes on there across the whole price range, but you don’t have to buy a Cannondale racing bike for $1000 just because some says it is worth. And for a car, a used stick shift small rice burner, possibly from Craigslist, is the ideal choice. If you want new, a Yaris, Fit, Accent, Versa or Aveo are good choices, or a hybrid, especially the Civic or Escape (the Prius has picked up a price premium). The Escape still has a three thousand dollar tax credit. PG would have you look at folding or electric bikes. There are some cheaper folding ($125-$175) and electric bikes ($350), but PG would have you buy the top of the line versions in both (a thousand and up), which do perform better and weigh less, but are they worth it? And for cars PG would advocate hydrogen if it was available, but esoteric electric cars and of course Prius hybrids are about the best they can do.

Listening to AnnaBeth Gurwitch on Wa$ted talk about how she buys organic cotton clothes because even though they cost more they are better for the earth, I was struck by the fact that middle class and lower income people, squeezed by higher prices already, would change the channel to MTV or Cinemax, rather than be lectured to and ordered to spend even more on a mother earth that is already threatening to force them drive stupid little golf carts instead of their dream SUV. You can do well by doing good. But that won’t work if the environmentalists keep rubbing your nose in the fact that they do better and more for the earth than you do (apparently because they can spend more). If its so cheap to put plastic on your windows and recover the cost next week, you should do it. If adding insulation and putting the plastic on your windows saves you money over the next five years, then maybe you can afford to put in new windows. Or get more education, get a better job, and sell that crappy house.


Schultz said...

Great points, Ed. This reminds me of seeing hybrid Cadillac Escalades and other large hybrid SUV. The standard models get abysmal gas mileage, and the hybrid system barely improves it, yet the people who buy these vehicles think they are saving the planet by getting their MPG from 10 to 15. Any small steps we all take help, but small steps won't stop the looming global oil crisis, or the climate crisis that will take place at the end of this century, or sooner, unless we do something radical to alter our course.

Jerry said...

Yecchh. Reminds me of those "Living Simply" magazines which teach us that you, too, can live the lifestyle of a Tibetan Buddhist monk on only $75,000 a year.

As far as insulating windows, another good and inexpensive method is to take a sheet of bubble wrap, wet the back of it, and just stick it to your single-pane window. It insulates, it peels right off in the spring, and it doesn't leave behind a residue.

EdHeath said...

Yeah, Chris, that isn't exactly what I had in mind, but I agree with you. I mean, if you actually have to haul large numbers of people over bad terrain, like fireman who work on forest fires, a hybrid Tahoe might well be your best choice. But otherwise, its not good for just going to the grocery store.
My point was that the ecological-oriented shows have to satisfy their sponsors or potential sponsors, so they showcase the high end choices, when at least presenting the low end choices as an alternative would actually help the most people. These shows advertise themselves as helping you make the best choices for your life, but as they say it depends on what the meaning of the word “best” is …
Jerry, I'll admit I've never heard of the bubble wrap thing. That is interesting. It would look like ... er, crap, but if it works, it would be worth it.