High style, without all that carbon

Leslie Carlson

Today's New York Times features an article in the style section about the link between fashion and global warming. If you have an Old Navy or Target habit--that is, you buy your clothes cheap, wear them a few times and then discard them--you are contributing in a big way to global warming. You see, making those clothes requires a lot of energy, which means a lot of carbon is created in the process. Discarding them into the garbage (as opposed to recycling) means you just go out and buy more...creating more carbon, and speeding global warming's effects.

A recent report on the subject from Cambridge University suggested some interesting solutions like leasing clothes, buying high-quality items that can be worn longer. Here in Oregon, local designers have developed their own creative solution to the problem: making fashion out of reclaimed items.

I could go on for a long time about the innovative designers who are using discarded clothing and refashioning them into stylish clothes and accessories. Knot Ugly uses old sweaters in many of their hats and shirts (in addition to creating fabulous hand-crocheted wraps and sweaters from yarn). Shabby Knapsack (available at Saturday Market) cuts up men's suits, jackets and pants and sews these pieces into one-of-a-kind wrap skirts. Darbeka (available at Frock) often uses vintage material, old clothes and even cocktail napkins in their skirts. Eric Macleod uses men's neckties to great advantage in her belts, arm cuffs and skirts. Fairy Tale Fibers uses discarded Pendleton wool for their eye-catching (and warm) hats.

One of the best places to catch Oregon designers and their cutting-edge reclaimed fashions is at Crafty Wonderland, which is held every second Sunday in the basement of Portland's Doug Fir Lounge. Check it out--you might even be able to break that Target habit.


Comments

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    Leslie Carlson:

    If you have an Old Navy or Target habit--that is, you buy your clothes cheap, wear them a few times and then discard them--you are contributing in a big way to global warming. You see, making those clothes requires a lot of energy, which means a lot of carbon is created in the process. Discarding them into the garbage (as opposed to recycling) means you just go out and buy more...creating more carbon, and speeding global warming's effects.

    Bob T:

    Well, I'm the type that buys from lower-cost places, but I'm notorious for wearing my clothes until they're almost falling off (or one cvan read through the shirst at least).

    Bob Tiernan

  • jami (unverified)
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    interesting sites. i'll have to check them out at more length when i have time. treehugger also has some good stuff: http://www.treehugger.com/fashion_beauty/

    unfortunately, the unifying theme to these sustainable items is high price. i wear my clothes until they have plenty of holes in them ("wear them a few times and throw them out" is a straw man -- who does that?), but i still can't/won't pay over $20 for an item of clothing.

  • BlueNote (unverified)
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    I have leased a lot of cars in my life, but prior to reading this post I had not considered leasing my clothes.

    What do you suppose the monthly payment would be on a three year lease (with option to purchase) for a pair of 38" waist Fruit-of-the-Loom briefs?

  • Dan (unverified)
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    I tend to buy a lot of my clothes at Buffalo Exchange or Goodwill. It's pretty amazing the quality of clothing available at those places. I take them there when I need/want something new as well. So reusing clothes is another way to help reduce energy consumption.

    It's been my observation that the world is awash in clothes, thanks in part to cheap energy and cheap labor. For example, post-Katrina, aid organizations were buried in donated clothing and finally had to say "no mas."

  • spicey (unverified)
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    this article came across my desk today about the Compact. and, the idea of buying something new and throwing it out after a few wears. who does that? I mean, I'm sure people do, but wow... sad.

    <hr/>

    Excerpted from messages from Christian Patterson, Wolf and Moon Productions, public relations, Santa Cruz, CA:

    We have a new film coming out that deals with overconsumption and sustainability. It's called, "American Dream: A Search for Sanity in a World that Seems to Have Lost its Mind." We are trying to raise awareness, and also raise some finishing funds to get this film out to the nationwide public. Directed by Joel Christian McEwen, American Dream is a "documentary comedy." The website for the film is at: http://www.americandreamthemovie.com

    Traversing the country from the glitz of Las Vegas to the homes of everyday citizens, American Dream documents the journey of one man as he tries to make sense of a world that seems to have lost its mind. Including interviews with Danny Glover, Howard Zinn, Medea Benjamin, Ed Begley Jr., Vicki Robin, John DeGraff, Satish Kumar and others, "American Dream" helps shed light on our consumer culture, its causes and effects. We discover an America we never knew we were a part of. But by re-inventing consumerism, we could reclaim our fundamental freedom to choose the world in which we live.

