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  Sierra Magazine
  January/February 2005
Table of Contents
Better Homes and Garbage
Green From the Ground Up
Hey Mr. Green
Interview: Shoshana Berger
Fat Cities
Green Eye for the Conventional Guy
Let's Talk
Ways & Means
One Small Step
Lay of the Land
Good Going
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Sierra Magazine
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Hey Mr. Green
Advice on life, laundry, food, cars, and staying cool.
by Bob Schildgen

Hey Mr. Green,
In the grand scheme of polluting power plants and corporate toxic-waste dumping, would changing my lifestyle and practicing voluntary simplicity really help the environment? —Dubious in Duluth

Well, yes. You're probably already sorting cans and bottles for your recycling ritual, but there are lots of other easy things to do for your battered environment. You can look at the bigger picture, too, pondering the basics of living more simply, as laid down by the great religious sages and often restated by the likes of Thoreau, who proclaimed: "Simplify, simplify. Keep your accounts on your thumbnail." The idea, applied to the 21st century, is that you can fill your trophy home with toys, stuff your gut with cheap fast food or pricey pâté, drive your Hummer to the edge of the known universe, and still be a spiritually empty nuisance, not to mention an environmental menace. Anyway, maybe we ought to start practicing voluntary simplicity before it becomes obligatory--for survival.

Hey Mr. Green,
My brother keeps laying a guilt trip on me about clothes dryers wasting energy. I can see his point, but I would feel, well, uncomfortable hanging my skivvies out on a line. —Embarrassed in Erie

Look, it's not like you have to hang your skimpy little Victoria's Secret thingies out for all to see. They're gauzy and will dry quickly inside.

Clothes dryers use the equivalent of 58 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year nationally, so there's no question about the virtues of solar clothes-drying. Hang up a clothesline now; hardware stores carry plenty of clothesline gadgets. And in winter, dry your stuff inside, using that quaint device known as a clothes rack.

Hey Mr. Green,
I couldn't live without air-conditioning. Is it really as wasteful as some people say? —Baking in Boca Raton

Huh? The human race got along without air conditioning for 200,000 years or so. We took good-sense siestas in the shade (in some countries they cling to this apparently un-American practice). We planted leafy trees, slept outside or on porches, and deployed a variety of clever architectural tricks—like those in George W. Bush's passive-solar house in Crawford, Texas, which is built with recycled limestone, designed to let breezes blow through, and cooled by underground water. And though it may sound barbarous to pampered whiners, we acclimated. It was only after World War II that home air conditioners hit the market, first as a status symbol, then a "necessity."

Think different. A few strategically placed fans work fine anywhere, and evaporative coolers are effective in low-humidity regions, using 75 percent less energy than air conditioners. Start a trend. If we all shut off our ACs, we'd save the equivalent of 4.4 billion gallons of oil. That makes more sense than warming the whole globe to manufacture cold air for your rec room.

Hey Mr. Green,
Sure, I'll admit that SUVs are about manhood. But don't enviros who rail against them just have an inferiority complex? —Driving in Dallas

Until you can dust Lance Armstrong in a race up the Alps, you'd best lay off the environmentalists. Real men ride bikes. They don't need to be sealed in three tons of armor to protect their precious testosterone reserves. Just because you can twist off the gas cap and insert the nozzle in one move doesn't make tree-huggers the least bit envious.

Hey Mr. Green,
I hear that it takes eight pounds of corn to produce a pound of beef. Should I just give up meat? —Peckish in Portland

There's been so much loose talk about the environmental evils of meat-eating that cows have turned into—well, scapegoats. Cruel fate when you consider how faithfully they have served humanity for millennia. Crude comparisons of weight don't tell us much. After all, a pound of hamburger also has 3.5 times as much protein (more complete protein) as a pound of corn. Moreover, weight comparisons disregard valuable cattle byproducts, the most important being manure, a major organic fertilizer. Also, cattle have a role in healthy crop rotation systems because they're good at converting inedible material to food. You plant alfalfa, which humans can't eat, to restore nitrogen to the soil. The cattle then eat alfalfa hay—and there's the beef.

But—and this from an nth-generation descendant of cattle farmers—today's cattle-raising practices are often so hard on the environment that I don't eat beef unless it's organic or from farms that seriously attempt to limit polluting runoff from manure, pesticides, and fertilizers, and don't routinely give antibiotics to cattle. Same goes for hogs, chicken, and farmed fish. If you want to remain carnivorous, find a clean source of meat. If you comparison shop for DVDs and cars, you can do the same with food. Two good places to start are and

Read more advice from Mr. Green, including his Web-only mailbag, and submit your own environmental questions at

Mr. Green illustration by Melinda Beck; used with permission.

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