5 Guilty Pleasures That Are Secretly Saving the World
At the end of Jurassic Park, Dr. Grant, his special lady friend, and those impossibly muddy kids are flanked in the entrance hall of the theme park by Velociraptors. It looks pretty grim until the T. rex lumbers in to bite the other dinosaurs to death and save the goddamn day despite being the central antagonist for the first half of the film.
Little Known Fact: The T. rex can roar loud enough to make banner knots undo themselves.
I mention this scene because, aside from the living dinosaurs and the weird knot physics, there's a fundamental truth in that moment: Sometimes if you surround yourself with enough terrible things, they will just cancel each other out. Fate, it seems, has a soft spot for the stupid and reckless. For proof, look no further than everyday life; some of the cultural habits and irritating trends that should, in all respects, spell doom for our species are miraculously saving lives instead. So rather than rolling our eyes when a fad like Crocs, or Sexy Vampire Stories, or Bro-Step music fight for attention in our collective conscious, let's try to look on the bright side and determine how each of them might accidentally be protecting humanity from becoming the next fossil fuel.
Racking Up Credit Card Debt Is Eradicating Illnesses
When was the last time you held multiple hundred-dollar bills? Or $50s? That's a rhetorical question, you don't have to answer it. For those of you who are still eager to tell us all how you just handled a stack of hundreds yesterday, I wish you luck with your burgeoning rap career now that you have a really great album cover. Or, for the only other people who handle that much cash on a daily basis, I wish you safety in your chosen path of prostitution. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy career of humping high-end clients to read my article.
Jesus, is that the chaise lounge from West Elm? How much exactly are you making?
It's become pointless to carry cash now that plastic is accepted pretty much everywhere. It's safer and it's more convenient; however, the downside is that it's also much easier to swipe a hunk of plastic than to part with real bills, which means consumer debt has soared ever since money transformed into electronic signals. Over the past 10 years, even when accounting for the recent recession, personal bankruptcy in the U.S. and Europe has skyrocketed, almost exclusively because of our cultural reliance on credit.
The good news is that you'll have a long life in which to pay off that debt.
But there's a silver lining. As debt shoots up across the U.S. and Europe, several infectious diseases have all but disappeared with almost no help from the medical community. Paper money is filthy. The cotton/linen combination that makes up most currency is a breeding ground for microbes, some of which cause very serious diseases, so until recently, we've all inadvertently been participating in biological warfare with one another every time we make a transaction. Then plastic changed everything. Because you only use your own card and because bacteria have a harder time setting up shop on a plastic surface, infectious diseases that used to be ubiquitous have vanished over the last decade, with researchers attributing the decline exclusively to our change in currency habits.
Some businesses have stopped to take notice of this discovery, doing away with paper money altogether. Flight attendants, for example, won't even acknowledge bills as real currency because they know that traveling in a commercial airplane is more dangerous for your immune system than licking the vents in a hospital -- they don't need the added threat of catching pinkeye from your crumpled five-dollar bill. So while all your payments pile up as you start to drown in a sea of debt, the good news is that you're single-handedly preventing the spread of disease. Your impulsive spending habits have actually turned you into a hero.
Reading News from Blogs Is Slowing Global Warming
If you're reading this on a computer or a mobile device, then congratulations, together we're contributing to what's been a long, stubborn death of the print industry. And with one last dusty breath, that archaic medium issues its final sigh, whispering to us all ... something, probably. I'm sure we'll find out when it shows up on Yahoo! News or HuffPo if it's worth hearing.
Today, most people get their news from blogs instead of newspapers, they read their novels on Kindles or tablets, and they get all their sex tips from porn instead of checkout counter magazine racks. The trend has caused the giants in the print industry to close up shop or cut their staff so drastically that their publications look more like community newsletters than beacons of journalistic integrity. This is, of course, a bad thing.
But while the print industry collapses as a direct result of our neglect, there's some shockingly good news coming out of the fiasco that I'm sure papers would have loved to report on if they could still afford to pay journalists to do so: The death of print has acted as a massive speed bump for global warming.
"Yes! Here's to being dicks, guys!"
Around 68 percent of the lumber industry in the world is supported by the demand for paper in developed countries, a demand that's now dropped to less that 30 percent in the past seven years alone. As the mills closed down, forested areas that were allocated for clearing were instead thriving, and no one really knew what that would mean for the Earth, at least not until recently. The polar ice sheets that were so good at melting and bringing us that much closer to a Waterworld future just gave up in the last year. The shelves stopped falling into the ocean almost completely, and scientists think they finally know why.
See, creating paper wasn't just about cutting down trees; the process of chewing up all that wood into pulp was a huge contributor of methane and greenhouse gases as well, and now that the industry has tanked, we've essentially given Mother Nature a few minutes to catch her breath. The only downside is that now she seems to be a little angry.
Experts predict that this one minor change in our lifestyle is going to have a massive reversal effect on the entire planet. The sudden shift in greenhouse gas ratios will create more severe winters across the Northern Hemisphere, essentially dropping us into a minor ice age. No one is ready to predict how long it will last or how cold it will get or if we'll be able to walk from Alaska to Russia if we want, but regardless, this is probably a good time to invest in Gore-Tex. So I hope your Nook version of the Game of Thrones books was worth it, because I'm being completely serious when I say that winter is coming.
And as long as we're on the subject of saving the planet ...