    We are trying to do this film without corporate sponsorship. So far we have been completely funded by environmental/social change sponsors, and we would like to keep it that way. We are raising our last $90,000 to finish editing, and get it to market. The film will be released by the Visioneering group, who did "What the Bleep Do We Know," "The Real Dirt on Farmer John" and other theatrically-released films.

    Please spread the word about this film, link to our website, and consider making a donation. Several different sponsorship packages are available (http://www.americandreamthemovie.com/dontateb.html). Any help is greatly appreciated.

    E-mail: [email protected]

    and

    Excerpted from a 1/9/07 Associated Press article by Lisa Leff (forwarded by Kinley Deller), following up on a 2/21/06 posting about this):

    RESULTS ARE IN FROM THE SHOPPING SABBATICAL It began, as grand ideas often do, over a dinner. What would it be like, 10 environmentally-conscious friends in San Francisco wondered as they discussed the state of the planet, to go a year without buying anything new? Twelve months later, the results from their experiment in anti-consumption for 2006 are in: Staying 100 percent true to the goal proved both harder and easier than those who signed on expected.

    And while broken vacuum cleaners and malfunctioning cell phones posed challenges, some of the group's original members say the self-imposed shopping sabbatical was so liberating that they've resolved to do it for another year. "It started in a lighthearted way, but it is very serious," said John Perry, 42, a father of two who works for a Silicon Valley technology company. "It is about being aware of the excesses of consumer culture and the fact we are drawing down our resources and making people miserable around the world."

    The pledge they half-jokingly named the Compact, after the Mayflower pilgrims, spread to other cities through the Internet and an appearance on the "Today" show. As it turned out, the Compact was modest as far as economic boycotts go. Several cities in the United States and Europe have communities of "freegans," people whose contempt for consumerism is so complete they eat food foraged from dumpsters whenever possible, train-hop and sleep in abandoned buildings on principle.

    The San Francisco group, by contrast, exempted from their pledge purchases such as food, essential toiletries like toothpaste and shampoo, underwear and other items that fell under the categories of health and safety. But perhaps because its members included middle-class professionals who could afford to shop recreationally, their cause caught on. Nearly 3,000 people have joined a user group Perry set up on Yahoo so participants could swap goods and tips. Besides thrift stores and garage sales, participants found a wealth of free or previously-owned merchandise in online classifieds and sites where people post stuff they want to get rid of, such as http://www.freecycle.org

    After going through an initial period of retail withdrawal, discovering just how easy it was to score pretty much anything with a little time and effort was an eye-opener, according to participants. Rachel Kesel, 26, who works as a dog walker, said she was astonished by how often the items she needed simply materialized - the friend who offered a bicycle seat when hers was stolen, the Apple store employees who fixed her laptop at no cost. Similarly fortuitous timing happened often enough that group members came up with a name for it - "Compact Karma."

    The pledge provided unexpected dividends as well, such as the joy of getting reacquainted with the local library and paying down credit cards. Gone, too, was the hangover of buyer's remorse. Perry got satisfaction out of finding he had a knack for fixing things and how often manufacturers were willing to send replacement parts and manuals for products that had long since outlived their warranties.

    Over the holidays, Compact members gave homemade gifts or charitable donations in a recipient's name instead of engaging in the usual Grinch-making shopping crush. Kate Boyd, 45, a set designer and high school drama teacher, visited a new downtown shopping mall and felt like she had just stepped off a flying saucer. "It was all stuff that had nothing to do with me, yet for so many people that's how they spend their weekends," she said. "It's entertainment and it is the opposite of where I've been for a year."

