“Going Green” and the Trivialization of the Conscientious Ecologist

March 13, 2009

[posted by guest blogger Tycho. “I sometimes write stuff I think about.”]

In the recent months and years, the topic of protecting the environment, reducing pollution and toxic emissions has gone from being the subject of oft-called fringe environmental fanatics to being the hot topic du-jour. Not a day goes by without “experts”, politicians and even daytime talk-show hosts proselytizing the virtues of environmental conscientiousness, toppling over each other in the frantic exercise to alert us, their dear, direction-bereft consumers and constituents, of our nature-destroying ways.

Allow me to preface all this by saying that those who know me, know my fringe-fanatical inclinations; not in the sense that I preoccupy my speck of the world with the relentless pursuit of environmental harmony, but that I’d much rather do my part for the crazy-club than wish somebody else dealt with the problem.

The thunderous arrival of the environmental hot potato was inevitable, and now that it is here, everyone is clamoring for a bite of its predictably acrid yet unexpectedly sweet nectar. It appears people do, in fact, care to hear and learn and act for the sake of our good natured Mother Earth. All isn’t without merit, of course, people spent decades trying to explain to us the consequences of our errant ways, and it is about time we listened and did something about it.

I am amused when thinking of the challenge our popular media, our politicians, TV stations, the puppet-masters of humanity’s comedy faced when confronted with the reality of our environmental problem. It’s not that they didn’t know how to present a sad, sordid, depressing story, nor that it wasn’t for a good cause, but what was the urgency? When could they dictate to us when to expect the unexpected? What heroes could we rely on to enshrine in a new category of honorifics and adulation? Will the ice melt tomorrow? Can we call the Enviropolice for a press conference in front of microphones and concerned citizens asking questions from the back of the elementary school classroom designated as headquarters for the looming catastrophe? Fear not, consumers and constituents, the solution is far more cunning. Somebody, somewhere, realized the potential for the story which has no finality, which is an endless, bottomless pit of news, hysteria and accolades. I am only waiting for the rousing music and immersive graphical titles to roll onto CNN announcing the start of their next segment: War on Pollution, daily at 8pm.

Until then, the sharply witted PR intern that is probably equally responsible for gems such as “blog”, “Web 2.0” and “metrosexual” has come up with an incredible new strategy, and a hip 21st Century term for it: “Going Green”. I must admit the first time I heard it I did not think twice, my consumerist idleness allowing this new ploy to work itself into my subconscious. In fact, I began to hear it all the time, each instance with more zeal. Everyone is “Going Green”. What a fantastic thing to hear! Every evening a new corporation, your local community, your favorite actor – they are all “Going Green”! It’s the sound of a million news stories waiting to be told, to announce when and how someone I absolutely must know about has taken this course of action. It’s the new vehicle to admiration and forgiveness for your past environmental sins. You spilled toxins in the lake? You never recycled your beverage bottles? You didn’t even know you can recycle your canned food containers? Just “Go Green”. Things will be OK. If you’re famous, it won’t just be OK, they will have you on the evening entertainment news, people will listen to you at concerts and nod their head when you explain how you will right your wrongs.

What happened to the fringe environmental fanatic? Where is his seat at this new party? He tried to “Go Green”, but he didn’t have anything to show for it. She already recycled everything she could. He made sure to buy just the size of car that suited his needs. They worked through their summer to plant trees, raise awareness and argued with your politicians to spend money on studying the climate. They “Went Green”, but the Evening News wasn’t there to notice. The TV station is now busy showing me the latest multi-national, century-old corporation I should admire because yesterday they told the press they are “Going Green”.

And so this remarkable movement, the awareness and actions that have been brought forth through years of hard work by climatologist and environmentalists, researchers and unpopular politicians has been turned into the latest concoction for us to consume, trivialized with a new buzz-phrase and its analysis in popular culture stifled and placated by the presence of a superficial feel-good formula. I can only hope the forgotten, conscientious ecologist “Stays Green”.

