How Not to Be an Eco-Hypocrite

Photos: 7 Supposedly 'Green' Celebs and Their Eco-Mistakes Chris Hondros / Getty Images

When it comes to my tree-hugging acquaintances and ecofriendly neighbors, I am considered an eco-dinosaur. Why? Because I do heinous things like eat meat, own a car, and, gallingly, refuse to feel guilty about them. I also don't tut-tut disapprovingly at "that co-worker" who prints out every e-mail. And I definitely don't burst into tears every time somebody pulls out plastic utensils or sips bottled water.

This is why some people think I heart BP, when the reality is that reality is somewhere in the middle. I take public transportation, recycle plastic bags, and use CFL bulbs. I do worry about polar bears and global warming, and toxic messes, but I don't use my concerns to push people into doing what's "right." The simple reason: I don't want to be an eco-hypocrite. If you think you don't know what that means, trust me, you do.

I'm talking about the type of people (I mean you, Laurie David) who never waste an opportunity to tell the rest of us how the world is going to hell thanks to inappropriately disposed batteries and energy-sucking light bulbs, while often breaking eco-rules themselves. They do that because it's impossible not to break the rules, given that some of the things that hurt the environment most are ones we all depend on. Don't believe me? Check out a few examples of things we—eco-hypocrites included—should do if we really want to help this planet.

Get Rid of Trash

Ridding a city of waste is not as farfetched as it sounds. San Francisco has already vowed to go waste-free by 2020, and has set up one of the most aggressive recycling programs in the nation. It may seem like a hippie pipe dream, but all properties are required to recycle and compost. That's right, the entire city does not throw away food scraps, soiled paper, or plants—more than 62,000 tons since the program began in 2009. Recology San Francisco, the city's waste-management department, will even pick up large items and clothes. For other places that could use some help going green, offers a tool kit to help each community identify local priorities and develop a plan.

Stop Driving

I know, it sounds drastic, but so does destroying the earth. Americans and their cars emit more carbon dioxide than the entire economy of any other nation except China, and U.S. auto driving gobbles seven out of every 10 barrels of oil we consume. "The U.S. is the owner of the world's largest transportation system, and reducing emissions from this system is critical to an effective GHG reduction strategy," says Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Cities such as San Diego, New York, and Boston are already promoting a low-car diet. Instead of reflexively hopping into the car, people are encouraged to take buses or trolleys, get on a bike, or just walk. New York has built miles of new bike lanes, while San Diego and Boston are pushing people to give up their cars altogether and use Zipcar services when a car is necessary. Sure, we should continue to buy all the fancy reusable bags we want, but if we don't work on our transportation issues, we're just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Watch Your Water

This means more than turning off the sink when you're brushing your teeth. While water is (for the most part) plentiful in the U.S., that's not the case everywhere in the world. Unpolluted fresh water is a finite resource and is increasingly in demand as the human population grows. Right now, the world's supply is being drained faster than nature can replenish it, and the U.N. predicts that demand will exceed supply by at least 30 percent in 2040. Along with the environment, this is already affecting food supplies. Want more information on what's being done and how you can help? Organizations like the World Water Council are a good place to start.

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Push for Cleaner Skies

According to a USA Today article, on a flight from New York to Denver a commercial jet generates from "840 to 1,660 pounds of carbon dioxide per passenger. That's about what an SUV generates in a month." Should we all stop flying? Not necessarily. One solution that's been offered by the Union of Concerned Scientists, an organization dedicated to halting carbon emissions, is the use of bio jet fuel. "It's time to get this industry back on track by launching a program to produce the first billion gallons of clean, cellulosic biofuels," says Jeremy Martin, senior scientist with the UCS's Clean Vehicles Program. "Done right, cellulosic biofuels could curb America's oil dependence, reduce carbon pollution, and generate new economic opportunities across rural America." The Federal Aviation Administration sees some value in this and is working with the commercial airline industry to develop appropriate feed stocks that can be efficiently processed into jet fuel.

Buy Less

We have too much stuff. If you want numbers to prove it, here they are. According to the National Organization of Professional Organizers (yes, that's real), Americans spend more than a year of their lives looking for lost items buried in their piles of things. We also chuck about 25 percent of our groceries. As it is, the World Wildlife Federation's "Living Planet 2010" report states that "even with UN projections for modest population growth, consumption and climate change, by 2030 humanity will need the capacity of two Earths to absorb CO2 waste and keep up with natural resource consumption." No one expects you to stop buying altogether, but start buying less. Depending on the country, you can participate in events like Buy Nothing Day.