    Now that they know they can do it, Boyd, Kesel and Perry are ready to extend the pledge into 2007. But first, they plan to give themselves a one-day reprieve to stock up on essentials - windshield wipers, bicycle brakes and tongue studs.

    <hr/>

    Link to an article about zero waste by Andi McDaniel in the January 2007 Conscious Choice magazine (forwarded by Jeff Gaisford):

    http://consciouschoice.com/2007/01/zerowaste0701.html

  • peter (unverified)
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    how could you forget homegrown, ~100% sustainable, and soon to be operating with a fairly radical (and awesome) business model, nau. they even have a blog. here's a great interview. and no, i am not a shill--i buy mostly used clothing--just a big fan of local companies pushing the envelope.

  • ws (unverified)
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    Wear your clothes until they're worn and full of holes. Why throw them out? That's when to some people, they become really cool in a fashion sense. Sell them to an Abercrombie customer.

  • TR (unverified)
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    So the well-to-do want those on the lower rungs of the snob ladder to buy more expensive clothing. The answer is simple. Have the legislature create a high quality and boutique clothing income tax write off or rebate so lower income people and families can afford to buy them, offset by increased income taxes on the wealthy.

  • (Show?)

    This is amazing!

    I knew that global warming and sustainability was all about controlling people's behavior, but I never dreamed that it would so quickly drill all the way down to shaming people for the clothes they wear!

  • (Show?)

    Um, Rob, the left doesn't have a monopoly on "shaming people for the clothes they wear." After all, righties certainly do plenty of that all the time...

    It's just that Leslie is talking about global warming -- while lots of righties are upset about white suburban kids appropriating gangster iconography in their clothes.

  • peter (unverified)
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    hey rob,

    it's called a free market. if you don't like the idea of sustainability in clothing production, go buy your troll costume somewhere else.

  • lin qiao (unverified)
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    Kremer: knew that global warming and sustainability was all about controlling people's behavior, but I never dreamed that it would so quickly drill all the way down to shaming people for the clothes they wear!

    Perhaps Mr. Kremer would explain precisely what it is about the original posting that "shamed" anyone. Actually all Ms. Carlson was commenting on was the cost of mass-produced clothing, were "cost" includes not just what you fork over at the cash register but also the costs (monetary and otherwise) of producing the fiber, transporting it, etc etc. Kind of sounded like a simplified (which is not to say simple-minded) bit of economic analysis.

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)
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    I go to hobnob at the City Club and other downtown business functions often wearing a classic navy blue blazer that I bought for $5 at a garage sale in Eastmoreland, gray wool or khaki pants bought at Value Village, a white Oxford button down shirt also bought at the Village, and a $125 tie that was given to me by my ex-wife, who purchased it in Santa Monica years ago from a vendor of locally made ties. Everybody just looks at the tie.

    Frankly, at City Club these days, I'm a bit overdressed.

    I didn't know that people threw clothes away, unless, of course, they got hit by a skunk spray or some other toxic element. I'm very thankful for the people who recycle their clothes through the charity thrift stores.

    I do like to support local producers of all sorts, but it would be nice if they made clothes I want to wear. I go through Saturday market seeing all sorts of goofy things to wear on one's head, but nobody their crafts a classic newsboy cap, which is worn by practically every third person in town.

  • ws (unverified)
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    This is really getting into old indymedia topic material (portlandindymedia seems to have been at last completely over-run by parochial minded propagandists). A greater sense of open-mindedness and receptivity to different viewpoints used to exist there that helped to create a more welcoming atmosphere for discussions including such things as how to lessen the burden of consumer consumption on the environment using some of the suggestions people commenting above have offered.

    I read some of the NYTimes article today. A particular culprit in question was the concept of some popular stores like Old Navy, Target, and a place called H&M, that want to sell some items super cheap, like $5, to draw customers and keep fashion trends moving, I suppose to generate demand for the higher priced stuff. Some people might throw out the $5 stuff after a few uses, but it doesn't sound like something that will become common practice.

