I'm not usually a big magazine reader, but sometimes you are in an airport for 12 hours and finish the book you brought and are tired of listening to your iPod and your wife has your laptop so she can look endlessly at real estate listings in Texas. Sometimes these things happen. Unsurprisingly, this cover caught my eye.
My immediate thought was: false premise. The two places I see false premises the most are in advice columns and magazine articles. In an advice column, an example of a false-premise question would be: "How much should I tell people to spend on wedding gifts for me in the invitations I send out?" The false premise, of course, is that you should be telling people to spend any amount of money on you at all. (Sidenote: if I wrote an advice column, I would spend half my time screaming at the selfish, selfish people planning their weddings.) In a magazine article, a false premise reads like this: "If you're serious about global warming, only one thing matters: Cutting carbon."
The appropriate phrase that comes to mind is "missing the forest for the trees". Global warming is an important topic, but it is only part of a larger issue: sustainability.
When you go camping, you'll often find signs that say "leave the campsite cleaner than you found it." That is the basic concept of sustainability, except the campsite is, uh, the entire world. If there is to be enough energy, food, water, and raw materials for a growing global population, then you must generate your energy, food, water, and raw materials in such a way that there is as much (or more) of these things left when you are done as when you arrived. How is this possible? By using renewable resources in a renewable way. Overfishing would be an example of using a renewable resource in a non-renewable way: fish are a renewable food resource until you eat them all.
Let's look at some of the assertions that Wired makes, and see how these change when you look through the prism of sustainability instead of just reducing carbon.
A/C IS OKAY
What Wired says: The US uses more energy on heating than it does on cooling every year. Additionally, air conditioning cycles are more efficient than heating cycles; that is, it takes less energy to cool a given volume of air by one degree than it does to heat that same given volume of air by one degree.
All these things are true. My rebuttal: so what? What, exactly, does this do to help anyone understand global warming or shape public policy? Some people live in hot areas, and some people live in cold areas. The carbon-based arguments for living in cold New England vs. hot Arizona are much more complex than heating vs. air conditioning. How much energy is spent delivering food and water and air conditioners to the desert? I don't know, but this is an example of the poorly thought out arguments used by Wired to make controversial statements to sell magazines rather than contribute to the readers understanding of sustainability. Sustainability demands that we reduce the non-renewable energy required for both heating and cooling through use of renewable energy and building efficiency (i.e. better insulation, reduced building heat gain, and maybe wearing a sweater indoors).
BUY USED CARS NOT HYBRIDS
What Wired says: The production of a hybrid car releases so much carbon that it is better to continue driving your old SUV.
Nobody should be making decisions about what car to buy based on carbon emissions. Instead, you should look for the mode of transportation with the highest level of sustainability. The vehicle that uses the least fossil fuel is the one that you should drive. Life cycle analysis of carbon only matters because hybrid vehicles are new enough that there are no used ones available. The sooner we get old gas guzzlers off the road, the better. If you buy a used vehicle now, or buy a new hybrid now and then sell it used down the road, I fail to see the difference in the long view.
The short-term minded approach to reducing carbon output ultimately results in a higher consumption rate of fossil fuels. Instead, you should look to acquire the vehicle that has the most sustainable energy consumption. If you take care of fuel consumption, the rest takes care of itself.
EMBRACE NUCLEAR POWER
What Wired says: Nuclear power emits no carbon.
Again, missing the point of sustainability versus carbon reduction. Until there is a solution of what to do with the nuclear waste, this is not a sustainable option - plain and simple. And as of right now, there is no solution.
The effort and expense that would go into building new power plants could instead be put into the development and production of truly renewable resources, like solar, wind, and wave power. Plus, last I heard, a wind farm never took out an entire region's population when it malfunctioned. I'm just saying.
I don't disagree with every assertion made by Wired. For example, I think intelligent use of forests, genetically engineering food supplies, and living in cities are all important steps towards a sustainable society (even though they got to these conclusions ass backwards). However, if Wired wasn't trying so hard to throw carbon reduction in the face of environmentalists to make a controversial magazine cover, they also would have made the point that riding a bike, buying used everything (not just cars), and being a vegetarian are also ways of reducing carbon out AND building a sustainable society.
But maybe the biggest step we can take as a society towards sustainability, carbon reduction, and reduced natural resource consumption?Stop publishing "green" magazine issues.