[Tycho is not technically a blogger though he is technically a guest. He is also a friend to Crowfoot but has only posted one comment here in all this time. He is also clearly immune to guilt trips by said friend :-p]


This word… I do not think it means what you think it means!

March 11, 2009

One of my pet peeves is the tendency to talk about “green” behavior without any kind of understanding of scale. As long as we are still driving cars 24/7, it really doesn’t matter if you leave a night-light on in your bathroom. Really. No individual household’s consumption can compare with an average office building, and no office building can compare with an industrial factory, and so on. It doesn’t make sense to attempt a paradigm shift from the bottom. We need to change our biggest overconsumption problems, not our smallest.

Which is why I was ultimately annoyed by Six gadgets that could help green our lives, from the New Scientist. It’s just a little fluff piece gallery of some ideas presented in a recent competition, but it made my headache a lot worse so I feel compelled to share.

Child’s pay

Second prize in the competition – organised by design magazine Core77 and Greener Gadgets conference organisers – went to the Power-Hog, designed by Mathieu Zastawny, Mansour Ourasanah, Tom Dooley, Peter Byar, Elysa Soffer, Mathieu Turpault.

Designed to teach children about the cost of energy, the device controls the power supply to toys. It only lets electricity flow when coins are fed into the piggy bank.

This is really a symbolic action – the Power Hog’s electricity prices don’t match real electricity prices – but it could encourage children to question their energy usage, say the designers.

Yes. Shaming people– children, no less!– into saving inconsequential amounts of electricity.

‘Vampire’ killer

Two short-listed devices tackle the problem of “energy vampires” – electronic devices that use power even in standby mode.

Such equipment, from televisions to hi-fis, can increase an average household’s annual power bill by $100, according to Rachel Turner, the creator of the Standby Monster.

Her approach is to scare users into switching off devices with a pair of sticky-backed lenses that fit over the standby light and turn it into a pair of glowing, sinister eyes.

Why, look! More shaming, connected to even less consequential amounts of electricity! Because your wireless router is evil, and if only you could see how evil, you could end global warming!

Command central

Frog Design’s central kill switch is also designed to tackle energy vampires.

Wireless units called WattBlocks are fitted between the wall sockets and plugs of devices, making it possible to switch them all off in an instant using the master step switch (left).

I have to confess, I don’t really get this one. How is this different from keeping such things plugged into one power strip, and then unplugging that power strip to turn them off? Plus, again, “vampire” machines. Ooh. Scary.

Electricity alerts

Overall winner Tweet-a-Watt takes power management online. Limor Fried of Adafruit Industries and Phillip Torrone of MAKE magazine added a wireless transmitter (left) to a power meter creating a gadget that transmits daily summaries of energy consumption to the user’s Twitter account.

Another short-listed design – Bware by Ariel Drach (right) – promises to do the same thing for water consumption.

Read our recent article explaining how the power of social networks can help individuals change their environmental habits.

Mm, I love the smell of shame in the morning! An article from the BBC on the same event even makes explicit the intentions of the inventors of the Tweet-a-Watt– “The inventors hope it will foster a new attitude among the public and likened it to being praised for weight loss when dieting.” YES. YES IT IS. It is just like the societal monitoring and critiquing of people’s weights. Unfortunately, that kind of social pressure, wherein strangers are invited to judge you, well, it’s…reprehensible.

I mean, I agree that this would work, though probably the way dieting “works”– in initial drop to an unsustainably low level of usage, followed by a slow creep back up one one resumes living one’s life. It might work a little better than that if one started out with bad electricity habits– leaving lights on even when not at home, etc. It just seems a bit unnecessarily intrusive (and, again, shaming!) considering that, well, there’s a limit to how little electricity a person can use, and, again, cars on the road.

Blinding light

A Venetian blind made from flexible solar cells can light up a room without a power supply.

The Blight blinds were designed by Vincent Gerkens, who says that because people adjust Venetian blinds throughout the day to maximise the amount of sunlight they block out, his design catches much of the available sunlight.