    Retailers could probably care less if hundreds of thousands of $5 garments junk up the ozone and the landfills. Fundamentally, its all about the economy. Retailers need people to buy stuff. You wouldn't think they'd like people wearing and buying holey old hand me downs, but then maybe they understand that people's practice in that respect is what helped create the market for Abercrombies holey as new apparel offerings.

    Along that line, another great tip from old portlandindymedia contributors is dumpster diving. Now there's really a way to help out the environment. Seriously, you would be surprized to learn what your local merchants are tossing in the dumpster to preserve their market share. Foods suitable for human consumption aside, plenty of good unsold, serviceable scratch and dent department store stuff goes in there too. Just talk your local merchants into availing that stuff to energy consumption conscious friends and your carbon reduction program is up and away!

  • spicey (unverified)
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    just had an interesting thought where tech could come in handy vis used clothes. let's say you could say exactly what size, weight, length, etc. you are. let's say I'm a male B-42. All clothes could come with a chip (many do at this point anyway) which could tell the wearer - you're wearing a B-42. When the wearer gets tired of his B-42 clothes, he could announce to the appropriate website - I'm shedding 4 B-42 shirts, and 10 A-61 pants. Who wants them? Like freecycle, anyone who's a B-42 shirt wearer would suddenly be in line for a new wardrobe.

    Or, we could all make a b-line for the Black Rock Boutique every day at 11am at Burning Man, but not everyone goes to Burning Man...

  • Karl Smiley (unverified)
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    Hey Gil,

    There used to be a lot of people selling hand made apparel at Saturday Market. Now that there is so much cheap, slave labor stuff coming from overseas only the super unique stuff can compete.

  • Eric (unverified)
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    Maybe we should just let the government decide what clothes we can wear? It seems like that would be a lot easier, plus we can't trust average Joe to do the right thing anyway.

  • Nina (unverified)
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    i buy a lot of my clothing from goodwill. we have in our town a free thrift store for low income households that my spouse and visit--i've found some very high quality items for us. it's a very wonderful place and i wish all communities had such a store/service.

    many people who shop at places like target and old navy do so because that is what they can afford. this is in part an income issue. incomes have simply not kept up with the cost of living. while i would love to spend $100 on a good pair of shoes that will last me 10 plus years (like i once did), when you need shoes and only have a budget of $20, you do what you can. high quality and good-for-the-earth products (such as hybrid cars, alternative household cleaning products, hemp clothing, energy efficient light bulbs) are simply too costly for many of us.

  • lin qiao (unverified)
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    portlandindymedia seems to have been at last completely over-run by parochial minded propagandists

    At last? Nothing new. They've obviously been blocking my IP for more than a year because I had the insufferable gall to question their party line. Occasionally I try to post a comment but some old same old.

  • ws (unverified)
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    I love the thought of Gil Johnson or anyone schmoozing at the City Club in low buck threads without anyone being the wiser. Just one question Mr Johnson: Once again, how much did the tie your ex-wife gave you cost? In your comment, it looks like a pretty expensive tie. If that's the case, you're doing o.k. by the ex-wife! A hundred and twenty five dollars? Who would waste that much carbon for a tie? A tie! Had to be a buck and a quarter.

    Lin Qiao, I have more to say about portlandindymedia, but it's off topic, and if I didn't exercise a little self control, it would be off-color too.

  • TR (unverified)
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    Here is another thought, start by having all elected officials wear government supplied uniforms, similar in style to the ones Castro wears, but of course with one difference; Made in America whereby they can be obviously subsidized by taxpayer trolls.

  • Two Americas (unverified)
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    Big TORTILLA CRISIS in Ol' Mexico thanks to ethanol induced corn price frenzy. Yuppies can gloat while filling up the Toyota Pious while the Mexican underclass goes hungry.

    I've got an idea: skip one latte every day for a week and you can provide enough tortillas to feed a family of 6 for a month!

  • Too Bad, So Sad (unverified)
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    Good News! The President of Mexico has instituted price controls on the retail price of corn tortillas (set at US$0.35/pound). Roughly double the price from last year. No word on how long shortages will take to appear.

