Recently I’ve been trying to do my bit in order to help the environment, but if I’m being completely honest, sometimes it feels practically impossible. It reminds me of trying to unravel an incredibly tangled ball of yarn, one that contains multiple strands of thread, each representing a different aspect. Things such as animal welfare, carbon emissions, water usage, human rights, protection of the environment.
In an ideal world all of these things would interlink neatly, each working together in harmony to create the most minimal amount of impact. However, at the moment that feels like an impossible task. It seems like every action that has a positive impact in one area has a negative area in another one just to balance it out. For example, do the environmental and animal welfare benefits of cutting milk from your diet outweigh the different environmental and social impacts with some of the current vegan alternatives?
In my attempts to do better for the environment I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the amount of information, misinformation, and contradicting evidence that’s out there. It’s easy to see why someone with zero agricultural knowledge could easily be taken in by some of PETA’s lies (trust me, shearing sheep does not kill the and most farmers wouldn’t do it if they didn’t have to for the welfare of the animal as it costs more to do it than you make from the wool).
However something that sounds excellent in practice may not actually be so good after all. Take organic farming, it sounds excellent in practice, no pesticides, no chemicals, overall a much healthier approach. Plus that very expensive price tag helps encourage consumers that it’s better. The only downside? It takes up a lot more water and land for a much smaller yield, and in a world that’s currently struggling to feed a population that’s only getting larger the efficiency of agricultural land is key.
It’s the same with electric cars. If your electric cars have been shipped 3000 miles and is powered by electric that has been produced from the burning of fossil fuels are you really reducing your your environmental impact by any significant amount? And those renewable energy sources? They often have a downside as well.
Solar panels aren’t all that efficient, and how are they dealt with at the end of their useful life? Can they be recycled or do they just go to landfill? And what about the batteries used to store the power? Where are the chemicals used in those stored from? Dams for hydroelectric power have huge environmental and human impacts, disrupting ecosystems and causing species to struggle, or even risk extinction. It’s the same with wind turbines, they can disrupt wildlife and human activity. Although some would argue that the latter isn’t actually a problem.
It’s easy to see how trying to be environmentally friendly suddenly becomes a minefield. It feels like no matter what you do you’re going to cause harm somewhere else. And it certainly doesn’t help that big corporations would rather profit from consumers trying to be more eco-friendly than try and find actual solutions, especially if solutions would cause any kind of marginal drop in profits.
It’s not to say we shouldn’t try and be more green, we all should. And we should put pressure on corporations and government to change their practices. But the best we can do right now is work out our own way of being green, and which issues we care about the most, and not shame others who make slightly different choices.