When darkness falls, energy collected in a battery is used to power an electroluminescent foil built into the blinds, which lights the room.

Okay, this is actually really cool. The key to making alternative energy sources work is integrating them into our world in enough places that they can actually get enough energy to supply our needs. Wind and solar are currently a tiny percentage of our electricity production, but here’s a way to give some solar panels some sunlight without covering the ground with them!

Note, also, that this isn’t focused on changing consumer behavior so that people reduce use– it’s a way to increase the supply of acceptable electricity. To my mind, any electricity generated by burning coal is too much, and so it’s impossible to solve the problem by reducing use. We have to get creative like this, instead.

Café culture

Office printers consume energy and may even pose a health risk. But the hand-powered RITI Printer, designed by Jeon Hwan Ju, is different.

Power comes from the user, who has to pull the printer head back and forth as the paper is pulled through. Cleverly, the printer also does away with expensive ink cartridges, instead making use of waste coffee.

The printed product definitely smells of coffee – which some evidence suggests could help reverse the effects of sleep deprivation. And there’s no word on how permanent a coffee-printed document is.

And now we’re back to products that I kind of just don’t get. I mean, I love the idea of re-using old coffee grounds, but… why not just transition to a paperless office (or whatever) altogether? And I’m not sure when one could use this… impermanant coffee-scented papers would be inappropriate for most official paperwork, and for books. It could work for receipts, though– it could even work via their favourite method, reducing consumption, since fewer people will be interested in taking a receipt that they have to manually print themselves!

Now, to return to the broader conversation: I don’t want to fall into the “WHAT ABOUT WOMEN IN SAUDI ARABIA” sort of argument that feminists face when they try to talk about comic books– I get that talking about the little things does not preclude talking about the big things, and that it’s important to pay attention on both.  But this seems somehow… not even one of the little things. As if a feminist was trying to complain about women no longer being put on a pedestal. It’s missing the point, somehow, aiming for a goal other than the one that out society needs.

And would you look at that? Even as I try to articulate the problem I have with this obsession with “green,” Scientific American provides me with the perfect rebuttal! Check out Top 10 Myths about Sustainability, with the following excellent opener:

When a word becomes so popular you begin hearing it everywhere, in all sorts of marginally related or even unrelated contexts, it means one of two things. Either the word has devolved into a meaningless cliché, or it has real conceptual heft. “Green” (or, even worse, “going green”) falls squarely into the first category. But “sustainable,” which at first conjures up a similarly vague sense of environmental virtue, actually belongs in the second. True, you hear it applied to everything from cars to agriculture to economics. But that’s because the concept of sustainability is at its heart so simple that it legitimately applies to all these areas and more.

I think a lot of attempts at “going green” are, at best, misguided (the innovations ranted at above, for example), or, at worst, deliberate attempts to make money off of people’s good natures (like with a lot of organic food). But I am a huge believer in the vital importance of sustainability. This article is a great explanation of why. If I link it a second time, will that double your chances of reading it? Because seriously, take a look!


5 things that you probably should keep worrying about.

August 17, 2008

So, I was forwarded a lovely New York Times article by John Tierney, titled “10 Things to Scratch From Your Worry List.” (Originally published July 29, 2008). It seems to contain two types of “worries”– things that are kind of ridiculous to be worried about, and things that are kind of ridiculous to not worry about. I’ll be quoting the full article below with rebuttals.

For most of the year, it is the duty of the press to scour the known universe looking for ways to ruin your day. The more fear, guilt or angst a news story induces, the better.

I am profoundly disappointed that the press knows this and doesn’t care. It’s like saying, “For most of the year, we don’t bother being the watchdogs for society, holding public figures accountable for their words and actions and informing the public of pressing issues.”

But with August upon us, perhaps you’re in the mood for a break, so I’ve rounded up a list of 10 things not to worry about on your vacation.

“And we’re not going to be doing that watchdog stuff today either. Ha ha ha.”

