The 6 Most Insane Ways Going Green Can Backfire
There was a time when horses were way more convenient, reliable and cost-effective than automobiles. But we stuck with cars through the growing pains, because we knew that cars were only going to get better, while horses would stay the same.
That's where we are with "green" technology -- at the awkward stage where we have to wonder if it's all really worth it. Because some of the kinks we're running into range from horrifying to downright bizarre ...
Energy-Efficient Windows Laser-Punch Your Neighbor's House
So you want to be friendly to the environment and save on energy bills. You've heard that we lose a lot of our air conditioning through our windows, so you spring for those new low-E windows meant to reflect the sun's heat and keep the inside of your house cool. Now ask yourself: What is the worst possible way this could go wrong? The windows let in more sunlight? They crack the first time a fly lands on them?
How about they turn your house into a giant death ray that melts the neighbor's house?
On the plus side? This home's value to Gumby just, like, tripled.
See, those low-E windows have kind of a concave shape, so they not only reflect the light out of your living room, but focus it on whatever they're facing, like a magnifying glass frying an ant. And if your windows are aimed toward a neighbor's house that happens to have vinyl siding (which over one-third of the houses on the U.S. market do), it can get more than hot enough to make it look like they sided their house with taffy.
One Minnesota couple replaced the siding on their house multiple times before figuring out what the hell was causing it to warp. And they were just one of 25 families in their neighborhood to have experienced such damage, some of whom have given up on the Sisyphean task of replacing the siding only to have it melt again.
But the good news is that they no longer have to pay someone to come in and melt their vinyl.
Since more and more building codes are starting to call for the use of low-E windows, and vinyl continues to be the most popular siding choice for new homes, the siding and window industries have engaged in a blame game over who should accept responsibility for the melting houses. The Vinyl Siding Institute has contested that vinyl is made "to withstand all kinds of natural phenomena," but that the windows have artificially concentrated the sunlight to create temperatures well over 200 degrees. The window manufacturers have countered that they are in fact rubber and the vinyl manufacturers are glue.
Meanwhile, as the number of melted houses continues to rise, siding manufacturers are starting to drop reflected sunlight damage from their warranty coverage, leaving homeowners to either foot the perpetual bills or be content living inside a Jackson Pollock painting.
"Sorry, buddy, but once a business reaches a certain level of success, it is no longer responsible for anything, ever."
Waterless Urinals Cause Floods (of Pee)
The era in which we can waste precious millions of gallons of fresh water on flushing away our piss is coming to an end. So, unlike traditional urinals, which use one to five gallons of water per flush, new waterless urinals use no water save for the occasional cleaning. The only way to take a greener piss would be to use the nearest tree, which The Man has repeatedly discouraged us from doing (note that we're using "discouraged" as a synonym for "tasered" here).
These urinals are getting installed in new buildings around the world. So what's the problem? Well, imagine what pee looks like. Now imagine how it smells. Got that? OK, now imagine it just, like, everywhere.
"Oh God, it's like living in a dorm all over again."
You just imagined what Spanish River High School in Boca Raton, Florida, looked like not long after replacing their standard urinals with 200 of the fancy no-flush type. What the school administrators didn't realize was that without any water to flush away the waste, it would just sit there in the pipes. Copper pipes. And apparently uric acid and copper don't make very good roommates. So the pee decided to bail, seeping out of the walls and into the halls like that scene from The Shining, only instead of blood it was, you know, pee.
But that's only one incident, right? A fluke? Nope: Both Chicago City Hall and O'Hare Airport have replaced their waterless urinals, citing corrosion, frequently clogged pipes and a strong stench. And if that wasn't damning enough, even the California Environmental Protection Agency has given up and removed theirs, too.
Defenders of the technology state that the urinals are feasible so long as the plumbing supporting them is made of PVC plastic rather than copper. But given the fact that 28 billion feet of copper piping has been laid in the United States since 1963 and that copper continues to hold 90 percent of the plumbing market in new construction, many buildings would be forced to rip out their old, working-just-fine pipes and install new, non-recyclable PVC in their place to accommodate these new urinals. So ... sort of the exact opposite of conservation.
Plastic -- just how nature intended.