Growing Weed Dramatically Improves Air Quality
During every heated debate between marijuana advocates and the- whatever the other side are calling themselves (Party poopers? Squares? Square poopers? Square poopers), no one could have anticipated that the best argument for the drug's legalization was that weed has the potential to actually make lungs healthier. The logic is so counterintuitive that no one even bothered to study it until recently, and even then it was only because someone stumbled across the findings while doing a report on, of all things, an airport.
See, airports that host private planes produce high concentrations of particulate matter into the atmosphere because private planes, for whatever archaic reason, still use leaded gasoline. As a result, people who live near these airports suffer from a whole slew of diseases related to poor air quality, from asthma to COPD. This is true across the board; in every town or city in which these airports exist, people around them get sick ... except one.
When the American Lung Association was compiling its Annual Respiratory Disease Report for 2013, they found that for some reason the residents around the airport in Augusta, Maine, had lungs like Wolverine. What they at first assumed was an error in the data turned out to be factually accurate, with an incredible answer: 47-year-old Marlon Cloutier was growing enough weed within the fenced property of the airport to mellow the entire state of Maine.
"Stop ... stop pinching. Look, just be chill with each other."
Not literally, of course. Maine was so outraged when they found out that they threw Cloutier in prison for it because growing weed is still illegal. But his heroic drug farm revealed a property of cannabis no one in the scientific field had considered before -- specifically, that it eats up particulate matter from the atmosphere like a stoner eats up Nutella. Weed, more than any other plant, is phenomenal at cleaning pollutants from the air and creating a healthier environment for people. Although tests are only in their preliminary stages, marijuana not only is looking like it might be nature's air filter, it's also got the added benefit of being one of the highest oxygen yields of any plant. We could potentially be planting fields of it in every polluted city and saving lives. Sadly, while the reports from the ALA are groundbreaking, they will probably never make national headlines. Still, it's nice to know that every time you smoke, you're doing as much as any Asthma Walk. So do it for the kids, and do it for Marlon Cloutier.
Texting Saved Us All from Brain Tumors
How many times has this happened to you: You're sitting in a theater when someone tries to covertly text a few rows in front of you and inadvertently fires a shaft of light brighter than the Bat Signal into the faces of everyone behind them? Or you're driving along a windy road and you notice that the person driving in the opposite direction is texting but before you can say anything, you've been eviscerated by your own engine shrapnel? Annoying, right? Well, if it's any consolation, if texting had never caught on as a trend, we'd probably all be dead by now anyway.
Cellphone technology developed so quickly and saw such a surge in demand immediately that there wasn't really proper time to test the catastrophic consequences of holding electromagnetic radiation directly against your face. As a result, early cellphones that were analog instead of digital (and required a lot more power) were just a little bit better for your brain than wearing plutonium earmuffs. The phones today are certainly better, but they're still not great, particularly for developing brains, like those trapped in the skulls of tweens.
"You have no idea how bad it gets in here. The other day he wanted to think about string cheese for an hour."
In the early 2000s, cellphone companies were panicking because doctors were starting to point out that cellphone use had a direct link with certain brain tumors in kids. It was a conundrum for corporations like Nokia, because on one hand they didn't want to be remembered as the makers of a product that killed children, but on the other hand they were making so much money doing it. So they opted to say nothing and hoped for the best. Fortunately, the best happened to be a completely unrelated shift in pop culture where everyone suddenly decided they preferred writing gibberish to one another instead of talking. The minutes people spent with the phone plastered to their ear dropped dramatically, and so did the imminent threat of an entire generation dying from brain tumors, all because we decided it was too much work to actually speak to other people. We all deserve a pat on the back for saving ourselves through laziness, except you phone companies -- you were just content to quietly watch it happen in your forts made of money.
Lying to the Internet Makes Everyone Smarter
The Internet is a breeding ground of misinformation. It's one big game of telephone where even valuable information has been passed through so many hands and so many SEO experts by the time it reaches your screen that it's almost impossible to tell what's reliable. Even our online personae rarely line up with who we are in real life because we've all been gifted the opportunity to present the very best version of ourselves, the person we want to be. Unfortunately, it turns out that the best version of some people is a vaguely racist username, a profile picture of an equality symbol Photoshopped into a swastika, and a bunch of broken English tirades on YouTube clips of Loose Change. But the point is that no one is forcing us to be honest from behind a keyboard and so we rarely are.
But all those lies are having a profound effect on our brains. Just by maintaining that constant level of skepticism that the Internet demands is rewiring minds to be more efficient and better able to spot inconsistencies. In essence, we're all opening new neural pathways and making each other smarter through dishonesty. For instance, research shows that we're better now than ever before at spotting tricks that people employ to cover their tracks through bullshit, like sentences that start with "research shows" or vague, meaningless statements like "better than ever before." Above all, the Internet has taught us how to discriminate between a well-informed piece with reliable sources and, say, an elaborate April Fools' prank filled with bold-faced lies that sort of feel true.
"Wait a sec- Oh, you asshole. And I was going to smoke weed for you, too."
While the liars slowly turn you into a genius, you have a lot of opportunities to wield that power. You could, say, share an intentionally deceitful article you saw recently with the intent of catching other liars who won't bother reading the whole thing before offering their loud opinion on it. But, hey, it's your life and your big (handsome) brain, use it how you like.
You can follow Soren on Twitter or his web of lies on Tumblr.