Fall’s mold or sage’s bloom, or the Idaho forest fires’ smoke — hay fever season — has my sinuses in a vise grip, forcing drainage to full flow. So I wonder, as always, as every autumn it thunders into my skull on massive buffalo hooves like clockwork, like the springtime turkey buzzards’ return to Bluff — I wonder: is it more environmentally appreciative to toss soiled tissues into the toilet, or into the trash? (Of course I know well enough not to use what we generically call Kleenex — I learned a hundred years ago, not so much because of ungreen superfluous packaging, but the equally allergenic, oily, cheesy perfume, the same that leaves your unclean seeing glasses even filmier and foggier than before.) A conundrum, it seems, identical to the check-out lady’s old question, “Paper or plastic?” There are arguments for, but mostly against, either. A neither/nor proposition in the end, yet it begs a bring-your-own-washable-cotton-bag solution. As we reach paralysis (on many levels), do we traipse backward to employ what has been derided a ‘snot rag’? Yeck! we think. Why so enamored of the antiseptic? (Not just any kind of bag, mind you, but “washable” cotton for your groceries — doesn’t that sully the water, too?) Save up for a mini weenie roast bonfire? What are the front-end costs of compostable? You do have to include environmental accounting — what does it do to the “good bacteria”? Head spinning even worse I consult the title which, indeed, laughs out loud: How Bad Are Bananas? Its subheading: The Carbon footprint of Everything. For instance, bananas themselves:
“are good for just about everyone — athletes, people with high blood pressure, everyday cycle commuters in search of an energy top-up, or anyone wishing to chalk up their five servings of fruit and vegetables per day…They are grown in natural sunlight — no hot-housing required. They keep well, so although they are grown thousands of miles from the end consumer, they are transported by boats (about 1 percent as bad as flying). There is hardly any packaging, if any, because they provide their own…”
But, it continues, “Don’t let me leave you with the impression that bananas are too good to be true…Of the 300 types in existence, almost all those we eat are of the single, cloned ‘Cavendish’ variety. The adoption of this monoculture in pursuit of maximum, cheapest yields has been criticized for degrading the land and requiring the liberal use of pesticide and fungicide. Furthermore, although land is dramatically better used for bananas than beef in terms of nutrition per acre, there are still parts of the world in which forests are being cleared for banana plantations.” As I intimated, it’s a jungle out here! The truth in accounting goes on to say that the only really bad bananas are any that you let rot in your fruit bowl, joining “the scandalous 40 to 50 percent of food wasted in the U.S.” I cringe, sheepishly run to pulse up a smoothie. The book breaks down most other fruits, too, and vegetables, according to their “co2e” (carbon dioxide equivalent, which includes methane, nitrous oxide and refrigerant gases, all generally lumped into the warming, or weirding, culprit called “greenhouse”). Other categories up and down the spectrum include: A war, Driving one mile, A new car, Doing the dishes, A heart bypass operation, Christmas excess — tell me about it — and,
0.3 g co2e a spam email
4 g co2e a proper email
50 g co2e an email with long and tiresome attachment that you have to read
> A typical year of incoming mail adds up to 135 kg (300 lbs.)
co2e: over 1 percent of the 10-ton lifestyle and equivalent to driving 200 miles in an average car.
I knew there was a reason I eschew it, email, to my and everyone else’s detriment, they say. But the actual detriment comes because I don’t really eschew it, truly. I dabble in it, putting my own particular screw to the world. A virtual cad who knows next to nothing about CAD, much less BIM, but an athletic supporter in a cheerleading fashion, leading people on, mysteriously vacating a questionable broadband-aided self for weeks, even months at a time. Then coming back to turn it in a little deeper.
I do freak about a misplaced iPhone, but secretly I loathe it just the same. Ehlias, my son, Skyped the other day (verbs these days, to Skype, to FedEx) from Aix-en-Provence, and recounted an exasperating, initiation-type gerbil wheel against which he’d been recently running madly. He couldn’t buy a cell phone until he provided a bank account, couldn’t open a bank account until he had a semi-permanent residence, and he couldn’t find a semi-permanent residence until an agency might know him well enough to trust him, stemming from French law, skewed, not surprisingly, to the favor of lessees. Not exactly sympathetic, as unfortunately can be my wont, I spewed a version of back in the day having to walk five miles to school through inconceivably deep (remember warming, weirding?) snow; I reminded him that for several years while he was growing up (in a Banana Republic, as it were) we didn’t have even what we now call a land line, relying instead upon the local cantina’s connection to news about four kilometers south in Matapalo, named for the ubiquitous vine (there in the un-virtual jungle) that chokes trees to death. I suppose, however, it’s all relative. As I said, I freak when I don’t feel the wireless umbilical buzzing my front right pocket, or when it has died and I’m lacking the hard-wire umbilical to plug into the grid!