Compost Heaps Can Spontaneously Combust
According to the EPA, "Yard trimmings and food residuals together constitute 27 percent of the U.S. waste stream." If only we composted all that crap, we could virtually eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers, repair damaged soil and absorb air pollution. And to think, you can accomplish all that simply by replacing your backyard with an enormous pile of rot!
So what's the downside? Two words: spontaneous combustion.
"Well, at least I don't need to edge now."
There you are, marveling at how you can save the environment just by tossing your banana peel into the yard, when OH MY GOD YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD IS ON FIRE. See, the raw materials in compost piles attract bacteria, which is good, because those are the little guys that break down your (sometimes actual) shit and turn it into plant food. But since we can't see them, it's easy to forget that they are in fact alive, and any living, moving things will create heat.
As more and more bacteria crowd together, reproducing in a big ol' bacterial orgy, they raise the core temperature of the pile. Then, needing to cool down from all that humping (and presumably rinse the taste of rotting garbage from their microscopic mouths), they suck up all of the pile's remaining moisture, effectively converting your compost into kindling. And since, like reality TV stars, bacteria lack the necessary gray matter to foresee the consequences of their unsustainable lifestyle, they continue down this path of self-destruction until the increased temperature of their surroundings results in an all-consuming compost bonfire.
It's like Woodstock, only not quite as dirty.
The biggest cause of spontaneous compost combustion is people being too lazy to turn over their compost heap every once in a while so some air can get in there and cool it down. Apparently this is no small problem, because between 2005 and 2009, the National Fire Protection Association reported 5,250 "outside non-trash fires" started by spontaneous combustion, and of those, 28 percent were ignited by organic material. Just so you don't have to break out your calculator, that's 1,470 spontaneous combustions caused by people not wanting to mess with the icky stuff in the backyard. And it's quite easy for a fire that started in your compost heap to spread to your house or even your neighbor's house, making for a lifetime of truly awkward meetings by the mailbox.
But that's still nothing compared to compost fires that can break out at large facilities used for industrial farming, and according to one expert with a Ph.D. in rotten stuff, spontaneous combustion may actually be the most frequent cause of fires at these facilities. Sometimes such fires burn for days before firefighters can get them under control.
OK, so they were a little high. The point is that compost fires are bad.
The moral of the story is that while compost piles may be helping to make the world a cleaner, brighter (albeit a bit more stinky) place, you're still best served by thinking of those little bacteria as some kind of alien civilization that's been ripped straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster and plopped into your backyard: Their single overwhelming desire is to see you burn. And to think, you are feeding them.
Solar Panels Blind Airplane Pilots
Get used to seeing solar panels -- already we're planting the things on parking garages, churches, houses, even long stretches in the middle of the desert only inhabited by man-eating mutant cannibals. So what's the problem with turning sunlight into pollution-free electricity? Are we draining the sun?
No, but in our rush to point as many large mirrors at the sky as possible, we seem to have forgotten to consider the fact that sometimes people like to, you know, go up there for stuff. In Zurich, Switzerland, airport officials forced a church to adjust its solar panels because they feared the massive glare would blind pilots when they attempted to land. And this isn't the first time: One green home had to be redesigned because reflections from the solar panels were causing fighter pilots at the local military airport to make dazed landings while trying to blink the spots out of their eyes.
"Fuck it, I'm just gonna drop the nose and gun it."
As larger solar panel farms are built, the risks become even greater, to the point that the possible side effects read like the warning label from an ACME crate: Scientists have warned that a plan for 170,000 large solar panels in the Mojave Desert could "vaporize birds, blind drivers miles away, flip small airplanes or even attract Air Force heat-seeking missiles." That's right -- build a big enough solar panel, and you've basically created an enormous trampoline allowing Ra to jump down out of the sky, bounce back up and dick-slap small airplanes right out of the sky.
Of course, airplanes being airplanes, they could always just, oh, we don't know, maybe fly around the vast swath of nothingness that is the Mojave Desert. That still doesn't solve the whole vaporizing birds issue, but we see that one as more of a golden opportunity for people to achieve YouTube superstardom.
"Shit, where's my "Yakety Sax" MP3?"
LED Light Bulbs Cause Car Crashes
Some of you have already upgraded to those swirly fluorescent light bulbs, but the real future is in LED.
