Thursday, May 16, 2013

Consumer choices carry environmental weight

The message of two videos viewed this week for my women’s health class is that consumer decisions carry weight. The resulting impacts are entirely up to us.

National Geographic’s “Human Footprint” traces a man and woman's impact during their lifetimes, from childhood to old age.

Klean Kanteen stainless-steel reuseable water bottle
A matter of consumer choice.
Image source: Klean Kanteen
“At no time during our history have we consumed as much as we are now.” According to the video, only 17 percent of the world’s land-surface are unaffected by humans. We directly affect 83 percent of the world’s land.

The message I took from this video is that impacts are often a matter of choosing by degrees: For example, the act of choosing to have a child creates the need for diapers.

The parents face two resulting choices that each have an impact on the world: 18 billion disposable diapers are thrown away during one year in the United States, while laundering diapers at home will use 22,455 gallons of water.

My husband and I chose not to have children so we won’t have this particular impact. But other daily decisions in our lives will contribute to our global footprint. We will have to weigh competing options’ impacts on the environment.

The Story of Stuff’s “Story of Bottled Water” highlighted an industry that is the focus of a personal crusade. My family and I no longer use single-serving bottled water. We carry stainless steel personal-use bottles and refill them at home or on-the-go.

The narrator, Annie Leonard, presented a compelling metaphor: a mountain of single-serving water bottles, discarded in California, which had ended up in India. The image offered a reality check for the pristine mountain scenes featured in bottled-water advertising.

From the video: bottled water costs 2,000 times more than tap water and is a product of what Leonard described as “manufactured demand.”

Ad campaigns played on fears of tap water and promoted scenes from nature. They concealed the fact that most bottled water is filtered from the tap and that tap water is more highly regulated than water bottling facilities.

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