5 Seemingly Innocent Ways You've Screwed The World Today
Yes, hippies, we know that we can "save the world" by merely giving up all of the things that make modern life worth living. Thanks for reminding us that we can save lots of greenhouse gases by simply walking the 13 miles to work in the middle of the damned summer. We'll get right on that.
Though to be fair, a huge chunk of the damage we're doing to the world is due to things you probably didn't even know you were doing. For instance ...
A Massive Amount of Power Goes to Gadgets You Aren't Using
Most of us have a weird double standard when it comes to using or wasting electricity. You'd never leave your refrigerator open or your front door open in the summer when the AC is running. And you'd be regarded as a crazy person if you left your oven on at all times so you wouldn't have to wait for it to preheat if you wanted to cook a pizza.
"I like to eat a baked chicken every hour, on the hour."
But everything from your computer to your TV to your Blu-ray player does something equally crazy, and they're probably doing it right now.
The Horrible Downside:
Two words: Vampire energy.
Not to be confused with its mortal foe, werewolf energy.
Most modern devices are like your computer -- they don't turn all the way off, they just go into sleep mode, either because it makes them start up faster the next time or because they have little blue lights on at all times to make them look cool. As long as these devices are plugged into a socket, they suck the teat of Mother Electricity, little by little, 24 hours a day.
But honestly, how much power can that really be? It can't really take that much to keep your sleeping computer alive or your TiVo on standby for when it wants to record something. Right?
With all the extra seconds you save not unplugging things, you'll be able to write an extra six Facebook messages per year!
Actually, the "vampire drain" of your various plugged-ins accounts for up to 10 percent of your home's total power usage. That's more than $3 billion per year out of our pockets. "Our" doesn't mean "the government" here, either -- it means you, personally. Experts estimate that the average home loses around $200 per year because of the phenomenon.
And if you think the monetary part is nasty, wait until you see how downright ugly things get on a planetary scale. Vampire drain isn't just sneaking five bucks off your wallet for a Big Mac every now and then. Machines that leak power all the time pollute all the time. Vampire drain is responsible for 100 billion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions every year, an amount that would take 10 million cars to fart out. It is estimated to account for up to 40 percent of the energy used for home electronics ... and it's on the rise. By 2020, some estimates expect the cost of vampire drain to hit 20 percent of our national power use.
That's every nuclear power plant in America keeping your iPhone topped off.
Think about that the next time the government is going on and on about spending billions to replace 20 percent of the power plants with renewable energy by 2020. All of that power will be sucked up by gadgets that aren't actually doing anything.
And that's not even mentioning the other idle energy wasters -- to just name one, think about the many office buildings, where useless nighttime lighting and air conditioning fight a never-ending war that benefits no one, yet manages to piss away 38 million tons of coal every year.
There are three people inside that building right now.
Or those open display refrigerators most supermarkets have. While the ecologically frozen cheesecake we have a hankering for is certainly easier to grab when there's no pesky doors to open, the energy they waste amounts to leaving your fridge open all day -- if you had dozens and dozens of fridges. It's 1,550 tons of carbon emissions per year. Per store.
Oh, and the things cool down the building so much that they force the heating systems to waste even more energy as they try to heat it up again. With the simple act of adding some doors, most supermarkets could reduce their energy consumption by up to 68 percent. But that would be a deterrent to customers who don't like to have to slide glass to get to their frozen pizzas.
"Fuck that noise. Hand me a mallet!"
Birth Control Turns Your Pee into Fish Poison
Hormonal birth control, while awesome and liberating and instrumental for relatively consequence-free sex, does have some pretty serious side effects. We've already discussed how it can fundamentally change who you find attractive, which is weird, but does keep things interesting.
Incidentally, there's another interesting thing about the birth control pill: The way it turns your pee into fish poison.
"But no, hey, those condoms sound like a real hassle."
The Horrible Downside:
That's not some weird euphemism. Birth control pills work by flooding the body with synthetic versions of estrogen and progestin. Together, they stabilize hormones and effectively dumb down a woman's ability to become pregnant, thus saving her hundreds of dollars every Christmas.
