If it wasn't for Earth's environment, we'd all resemble California Raisins right now -- but dead, perhaps on fire, and certainly not grape-flavored. So we're confident that, as upstanding readers of Cracked, you do your part to keep Captain Planet brimming with proud tears on the daily.
Unfortunately, some of the lessons he taught are about as useful as telling people to wipe their butts with recycled uranium fuel rods. So the next time you want to do something green, keep in mind that ...
6"Biodegradable" Is A Meaningless Word
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"Biodegradable" is a word that looks good on product packaging, like "organic" or "sextacular." But do you know what's actually biodegradable? Fucking everything, under the right circumstances. The plastic container your new headphones came in might require decades in very specific conditions to decompose, but in the long run, they're as biodegradable as a banana peel.
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Which is why you were buying new headphones.
We think that anything labeled "biodegradable" veers towards the banana end of the spectrum. But in reality, it's much closer to that bullshit, impossible-to-open plastic packaging. When composted with carefully maintained moisture and temperature, biodegradable plastics will indeed degrade as intended. But toss it in the garbage, standard recycling, or even the compost heap in your backyard, and you might as well set that plastic on fire for all the good it's going to do the environment. Your so-called biodegradable plastic is either going to degrade in a process your distant descendants will be able to witness, or it will degrade improperly and release methane gas, which is basically the worst thing you can release, short of locust plagues.
And that factors in the fact that locust plagues are usually bookended by frog rain and 40 days of darkness.
But don't get too down on yourself for throwing biodegradables in the trash and assuming that science magic would unfold, as most communities lack proper composting facilities. While their numbers are growing, there's a good chance that seeking out biodegradable packaging in your neighborhood will help about as much as seeking out sunscreen in a firestorm. And good luck on that search, as the FTC recently cracked down on companies whose claims of making biodegradable plastics were as accurate as our claims of winning The Great North American Sex Contest (In truth, we only made it to the semi-finals in Winnipeg).
Throw in the fact that the claim of "biodegradable" has no specific standards and no governing body to oversee those nonexistent standards, and you might as well stand in the aisles of your grocery store and toss darts to determine which food has the most environmentally friendly packaging. We're not saying that you should throw up your arms in despair, but you do need to acknowledge that helping the environment requires more work than buying the package with a leaf on it.
5Planting Trees Can Hurt The Environment
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Thanks to Earth Day PSAs and the relentless persistence of the diehard propagandists behind Arbor Day, most of us know that planting a tree is one of the most important ways you can help save the planet. Unless you live in a cold climate, that is. In that case, planting a tree can cause more damage than good.
Thanks a lot, dick.
We're taught that trees suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, like leafy friends that always have our backs, even though we keep turning them into boxes for our cats to play in. Trees also absorb the Sun's energy instead of letting it reflect back into space to let the Martians get a little warmth, and that raises the Earth's temperature. The water that trees consumes evaporates back into the atmosphere, forming clouds that shield us from the Sun. Trees, in other words, are the Earth's guardian angels. Planting more trees is like planting tiny, living soldiers who will protect us from the Sun's anger bullets.
There's one problem with the theory that trees are unequivocally awesome under all circumstances: science. Let's say that someone figured out a way to destroy all of the world's forests in one Bond Villainesque blow. Our first reaction to the arborcide would be "Great, where are all the monkeys going to live?" Our second reaction would be the horror of realizing that the whole planet will go to shit without trees. That's probably true, but not for the reasons you think.
One climate model predicted that if all of world's forests were cut down, the earth's temperature would decrease within a few decades. While trees in tropical regions are awesome at absorbing carbon dioxide, absorbing the Sun's heat, and sending water back into the atmosphere (a.k.a. everything we love about trees), trees that are closer to the poles suck at two out of those three tree-jobs. This is why Canadian forests don't get to call themselves rainforests.
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You hear that, Canada? Stop all that sex training and start chopping your picturesque landscapes the fuck down.
So planting a forest of trees in Brazil helps the global climate because the trees emit enough water to cool the earth down a bit. Planting a new forest in North Dakota is less helpful, because those trees will absorb carbon dioxide without putting a ton of moisture back into the atmosphere. They're warming the planet, not cooling it down.
And while they're replacing carbon dioxide with oxygen, they're also belching out their own chemicals. Trees need to protect themselves from bugs, heat, and other environmental factors. That protection comes in the form of "volatile organic compounds," which sound like concoctions that zombify people, but are natural emissions that mix with the by-products of cars and factories to form some nasty shit.
But wait, burning forests down is also bad? God, the environment's confusing.
Finally, trees are responsible for far less oxygen than we think. We could scour the Earth of them today, and we'd still be able to breathe easy. That's not to say that we should, as trees still offer countless benefits, like giving us something to drink our beer under in the summer. But while avoiding deforestation is good, simply planting a ton of trees won't solve climate change. So don't cancel your landscaping plans, but don't brag to your friends about how green you are, either.