    Bad news: I found a math error which understated the current retail market price of tortillas in Mexico. NO matter...I've revised my math calculations and learned:

    Given current exchange rates and the price cap, your 7 days of latte donations ($3.20 per) are able to buy a family of 6 just 23 days worth of tortillas. Unless you're willing to chip in your bagel/cookie funds too: a donation of $35 (roughly the cost of a bagel & latte for a week!) will feed that family of six 35 days worth oftortillas!

  • lin qiao (unverified)
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    OK then, if Two Americas aka Too Bad So Sad is done with his silly blather about the Toyota Pious (sic) and lattes, perhaps he could explain how this relates to the topic of the thread, which had to do with, uh, threads.

  • Too Bad, So Sad (unverified)
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    Simple. Let me connect the dots.

    Well intentioned "green" energy policy is already causing great hardship and suffering. Increasing demand for ethanol will increase the price of virtually everything we eat. A war on cheap clothing would do little to improve the environment. Yet the impact on the world's poorest people (who derive great benefit from importing second hand clothing from developed nations) would be severe.

    It sounds so very easy to convert a portion of our fuel consumption to "domestic ethanol", but it doesn't solve the problem. If 2005's global production (11.9 billion gallons) of ethanol were imported by the U.S. in lieu of gasoline, it would last for 10.3 months. Sadly, the entire global production of ethanol is not for sale. If we managed to consume 1/4 of the world's ethanol production (as we do petroleum), it would only satisfy our gasoline needs for 2.6 months. If you assume this same volume of ethanol is blended with gasoline, it replaces 24% of our gasoline consumption. Which sounds great, unless you think about the unintended consequences.

    We use an almost unimaginable volume of petroleum in this country, and ethanol won't even begin to solve the problem. I haven't even discussed all the non-gasonline petroleum products.

    The price of all animal proteins and most cereal crops are increasing (many of them have already doubled). As more acreage is devoted to ethanol supply crops, the price of milk products, fruits and vegetables will also rise. Ethanol creates more problems than it will ever solve (it also adds to air/water pollution and increases the possibility of a "corn-famine" due to seed homogeneity.)

    If you're a latte-sipping Prius-driving Blue State liberal, you probably don't givashit if the Mexican underclass is going to bed hungry tonight. Because you're doing your part to save the environment, right? You drive a Prius and you support government subsidy of ethanol production.

    A war on cotton clothing is (at least) as whimsical as simply trying to use feed crops to meet our immense demand for gasoline. The war on cotton will have similarly unintended consequences.

    If you really want to be a friend of the earth (and her least advantaged humans), you ought to be strong supporters of nuclear power, natural gas, and clean coal modernization. I think conservation is a fine idea, but the ONLY THING that will MAKE most people conserve gasoline is higher prices and/or higher taxes.

  • lin qiao (unverified)
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    Thanks to Too Bad So Sad. Most of what you wrote is actually quite sensible. Government subsidy of ethanol-from-corn is stupid, just another massive farm subsidy and spectacularly stupid from the energy-conservation perspective. I also happen to think that there is a good case to be made for nuclear energy from a purely technical point of view. The thing that led to a dead end for nuclear energy in the US 25'ish years ago was not, IMHO, the technical issues but rather the lies and deceptions about safety perpetrated by the industry in collusion with Uncle Sam, along with the lack of political will to deal with the nuclear-waste-disposal problem. If I ever see any sign that those problems have been fixed, I will become an enthusiastic supporter of nuclear energy.

    Too bad you spoiled your commentary with this insulting verbiage:

    If you're a latte-sipping Prius-driving Blue State liberal, you probably don't givashit if the Mexican underclass is going to bed hungry tonight. Because you're doing your part to save the environment, right? You drive a Prius and you support government subsidy of ethanol production.

    Aside from the superior tone, implying that you care deeply about the Mexican underclass but the rest of us ignorant jerks don't, don't we have a wee logical problem? The driver of a Prius is buying the same gasoline that every other driver is buying.

  • lin qiao (unverified)
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    Oh, and by the way, I don't sip lattes because I'm allergic to coffee.