LED light bulbs can use up to 80 percent less energy and last 25 times longer than traditional bulbs. Plus, unlike the traditional light bulb, they weren't "invented" by an unequivocal dick. If you want to see how much energy a standard incandescent bulb wastes, just feel how hot it gets -- in any system, heat = wasted energy. LED bulbs are just as bright, and stay cool. All the juice is going toward lighting the room, not warming it. Everybody wins!
Plus, they're small enough that if you're good enough at palming, you can steal like six at a time.
Well, there is the fact that LED light bulbs are wantonly murdering our drivers. OK, that might be a bit melodramatic, but it does turn out that, at least for a few months out of the year, LED traffic lights are making our roads less safe. Those few months are what we call "winter."
You see, when heavy snow and ice fall onto an old-fashioned traffic light, the heat from the old, inefficient incandescent bulbs melts it away. But LEDs generate so little heat that the snow and ice just build up and eventually crust over the light. With visibility already limited by bad weather and no way for drivers to see the traffic signal, car accidents have increased at intersections with LEDs and led to at least one death that police believe could have been otherwise avoided.
If they'd made them out of light saber stuff like we suggested, this wouldn't be an issue.
But cities aren't quite ready to give up on the potential of LED traffic lights just yet. One attempted solution has been to have workers drive around and blast air at the offending traffic signals -- which sort of negates that "reduced maintenance" selling point. But hey, if that whole global warming thing pans out, it might be a moot point anyway.
Wind Turbines Turn the Sun into a Strobe Light
One megawatt of wind power can provide electricity to as many as 300 homes per year, and it can do all that without creating air, water or land pollution. Find a nice patch of land where the wind is always blowing, and let the wind do all the work. Yes, the occasional bird might get caught in the blades, but it's not like those same birds exactly enjoy breathing the smoke belched from coal-fired power plants.
So what's the problem? This:
Annoying, huh? It's called shadow flicker -- and yes, the world really has coined an official term for "wind turbines keep flicking the sun's light switch off and on like an asshole roommate." This is what you get when the turbine is sitting right between you and the setting or rising sun. Blinking, flickering sunlight, worsening your headache with each pulsing flash. Combine that with the constant low-frequency hum emitted by the turbines and you can imagine how it wouldn't take too long for even the mentally healthiest person to start developing a nervous tick. Experts are pretty divided on what the actual effects on the human body are, but scientists agree that having the sun blinking on and off is annoying as shit.
Community doctors have noted that after living up to a mile away from turbines, patients have developed headaches, sleep disorders and anxiety and depression symptoms that were previously nonexistent. However, government studies haven't acknowledged an official link between proximity to wind turbines and human health except to say that shadow flicker could cause annoyance.
"Scientists have determined that no one we know lives here, so it's fine."
Apparently the prisoners at the high-security Whitemoor prison in the U.K. agreed with this conclusion. Prison director Martin Adler negotiated with a nearby energy company, who eventually caved in and agreed to turn off their turbine during certain hours of the morning because the shadow flicker was making the deranged prisoners even deranged-er. Oh sure, annoying average homeowners is no big deal, but annoy a bunch of violent criminals, and ... actually, yeah, that makes total sense.
The closest anyone in the industry has come to acknowledging that the turbines might have adverse health effects is a study commissioned by the American Wind Energy Association, in which Dr. Geoff Leventhall and his colleagues argued that the effect of being in proximity to turbines is "similar to the effect of any other noise and will disturb people if they are listening to a noise they do not want to hear. One of the main effects is sleep disturbance, which can lead to other stress-related effects." But the problem is that they generally aren't erecting turbines in the middle of the city, where people are accustomed to noise pollution -- they're putting them out in the middle of nowhere, where the noisiest thing residents previously had to deal with was livestock flatulence. So pretty much any noise is "a noise they do not want to hear."
Brrvvt. "Oh my God, shut the fuck up!"
Again, it's not like these people will be happier with catastrophic climate change, so we kind of have to take the long view. But maybe put the turbines farther away from the houses next time.
For more "greening" attempts that made us shake our heads, check out The 6 Most Half-Assed Attempts at Corporate Green Washing and The 7 Most Retarded Ways Celebrities Have Tried to Go Green.