Now, I can’t guarantee you that any of these worries is groundless, because I can’t guarantee you that anything is absolutely safe, including the act of reading a newspaper. With enough money, an enterprising researcher could surely identify a chemical in newsprint or keyboards that is dangerously carcinogenic for any rat that reads a trillion science columns every day.

This is actually a commendably realistic view of life. Nothing is 100% safe so just keep an eye on the major risks (like drunk driving) and live your life.

What I can guarantee is that I wouldn’t spend a nanosecond of my vacation worrying about any of these 10 things. (You can make your own nominations in the TierneyLab blog.)

1. Killer hot dogs.

Huh?

What is it about frankfurters? There was the nitrite scare. Then the grilling-creates-carcinogens alarm. And then, when those menaces ebbed, the weenie warriors fell back on that old reliable villain: saturated fat.

But now even saturated fat isn’t looking so bad, thanks to a rigorous experiment in Israel reported this month. The people on a low-carb, unrestricted-calorie diet consumed more saturated fat than another group forced to cut back on both fat and calories, but those fatophiles lost more weight and ended up with a better cholesterol profile. And this was just the latest in a series of studies contradicting the medical establishment’s predictions about saturated fat.

If you must worry, focus on the carbs in the bun. But when it comes to the fatty frank – or the fatty anything else on vacation – I’d relax.

It’s a little weird that he talks about how so-called “unhealthy” foods may not actually be all that unhealthy, and then demonizes carbs (which, like saturated fats, won’t murder you in your sleep). It’s just promoting another variety of love-hate relationships with food, wherein some foods are evil and others are saintly. Newsflash: nothing’s going to kill you if you eat it occasionally. It’s far more unhealthy to cut out an entire food group like, say, grains. To be healthy, just eat food, not too much, mostly plants. (A great NYT article by Michael Pollan that I’ll be referencing in a moment.)

It’s also weird how he conflates losing weight with being healthier but I suspect that’s another post for another day.

What I really want to say, to the people who are now snarfing hot dogs worry-free, is that I have never worried about hot dogs, because I do not eat meat in general. And I actually do think that eating meat is a cause for worry.

Now, I’m no hypocrite– I’m not going to suggest cutting out an entire food group (meat) right after I’ve condemned fad diets for doing the same to grains. But cut down on meat. That means, maybe go a few days without eating meat at all. Or cut it down to a couple times a week.

Now, it’s rare that there’s any nutritional advice that advises just plain eating less of something (as opposed to advising that you eat leaner meats, for example) so I’m going to quote Pollan’s article on the assumption that most people didn’t click the link above (though you should):

Responding to an alarming increase in chronic diseases linked to diet — including heart disease, cancer and diabetes — a Senate Select Committee on Nutrition, headed by George McGovern, held hearings on the problem and prepared what by all rights should have been an uncontroversial document called “Dietary Goals for the United States.” The committee learned that while rates of coronary heart disease had soared in America since World War II, other cultures that consumed traditional diets based largely on plants had strikingly low rates of chronic disease. Epidemiologists also had observed that in America during the war years, when meat and dairy products were strictly rationed, the rate of heart disease temporarily plummeted.

Naïvely putting two and two together, the committee drafted a straightforward set of dietary guidelines calling on Americans to cut down on red meat and dairy products. Within weeks a firestorm, emanating from the red-meat and dairy industries, engulfed the committee, and Senator McGovern (who had a great many cattle ranchers among his South Dakota constituents) was forced to beat a retreat. The committee’s recommendations were hastily rewritten. Plain talk about food — the committee had advised Americans to actually “reduce consumption of meat” — was replaced by artful compromise: “Choose meats, poultry and fish that will reduce saturated-fat intake.”

So, back to hot dogs. Tierney is giving them the green light because of research showing that saturated fat isn’t all that unhealthy. Except that hot dogs aren’t just saturated fat– they’re meat. Pollan talks a lot about how we talk about nutrients instead of food these days, and how that leads to a lot of confusion, because it’s not about any one or two nutrient, it’s about the foods. And it’s healthy to eat less meat. So don’t stop worrying about those hot dogs– start thinking about all the other meat you eat, and think about cutting down on meat consumption entirely.