Basically, it's this or a week of sex and drugs in your beach house every December.
But all that ingested estrogen creates a surplus, which the body dumps the best way it can: by peeing it out. The jacked-up urine goes into the sewage system, which feeds it into the waterways ... where the hormone eventually ends up in fish.
A seven-year experiment in Ontario, Canada, yielded some alarming results. The good news: The estrogen wasn't quite enough to straight up kill the fish. The bad news: It did bring the followed populations close to complete extinction by giving the male fish some serious gender issues -- and rendering them infertile in the process.
At least unwanted fish pregnancies are at an all-time low.
As fish gonads shrank and sales of fish training bras soared in Canada, studies from Boulder, Colorado, and the Potomac River also showed dramatic increases in aquatic gender confusion. In some instances, the percentage of intersex fish --fish with both male and female traits -- was as high as 80 percent. These were not isolated incidents, either -- a full third of all surveyed rivers show similar symptoms.
Other continents are also experiencing the fishy underbelly of sexual liberation -- five in seven Northern European countries struggle with the phenomenon.
"On the plus side, those of us with working gonads are getting mad fin."
In a world already set to run out of many kinds of seafood by 2048, this creates a conundrum: If we make fewer babies and lower the world demand for seafood, we force the fish populations down. If we make more babies, so do the fish -- we'll just eat them all. So, either someone MacGyvers a solution for the problem pretty damn now, or we're looking at a future of mass vasectomies sponsored by Red Lobster and Long John Silver's.
"For every man at the table who gets snipped, you each get a free order of coleslaw."
Your Lawn Hogs Our Freshwater Supplies
If we asked you what the largest irrigated crop in all of America was, you'd probably answer "corn," "potatoes" or (most likely) "Get the hell out of my house, you clipboard-wielding maniac." But the real answer sits right in front of your house, all green and lush and unassuming.
"This water is nice, but I was thinking something more like your souls."
The Horrible Downside:
Lawns occupy about 50,000 square miles of U.S. turf, which is three times the space taken by corn. Maintaining them costs us roughly 200 gallons of water per person daily. Nationwide, keeping grass green sucks up 50 to 70 percent of our residential water. In dry states like Texas, the percentage can occasionally reach 80 percent.
"The stars at night, are blotted out by wildfires, deep in the heart of Texas!"
Now, "residential water" tends to equal "water that humans can drink." This means that, every day, our lawns are busy shotgunning our precious freshwater supplies into their gaping, bottomless maws.
And we're very, very close to running out.
Each day, New Mexico and Arizona use 300 million gallons more than they can renew. The Southwest largely relies on underground aquifers that can't be replenished, and also we have no idea how much water they have. If they run out, the whole damn continent will get to live out the villain's plot from Quantum of Solace.
"Sure, we could measure it. But then the aquifer wins."
Actually, scratch the "if." It's happening already. The underground river in Arkansas (the one that makes rice growing possible) will be dry in five years. The San Francisco Bay Area is headed for a severe water crisis within the next 50 years. Even Seattle and Chicago, cities that are notorious for constant rain and neighboring the goddamn Great Lakes, respectively, will face shortages within 20 years.
It was a great lake. And when it's dry, it'll be an even greater skate park.
And that's downright peachy compared to what our readers under the Mason-Dixon can look forward to: The entire South is estimated to be locked in a permanent state of drought by 2050.
So while those of us with shiny green lawns have a few more years of regular watering left, we might be better off hoarding our precious sprinkler fuel for the inevitable Water Wars.
Mel Gibson not included.
Your Toilet Paper Murders Rain Forests (For No Reason)
We think (and also hope) it's safe to say that pretty much everyone reading this wipes their asses on a regular basis. Hell, even Zooey Deschanel probably gets the occasional attack of taco poops. It's just life -- shit happens, and toilet paper is what happens next.
Above: The 2012 spokeswoman for Taco Cabana and Charmin Ultra.
The Horrible Downside:
Do you use nonrecycled toilet paper? Maybe a brand made from virgin wood? Well, that makes you almost as bad for the environment as every Hummer-driving frat boy spending his trust fund money on extra-leaded gasoline.
