If the world's hippie scientists are to be believed, our planet is slowly turning into an orb of feces and ruination. For the past century or so, our industrial growth has sprinted ahead like a hellhound with magma diarrhea, incinerating the natural realm in its wake, all in the dog-fart-scented name of progress. And if the world's corporate doomlords are to be believed, we're going to have to burn further resources to get out of our current situation -- not unlike how fire departments sometimes fight grease fires with geysers of bacon fat.
And which of humanity's earthly pursuits are the most pointlessly destructive of all? Here are some of the worst ways we're trashing the environment for purely aesthetic reasons.
#6. Wrapping Paper
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Part of the fun of wrapping presents is the inherent surprise of the gift inside, even if it's clearly barking or meowing. "Presents = surprise!" is so ingrained in our reptile psyches that people apologize for not wrapping gifts.
"I know, I'm a heartless bastard. I'm so sorry. I'll leave him under the bridge first thing tomorrow morning, honest."
As it turns out, pretty much everyone who's ever wrapped a present probably owes Mama Earth an apology. One estimate has suggested we spend about $2.6 billion annually on wrapping paper, which is probably enough to make Jurassic Park a reality if we put our minds to it. A solid half of the 85 million tons of paper products Americans use in a year is solely for packaging. Wrapping paper and paper bags account for about four million tons of the trash we toss out, which is the approximate weight of several herds of apatosauruses.
"Litter doesn't count on your Naughty List rankings, honey. He's Santa, not the Lorax."
So yeah, four million tons of innocent wood gets transformed from its natural loggy state into garbage, with nary a step in between. Worse, you can't even try to make the wrapping paper useful. Want to burn it for warmth or maybe to roast a marshmallow over an open fire? Good luck, because most of today's paper is made in places like China, where magical ingredients like lead, plastic, chlorine, foil and synthetic inks -- which burn in delightfully carcinogenic colors -- are silently conspiring to limit the number of future birthday presents you'll be able to receive.
#5. Not Painting Everything White
When Michael Jackson serenaded us with the idea that black and white didn't matter, he must not have been aware of the effect of color on energy efficiency. Color can make a world of difference there.
Or in his case, no color whatsoever.
Researchers who must have had a fun time with their grant application process took a black car and a silver car, then left them in a parking lot in the Sacramento heat for one hour. At the end of the allotted time, the silver car had an internal air temperature about 9-11 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the black car. This may seem like a no-brainer, but when a driver has to spend extra time and energy running the air conditioning to cool down his dark-colored car, the difference adds up to the tune of about a two percent increase in fuel economy. If every car out there joined the automotive Aryan Brotherhood, we'd see a drastic lowering of carbon emissions.
Berkeley Lab Environmental Energy Technologies Division
The baby in the silver car was much more comfortable than the baby in the black one.
This paint thing works everywhere, too -- not just with cars. Painting the roof of your house white can mean saving around 20 percent on air conditioning costs, and the only downside would be the potential of looking at a dirty roof. You never really appreciate how many birds crap on your house until your roof is covered in white shingles.
#4. Collecting Seashells
Beaches are kind of like the off-Broadway shows of nature -- they're often very beautiful, but they're also a little gross, and you probably only went because someone else suggested it. Many people's fondest memories of the beach include picking up shells and tiny bits of ocean-polished glass while listening to their parents pretend that nothing's wrong.
But a study that took over 30 years to fully complete suggests that tourism is destroying the ecology of beaches, and it's mostly thanks to shells. Visitors grabbing the odd shell here and there, combined with beach patrols using grating vehicles to make the sands look pretty, have resulted in major change to the ecosystems found along a beach.
Because what's a post-apocalyptic wasteland without beautiful bathrooms to hide from the zombies in?
On Llarga Beach in Spain, where the study was conducted, the abundance of shells decreased 60 percent as tourism increased 300 percent in the area. Why does that even matter? Along with probably a proportional increase in urine in the ocean, shells play a role in beach erosion, offer shelter for numerous fish and other ocean life, and are even used in bird nests. Fewer shells means fewer of everything that needs them. All because Uncle Charlie wants to bring home a goddamn clam corpse that's going to sit on a shelf and collect dust until Uncle Charlie himself is dead.