2. Your car’s planet-destroying A/C. No matter how guilty you feel about your carbon footprint, you don’t have to swelter on the highway to the beach. After doing tests at 65 miles per hour, the mileage experts at edmunds.com report that the aerodynamic drag from opening the windows cancels out any fuel savings from turning off the air-conditioner.

Okay, this is just silly. Sure, it makes no difference at 65 miles an hour, but you pretty much have to be on a highway to be going that fast, and I don’t know about you, but I drive around within my city a lot more often than I leave the city.

Actually, I’m a little offended by how he’s framing this information. It’s a lot more intellectually honest to admit that if you’re driving at less than 65 miles per hour, you should open the windows instead of turning on the AC.

Not to mention the fact that these aren’t the only two options– not driving at all is better than driving with the windows down. It’s probably the best way to save fuel out of everything anyone’s ever recommended– walk or bike instead, or just stay home.

Now, I drive around my city with the AC on all the time; it’s hard not to when it’s this hot out. But I don’t do so operating under the delusion that it’s better for the environment. And you shouldn’t either.

As a slight digression, thinking back to the meat advice above– I’ve heard people try to justify driving and so on by pointing out that farm animals are one of the biggest pollutants, and compared to cow farts, a trip to the movies is insignificant. Whether or not this is true, I want to point out, it’s not an excuse to pollute in other ways. It’s a reason to cut down on meat consumption, so that there are fewer cows emitting pollutants. Especially since all the corn we’d no longer be feeding to said animals could then be used to fuel our cars.

3. Forbidden fruits from afar. Do you dare to eat a kiwi? Sure, because more “food miles” do not equal more greenhouse emissions. Food from other countries is often produced and shipped much more efficiently than domestic food, particularly if the local producers are hauling their wares around in small trucks. One study showed that apples shipped from New Zealand to Britain had a smaller carbon footprint than apples grown and sold in Britain.

Pollan didn’t cite any sources for this one so I had to do some digging myself. According to this article at ACS Publications, Tierney got it half right: reducing food miles isn’t always the best way to reduce greenhouse gasses.

But it’s how food is produced, not how far it is transported, that matters most for global warming, according to new research published in ES&T (DOI: 10.1021/es702969f). In fact, eating less red meat and dairy can be a more effective way to lower an average U.S. household’s food-related climate footprint than buying local food, says lead author Christopher Weber of Carnegie Mellon University.

Which brings us back to that hot dog again. Another article on Weber’s research is even more straightforward: food miles don’t feed climate change– meat does. It basically makes the argument for me:

His analysis included emissions such as transporting and producing fertiliser for crops, methane gas emitted by livestock, and food’s journey to market. All told, that final step added up to just 4% of a food’s greenhouse emissions, on average.

To drive his point home, Weber calculated that a completely local diet would reduce a household’s greenhouse emissions by an amount equivalent to driving a car 1600 km fewer per year. He assumed the car travels 10.6 km per litre of petrol (25 mpg). Switching from red meat to veggies just one day per week would spare 1860 km of driving.

So, sure, you can stop worrying about how far your apples have traveled. But take a good, long look at that hot dog. Since Pollan missed half the point with this item, I’m counting it as half a thing to still worry about– but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.

4. Carcinogenic cellphones. Some prominent brain surgeons made news on Larry King’s show this year with their fears of cellphones, thereby establishing once and for all that epidemiology is not brain surgery – it’s more complicated.

As my colleague Tara Parker-Pope has noted, there is no known biological mechanism for the phones’ non-ionizing radiation to cause cancer, and epidemiological studies have failed to find consistent links between cancer and cellphones.

It’s always possible today’s worried doctors will be vindicated, but I’d bet they’ll be remembered more like the promoters of the old cancer-from-power-lines menace – or like James Thurber’s grandmother, who covered up her wall outlets to stop electricity from leaking.