No, sorry, we're telling a lie. Your taste in toilet paper actually means you have a much bigger impact on global warming than Captain Hummerjock.
"I need the extra space for all the dead baby seals I have to haul."
Delicate American bottoms prefer plush, bleached white, multi-ply paper with all the toppings. We also use three times as much paper per person as, say, Europeans. In fact, the 36 billion rolls our nation goes through every year is 27 percent of the world's total TP wood harvest.
The thing is, only 2 percent of the toilet paper used in the U.S. is made from recycled wood. For the rest, Big Buttwipe does use manageable, Earth-friendly tree farms whenever they can. However, these can only meet about 25 to 50 percent of the quota set by our needy, needy butts. The rest comes from irreplaceable North American virgin forests. You know, the same forests we rely on to trap greenhouse gases and act as heat sinks, so we can keep the pace of global warming down to a light sprint.
"Well, this is breathtaking and priceless. Let's turn it into ass wipes."
Sure, there are options. We could just use water to clean ourselves, like 75 percent of the world's population. Sadly, this is such an alien idea to us that even usually media-invincible Will Smith got sideways glances when he bought a paper-free bidet toilet. Increasing the volume of toilet paper made from recycled cellulose doesn't work, either. They've tried. We just won't buy it, even though we'd save 425,000 trees per year if every household in the country would replace a single roll of triple-layered Charmin with a recycled alternative.
But it's brown and scratchy and we, as a nation, are huge wussies.
We Waste Fuel on Things Nobody Cares About
Most of us know the usual ways to save gas: get a smaller car, ride a bike, take the bus. We also often have pretty damned good reasons for not doing those things (we need a car that can hold three kids, we live 20 miles from work, the bus is full of smelly hobos).
On the other hand, that SUV won't fondle your package.
And maybe we do common sense things to save electricity around the house -- for example, we don't leave lights on in rooms we're not in. Hell, maybe we even start unplugging devices that drain that vampire electricity we mentioned earlier. That's about all you can do without trying to read in the dark or sweating out every summer without air conditioning, right?
The Horrible Downsides:
What we tend to forget are the little things. Do you always remember to put your gas cap back on after you refuel? A lot of people don't, and gasoline evaporates. That trivial brain fart amounts to 147 million gallons of wasted fuel per year. And that's small potatoes compared to the 1.2 billion annually wasted gallons caused by driving around on underinflated tires. A further addition to the Pissing Away Fuel score are the 838 million gallons wasted by commercial trucks left to idle overnight to keep them warm.
In their defense, few things are less appetizing than cold meth.
But what about our houses? Say we use air conditioning sparingly and have decent insulation. Short of installing our own solar panels, it doesn't get much greener than that. Yet despite our best efforts, our homes still leak energy like a beached oil tanker.
For instance, not many people know that insulation degrades over time. As your house gets older, your insulation gets leakier, up to the point where all the minuscule fractures amount to the same effect as having a hole the size of a basketball in your living room wall.
After replacing your insulation, the old stuff is a decent cotton candy substitute.
But the main reason our houses are energy sieves is one you'd never guess in a million years: roof color.
Most houses have dark roofs, because they're often proofed with black tar and we have grown to think dark colors are the way to go. However, you know from elementary school that black absorbs light and heat -- it's why people wear light colors in the summer. A black roof absorbs heat, which your air conditioner has to fight to keep up with.
Bards will sing of their glorious battle for generations.
The problem could be fixed by painting our roofs white, a color that can reflect 85 percent of sunlight. But until we get around to that, we're stuck with a completely pointless annual waste of 14 power plants' worth of energy, not to mention absolutely insane greenhouse gas emissions.
Why don't we paint all of the roofs white, then? Because they're ugly. But the time is coming when we might just have to get over that.
The homeowner's associations of the world aren't going down without a fight.
For more big time game changers, check out 6 Tiny Things That Have Mind-Blowing Global Impacts and 5 World Changing Decisions (Made for Ridiculous Reasons).
And stop by LinkSTORM to see what ecosystems Brockway's toilet paper destroys.
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