Are Green Homes and Hybrid Vehicles the next Low Fat Diets?
As I understand it, the reason all the focus on low fat has caused problems is that people mistakenly believed that low fat meant low calorie and that one could eat a lot more of a low fat item without gaining weight. Many failed to realize that low fat often means high sugar/high calorie and that a low fat diet does not necessarily equate to a low calorie diet. For this reason, those choosing to eat low fat foods in large quantities were not achieving their ultimate goals. The level of consumption remained key: just as it does when we talk about the size of home we consume or the size of vehicle we choose to drive....It seems that many people think if they buy a green home, they can go a lot bigger without the guilt and similarly if they buy a hybrid, they needed worry about their vehicle emissions. In my opinion these lines of thought ignore the environmental calorie content of these purchases and only focus on one isolated aspect-the fat!
Based on comments I hear and questions people ask me, I really think we have the "low fat" problem in other areas of our lives when trying to reduce our environmental impacts/protect the environment. As was the case with those who bought into the low fat eating program, I think lot of people don't realize that they need to look behind what is being labelled as green and consider the issue a bit more carefully. Here are two examples:
1. The "Green" home: Green homes can include
a variety of environmental features and come in all shapes and sizes....the
latter fact being the one that may push a home into the "low fat
diet" category. I have to ask myself: how green can a home really be
if it is too large? I wonder (but don't know) how the comparison would
work regarding the impacts from a 2000 square foot "normal" house vs.
a 6000 square foot "green"home. Would there be much
difference? I wonder when considering the larger homes, how much greater
is the impact on the environment of having used so many more materials,
transporting those materials to the site, needing so much more energy to heat
the home on an ongoing basis, etc. I have never been a fan of trophy
houses and am appalled at how big some homes are getting especially when
considering what must be significantly increased impacts. This is an
important question for me right now as we are trying to decide whether
to squeeze two babies, a nanny, a home business, etc into our current 2000
square foot home or to move to something bigger. One of our options is a
home that I love but it is 5000 square feet-clearly much too large in my
opinion. Fortunately we may be able to make it work from an environmental
perspective by renting out the bottom floor so that there will be room for all
of us upstairs and the excessive space below can be utilized by others.
2.The hybrid vehicle: I currently drive a low emission vehicle but am in the process of buying (waiting to buy since none are in stock in Vancouver) a hybrid vehicle. I would like to buy the Prius because it has the lowest emissions and that is the whole reason for the purchase. Unfortunately, there is no way to fit two babies and a twin stroller in the Prius-the double strollers are very large and the Prius trunk very small. While I was prepared to leave my chocolate lab at home more than I would like, I really can't be buying a car that is too small for the babies! So I have been comparing the alternatives and in the process, complaining to people about the fact that while Toyota has a mini van hybrid in Japan, they will not bring one here for me even if I pay the cost. The usual response I get is "well why don't you buy the Highlander-it has room and it is hybrid" and there it is-the point at which the hybrid becomes the low fat alternative. A Highlander is a hybrid-but in my opinion does not achieve the environmental dietary goals that I am aiming for. It is, relative to the Prius and some other vehicles, a high emission vehicle in my humble opinion. It may have lower emissions than a comparable SUV-but if it is still significantly higher than many other vehicles on the road, then it is not the environmental product that I am looking to purchase. The Ford Escape is another good example; before they were released in Canada, I wanted one. I then learned that the emissions would still be quite high as initially the Escape Hybrid was only available in four-wheel drive. Fortunately it is now available in the same body style but two wheel drive and with emissions ratings comparable to the Toyota Camry hybrid....it still isn't a Prius but it seems to be the next best thing and maybe the only option for people with more than one child and a double stroller!.
Just as with the low fat diet, overconsumption kills-if the quantity consumed is not controlled then the goal may not be reached whether we are talking about food eaten, size of house lived in or size or vehicle driven....so in addition to getting the fat out of our homes and cars, if we really want to help the environment, maybe we also need to look at the overall calorie count to determine our enviro impacts!