So, I pick up the Sunday New York Times, which from distraction and personality I stretch throughout the week. Someone I once hung out with pointed out the potential fact that relationship compatibility could possibly depend upon the order in which you read its sections, adding fuel to the argument that opposites attract. It should shock no one that found at the bottom of my pile is the front page. Addlepated, maybe, but I’d be dumbfounded further to learn that anyone other than a wonk reads the first things first, and even he would seek out what used to be called The Week in Review, or Op/Ed, which now have been combined. Getting to the front page, lead article: Power, Pollution and the Internet, Industry Wastes Vast Amounts of Electricity, Belying Image. Seems the Times has conducted a yearlong examination. It begins with an amusing anecdote about back in the day, Moore’s Law style, early 2006, when Facebook’s 2400 square foot bank of servers were about to melt from overheating and the engineering chief “cleaned out all of the Walgreens in the area” of their fans as solution. Today the company requires outsize versions of that facility, spreading over hundreds of thousands of square feet, and those are a “mere fraction of the tens of thousands of data centers” using “about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants.” Piling on, “McKinsey & Company analyzed energy use by data centers and found that, on average, they were using only 6 percent to 12 percent of the electricity powering their servers to perform computations.” Ten years ago the most data-intensive customer had about 50,000 gigabytes in its entire database; now roughly a million gigabytes are processed and stored in a data center during the creation of a single 3-D animated movie. “Sending a message with photographs to a neighbor could involve a trip through hundreds or thousands of miles of Internet conduits and multiple data centers before the e-mail arrives across the street.” Talk about perspective. I had thought that computerizing everything was supposed to save energy and resources, you know, the old paperless promise, saving trees (should we de- or re-jungle?). There are other ways, sure, but I feel a little bit sang and danced. And the cloud? The cloud, according to a source, “just changes where the applications are running. It all goes to a data center somewhere.” The cloud is disk drives. What’s driving this massive growth is “the end-user expectation of anything, anytime, anywhere.” We have seen the enemy and he is us. Earlier: “player statistics flowing into servers that calculate fantasy points and league rankings, snapshots from nearly forgotten vacations kept forever in storage devices. It is only when the repetitions of those and similar transactions are added up that they start to become impressive.” Impressive, check that: I have seen the enemy and he is me.
I threw the tissue in the toilet, thinking that one, like I said, it wasn’t the fancy, lacy-traced, smelly stuff from out of an extra chipboard box, but toilet paper, not super squeezy, but not that cheap, loud, waxy kind you find in squat or National Forest facilities, either, more the Goldilocks type; and two, that water’s bound to be flushed sooner or later with more pressing concerns, hence, I can walk away from the two-point shot and follow through, conscience clean. Is that any way to spin it, though? It’s a least bad, weaselly option at best, I’m afraid. Gunking it up down the toilet over here, Boss. What if it were a privately-owned septic? The utter arrogance of my action, albeit decisive, reminded me of a recent piece published in another paper, the Salt Lake Tribune — no, not about him, not necessarily — that nearly made me drop and hug that same commode. Arguing about a move to disallow homeowners to retain ambiance by legally declaring their neighborhood an historic district in the wake of tear-downs and the ensuing erection of starter castles, Salt Lake City Council Chairman Soren Simonsen (an architect), said “that the 51 percent approval is measured only by the ballots returned to the city. That, he maintained, makes the threshold lower and the historic district designation easier to attain because disinterested homeowners most likely won’t participate.” Terrific. Banking on disinterest; policy by ambivalence. As if this current election doesn’t really matter perhaps because of the omnipresent Washington partisan gridlock, or because this state’s already been painted a deep, deep red, or because it’s only part of an election cycle.
Winter, at least, gives me temporary reprieve to at last wrest the white, or the black, or even the black and white from unending gray phlegm.