Driving while talking on a phone is a definite risk, but you’re better off worrying about other cars rather than cancer.

I have to admit, I can’t debunk this one. I wasn’t even aware people still worried about cellphones causing cancer– I thought we’d moved on to bogus worries about wireless internet.

So, uh, this one stands. Cell phones aren’t going to kill you. (But be careful how you recycle them!)

5. Evil plastic bags. Take it from the Environmental Protection Agency : paper bags are not better for the environment than plastic bags.

So I guess it’s a good thing we don’t have to use either!

If anything, the evidence from life-cycle analyses favors plastic bags. They require much less energy – and greenhouse emissions – to manufacture, ship and recycle. They generate less air and water pollution. And they take up much less space in landfills.

Seriously, folks, this is a false dichotomy. You can bring your own bags. No one will get mad at you for it! (Unless you forget to tell them until after they’ve already bagged your stuff.)

Like with the car AC factoid, I get rather angry when I see this one floating around. It’s just wrong, to use a study like this to justify an environmentally harmful practice when there’s a much better alternative. Whole Foods stores and most libraries have inexpensive, highly practical tote bags that will suffice for small shopping trips. (Heck, my purse is enough for most small shopping trips.) If you’re getting a lot at the grocery store, bring your bags from the last time you went, of if you’re at a mall, get a huge bag at the first place you go and put your other purchases into the same thing. Or just shop less. It is an option, you know.

6. Toxic plastic bottles. For years panels of experts repeatedly approved the use of bisphenol-a, or BPA, which is used in polycarbonate bottles and many other plastic products. Yes, it could be harmful if given in huge doses to rodents, but so can the natural chemicals in countless foods we eat every day. Dose makes the poison.
But this year, after a campaign by a few researchers and activists, one federal panel expressed some concern about BPA in baby bottles. Panic ensued. Even though there was zero evidence of harm to humans, Wal-Mart pulled BPA-containing products from its shelves, and politicians began talking about BPA bans. Some experts fear product recalls that could make this the most expensive health scare in history.

Nalgene has already announced that it will take BPA out of its wonderfully sturdy water bottles. Given the publicity, the company probably had no choice. But my old blue-capped Nalgene bottle, the one with BPA that survived glaciers, jungles and deserts, is still sitting right next to me, filled with drinking water. If they ever try recalling it, they’ll have to pry it from my cold dead fingers.

I trust him on the BPA issue, so this is something you should only half worry about. If you buy a plastic bottle– Nalgene or not– and reuse it so you can always have water with you, I’m sure you’ll be fine. I used the same off-brand one-use water bottle to store my water my entire first year of college, and it didn’t kill me.

But if you’re buying a new water bottle every time you want to get a drink and then throwing them away, we need to talk.

This is one of my biggest pet peeves. There is just no point in constantly purchasing new containers of water when we’ve already invented this fantastically efficient water-delivery system called plumbing. Free water, available at the twist of a handle or a push of a button, at sinks and water fountains everywhere! It’s one thing to get a bottle of water when you’re traveling, and don’t have access to the plumbing– but why, in your ordinary life, would you pay money for water that’s been shipped halfway around the world (sometimes from Fiji) when it’s more work, more greenhouse gasses, more money, and not as good for you? Because, remember, city water is usually fluoridated, making it better for your teeth. At one point, my university town had a severe drought, and I stopped drinking the city water to conserve; I got five cavities that semester.

So, you don’t wave to worry about the plastic bottles you may be keeping permanently to store drinks– baby bottles or otherwise– but disposable bottles are definitely worth concern, and by ignoring them, Tierney has once again missed half the point.

7. Deadly sharks. Throughout the world last year, there was a grand total of one fatal shark attack (in the South Pacific), according to the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida.

Okay, cool. This is definitely an irrational fear people have, and it’s definitely unfounded.

I could be a spoilsport and point out that jellyfish are a growing concern, but I’ll let this one stand. Don’t worry about the sharks.

