Some Hard Numbers and Common Sense

As an engineer I am a slave to efficiency, and enamored of new technology. So like many I can’t help but be passionate about new green tech. But the overly logical scientist in me screams in frustration when I read about people who worry about “vampire” energy, or composting toilets when there are so many larger problems in the world. Yes it’s true that “every little bit counts”.  But as someone who is familiar with and actually understands “The Butterfly Effect” (as opposed to just romanticizing about it), I know that the ‘little bit’ doesn’t usually count for much.

I understand that worrying about the little things, and doing everything you can to reduce your footprint in part is a silent protest of many as a way of saying “I care about the environment and I will not be held accountable” without going out and picketing your friends, neighbors, and coworkers for owning SUVs. “In the world but not of the world” comes to mind.

Now that I’ve ranted about that small environmental/societal contradiction, the other part that gets my goat is when people don’t use numbers to support their claims. If you don’t have science to back up your claims then your just full of opinions and ambition, not to mention lies (intentional or unintentional). I understand that numbers don’t always tell the full story, and can be manipulated. See Wind myths: Turbines kill birds and bats. But that is no reason to make claims without any support whatsoever. (Unless of course you qualify the statement as a hypothesis or theory, in which case science can look the other way while you rant and rave until you’re blue in the face.)
All of that being said I read an article on Grist in the “Ask Umbra” column (Ask Umbra: Is it bad to leave chargers plugged in?) where I saw both hard numbers and common sense.  “Frankly, I’m of two minds about whether we should all freak out about chargers. Standby power use is responsible for an estimated 1 percent of global CO2 emissions, and every little bit certainly counts. But if you haven’t taken bigger steps like insulating your house or embracing public transportation, fretting over wall warts might not be the best use of your energy.” – Umbrella 
It is truly satisfying to see that combination in environmental journalism. I hope this is a trend, and the people (journalists and politicians included) come to their senses about both the need for green tech as well as the true environmental economies, but I’m not holding my breath.

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