What follows is an essay I wrote over a month ago, but which
I've been sitting on, since I'm so reluctant to embrace the unthinkable
thoughts it contains. But I've been letting people read it, including
Luisa (who'd also felt challenged by the video I watched,
which first got me thinking about this), and she said of this
essay, "I think this is a really good starting point for
So I decided to go ahead and post it.
Meanwhile, speaking of starting discussions, starting this
week, Luisa is writing a monthly
column on Sustainable Living and other eco-issues, and she
has more to say herself on this topic right now. Be sure you
go read it!
So anyway, lately I've been having a crisis of faith about
recycling, particularly of paper. I recently watched the Penn
& Teller "Bullshit!" show about recycling,
in which they assert that most such efforts are little more than
a waste of time, and I gotta say, I found it very compelling.
Obviously, there are exceptions (specifically aluminum cans,
but also the small amounts of gold that can be salvaged by grinding
up old computer & electronic circuit boards, a topic P&T
didn't mention). But the thing that's freaking me out is paper
recycling. When you really think about it, does it really make
sense? Trees are a renewable resource, and paper companies have
been planting new trees to provide new stock for decades. There
is no tree shortage. Trees aren't being hunted to extinction
like whales, but instead are being farm-raised, like potatoes.
And unlike plastic bottles, paper is biodegradable!
Recycling paper to "save trees" is like getting
an artificial Xmas tree for the same reason, but actually, buying
a fake Xmas tree just puts an Xmas tree farmer out of work, whereas
buying a real tree every year supports an industry of forest-planters.
(And then there's the industrial hemp for paper argument, but
So is a vibrant paper-recycling industry really better for
the environment than a perpetual need to keep large areas of
land wooded, so as to have enough stock to make more paper? Which
is better: more forests waiting to be turned into paperstock,
or more factories being built for the purpose of making old paper
into new paper, with all the additional energy consumption and
toxic waste (bleach etc) which that implies? Is it really that
much worse to just dump the paper in a landfill? There's no shortage
of landfill space, they're quite safe, and here's another amazing
thing I learned from the P&T show -- landfills actually create
power! The methane gas which is generated by rotting stuff is
extracted from within the landfill and used to make electricity!
I have to wonder about other forms of recycling, too. It seems
to me that the biggest environmental threat isn't the filling
up of landfills, it's those greenhouse gases created by our rampant
energy consumption. Therefore, if it uses more energy to wash
out, save, process, and reuse a glass jar than it does to make
a new one, well, wouldn't we be better off just trashing that
There's no question about recycling cans... I know those are
valuable enough to be worth collecting, since homeless people
steal them from my curbside bins. And I'm still worried about
plastic, since it doesn't decompose, so I'm still in favor of
keeping as many plastic bottles out of the landfills as possible,
by reducing, reusing, and yes, even recycling them.
But I'm ready to give up on paper recycling. I just don't
believe in it anymore. I'm thinking we help trees more in the
long run by discarding paper than by recycling it, and I think
we help the planet more by needing more forests than by needing
more recycling machinery. The laws of supply and demand indicate
that we will keep planting more trees (or hemp plants!) as needed
in order to meet our appetite for paper, and since trees clean
the air, needing more of them seems like a better strategy, to
me at least, than does getting better at saving and recycling
old paper stock.
My ears are open and if someone can convince me that this
logic is flawed, I'm ready to listen. But I've lost faith in
"saving trees" by salvaging paper, and I'm on the brink
of purging the various paper collection bins I have scattered
around the house, and telling everyone to just put their unwanted
paper into the trash.
||I'm helping revise our business plan, and for inspiration
I'm reading the samples at Bplans.com, including one for a place
Sam's. It's fun reading about how great this new steakhouse
is theoretically going to be. Here's my favorite part : "Our
surroundings will be more entertaining than our competitors'."
It's just a bullet point on a list, so I wondered how they would
back up this claim, especially since, elsewhere in the document,
we find this description: "Each location will feature authentic
western antiques such as Native American blankets, cowboy gear,
and horse tack. We will equip the restaurant with a state-of-the-art
sound system connected to an old-time juke box where our customers
will be able to select their favorite country and western songs
for free." There's nothing amazing about nostalgic junk
on the walls, so I guess the superiority of their surroundings
was to hinge upon their Great Stereo -- and the fact that it
costs extra to play the old-time jukebox at their competitors'.
However, the document dates back to 2002, so I decided to use
Google to find out if anything had come of these plans... and
if there's any connection between this and the Sagebrush
Sam's of Butte, Montana, the "surroundings that will
be more entertaining" seem to have become Exotic Dancing
and Casino Gambling.
||Are there any other flavors of Hawaiian Punch? The can says
it's "Fruit Juicy Red" along the top and on the dude's
surfboard, where it could instead say something like "Lemon
Lime Green" or "Very Berry Blue." But I've never
seen any other forms of Hawaiian Punch. Am I simply too far from
Hawaii to get the other flavors? And if so, what are they? Of
has the answer: apparently there are (or have been) 7 other flavors:
Green Berry Rush, Mazin' Melon Mix, Bodacious Berry, Tropical
Vibe, Wild Purple Smash, Island Citrus Guava, and Mango Passionfruit
Squeeze. (Oh, and the dude's name is Punchy. Remember when the
TV ads had him punching out tourists?)
||"Proponents of drug prohibition tend to dismiss reform
groups like NORML or the Drug Policy Alliance as fringe ideologues
(politicians seem fond of dismissing the latter group for no
other reason than that it gets its funding from George Soros).
But when decorated police officers, former police chiefs, and
ex-judges and prosecutors speak up, audiences can't help but
take notice. These aren't stoners. They're former public servants,
and many risked their lives for a cause they now say is mistaken.
That's powerful stuff. When a guy tells you he regrets what he's
done for most of his career -- and what he could well have died
for -- his words take on a unique credibility and urgency. One
common characteristic you'll find in many members of LEAP is
guilt. Most of these former officers lug around a weighty burden.
Many concede they realized early in their careers that the drug
war was a failure, and would always be a failure. They regret
now that they didn't speak up sooner." --
Radley Balko, "Former
Narcs Say Drug War is Futile"