8. The Arctic’s missing ice. The meltdown in the Arctic last summer was bad enough, but this spring there was worse news. A majority of experts expected even more melting this year, and some scientists created a media sensation by predicting that even the North Pole would be ice-free by the end of summer.

So far, though, there’s more ice than at this time last summer, and most experts are no longer expecting a new record.

It may be worth nothing that last summer, we had record-smashing amounts of melting, so it would be pretty tough to melt even more this year, especially since we also had record amounts of freezing last winter.

Not to mention the fact that the ice that we do still have is mostly the very thin ice that won’t last all year– the perennial ice cover is diminishing.

You can still fret about long-term trends in the Arctic,

Yeah, I’m gonna do that.

but you can set aside one worry: This summer it looks as if Santa can still have his drinks on the rocks.

Good to know that our fictional beings are still just fine.

Once again with this point, Tierney has taken something that is technically true and used it to dismiss concerns about a much larger issue which is not any less of a concern than before. Actually, for this one, I’m going to go ahead and say that he’s missed the point entirely: we need to be worrying about the Arctic more, not less or for a different reason. Polar bears are drowning.

9. The universe’s missing mass. Even if the fate of the universe – steady expansion or cataclysmic collapse – depends on the amount of dark matter that is out there somewhere, you can rest assured that no one blames you for losing it. And most experts doubt this collapse will occur during your vacation.

Okay, this is kind of a stretch, Tierney, but I’ll give it to you: there’s no point in worrying about the collapse of the universe. I’m not convinced it was actually on anyone’s radar, but sure. If the universe is missing some matter, there’s not much we can do about it.

10. Unmarked wormholes.

What? I’m not sure you’re allowed to have two improbable theoretical-physics-based “worries” in what is supposed to be a practical list. Running out of things that we can actually stop worrying about?

Could your vacation be interrupted by a sudden plunge into a wormhole? From my limited analysis of space-time theory and the movie “Jumper,” I would have to say that the possibility cannot be eliminated. I would also concede that if the wormhole led to an alternate universe, there’s a good chance your luggage would be lost in transit.

But I still wouldn’t worry about it. In an alternate universe, you might not have to spend the rest of the year fretting about either dark matter or sickly rodents. You might even be able to buy one of those Nalgene bottles.

Ha ha. What a clever way to end the article.

Actually, it is a pretty clever way to end the article– since the point of the article was that we often worry about things that we shouldn’t worry about (true) and since it was meant to be a light-hearted article. But it would only have worked if the previous 9 items had been things that people were worried about, which they didn’t need to worry about. And no, he doesn’t get to count the dark matter if he’s using wormholes for #10.

Which leaves him with…deadly cell phones, shark attacks, and half a point each on plastic bottles and food miles. That’s not a good record.

I think the problem is that he was trying to address environmental concerns, but most of them are actually real concerns. The two he got totally right– cell phone radiation and sharks– were the only two not related to environmentalism (besides the wormholes and antimatter which I refuse to take seriously.)

It’s just rather frustrating that what could have been a useful article—we do have a tendency to obsess over “problems” that are non-issues—ended up belittling legitimate concerns. Especially since he didn’t have to list things that people worry about for good reasons—I’m sure there are at least ten things that people worry about for no reason. In fact, I’ll give you ten things right now:

1. Don’t worry about cell phone radiation.

2. Don’t worry about shark attacks.

3. Don’t worry about using cell phones near gas stations.

4. Don’t worry about getting salmonella by eating raw eggs.

5. Don’t worry about saturated fats/ trans-fats/ carbs/ whatever “nutrient” is currently the villain.

6. Don’t worry about being fat.

7. Don’t worry about wireless internet causing headaches/ cancer/ anything but a susceptibility to silly memes.

8. Don’t worry about video games or the people who play them.

9. Really, seriously, don’t worry about disinfecting absolutely everything in your home.

10. And finally, don’t worry about whatever people like Tierney are telling you to do.