  • So sad, my lad (unverified)
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    Dear silly blathering grean tea sipping Prius driving Blue State liberals:

    Of course the Prius drivers are buying the SAME GASOLINE. That's my point: they act as if they're saving the world driving an econobox, when (in fact), they are still burning fossil fuels blended with ethanol.

    Ironically, many of them think nothing of jetting to Hawaii or Tuscson when they go on vacation. How many of you bothered to testisfy on Randy Leonard's biofuel mandate? How many sent him an email detailing the harmful effects of corn based ethanol. I did.

    Also: the last government mandated "clean air" fuel additive was called MBTE and it was an unmitigated environmental and public health disaster. The "M" in MBTE stands for Methanol, the evil twin brother of ethanol.

    I do enjoy your posts, Lin Qiao, even if you do call me "silly blathering"...No hard feelings and enjoy the sunshine!

  • So sad, My bad (unverified)
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    Whoops! Green Tea (not "grean"). Ufff-dah.

    Time to go fire up the 7 passenger SUV for a trip to the American Cathedral (Costco) to buy some cheap clothes.

  • lin qiao (unverified)
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    Dear Too Bad So Sad My Lad:

    Actually I prefer black tea, but it's gotta be good stuff, my favorite English brand :-)

    The driver of a Prius (cannot say I am one) is driving a car that applies the clever scheme of using braking action to charge the storage batteries. Basically a flywheel mechanism (someone with more of an engineering bent can correct this if it's wrong). My gasoline-powered vehicle and your biofuel-powered vehicle both dissipate as heat the energy that could be used to charge storage batteries.

    I just wish you'd quit spoiling your good points with snarky comments about THOSE PEOPLE OTHER THAN YOURSELF, those self-indulgent jerks, who "don't givashit if the Mexican underclass is going to bed hungry tonight" and who "think nothing of jetting to Hawaii or Tuscson when they go on vacation." You're trying to set up a dichotomy between your self-defined superior ethical sense and the deluded ethics of THOSE OTHER PEOPLE. From a purely tactical perspective, I've never known this approach to influence people; mainly it just angers them. From the broader perspective, we all have our own delusions to deal with.

  • ws (unverified)
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    Consumption is the relationship that clothing, fuel, and other products associated with human activity have that bears negatively on the ecosystem.

    The NYTimes article cited was specifically concerned with loss-priced minimum use clothing designed to boost sales of non-essential clothing. The specific clothing design wasn't the problem per se, but rather, the objective behind it, increased consumption that could have a negative effect on ecosystem health.

    I've read other people's arguments(at least I think they were others')accompanied with calculations that seem to persuasively make the point that methanol, ethanol, vegetable oil, electric cars, etc., are no antidote for the threat to the earth represented by human activity.

    Even before the industrial age, humans always have always done things that, applied on today's scale, would have been harmful to the earth and its ecosystem; burning, deforesting, mining, irrigating come to mind.

    It doesn't matter what kind of whiz-bang grean technology anybody comes up with to accomodate human needs, if it requires more from the earth's ecosystem than that system is capable of providing, we have a problem.

  • phlegmbotohmy (unverified)
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    ws:

    I think we can agree that population growth is at the heart of the problem. China's "Planned Birth" (aka "one-child") policy (while effective) is not transerable to our culture. Plus it is unlikely to pass muster with the courts. Infanticide would be intolerable to the Evangelical/Conservatives, but I'm confident that Planned Parenthood and NARAL would be willing to try.

    Perhaps we could persuade Congress to rescind the tax benefits of having children, or even provide tax incentives for sterilization surgery (since so many preganancies are unplanned.

    People need food, clothing, shelter, employment, and transportation: it all takes energy.

    Conservation and responsible consumption are only part of the solution. The Prius is an ingenious LITTLE car that doesn't meet the needs of large families or people who can't afford one.

    Lin Qiao: thank you for your thoughtful dismissiveness. You correctly noted that I am not trying to influence, merely inform.

    Too bad/So sad.

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