9 things that aren't helping the environment as much as you think they are, from recycling to carbon offsets
- Many people try to help the planet and address the climate crisis by recycling, cutting meat from their diets, and driving electric cars. But some of these efforts don't help the environment as much as you might think.
- Here are some common eco-friendly practices that aren't as effective as many people imagine.
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The increasingly dire nature of news about climate change makes many people want to take action.
July was the hottest month on record, contributing to record ice melt and unprecedented Arctic wildfires. Global warming is making extreme weather like Hurricane Dorian and this summer's European heat wave more likely. Human activity is also driving a sixth mass extinction, polluting the oceans, and deforesting the land.
To do their part in counteracting these trends, many people are trying to reduce their waste, cut down their meat consumption, and avoid high-emissions activities like flying. Some of these eco-friendly choices, however, don't have as big an impact as one might hope.
Here are nine things that probably aren't helping the environment as much as you think.
Both paper and plastic bags cause problems: Plastic bags can take 1,000 years to degrade, but paper production emits more carbon.
Straws make up less than 1% of the plastic we dump in the ocean. Banning them is a tiny step in a larger effort to curb plastic use, rather than a solution by itself.
Speaking of plastic, you're probably recycling it wrong, and experts say that's worse than not recycling at all.
What's more, recycling in general has halted in many parts of the US, since China and some other Asian countries stopped accepting waste shipments.
Carbon offsets allow big polluters or individuals to fund reforestation projects and other initiatives that reduce the atmosphere's carbon dioxide levels. But they don't always work, and some companies use them as a substitute for reducing emissions.
Corn- and soybean-based ethanol have been touted as more sustainable alternatives to petroleum fuel, but producing them still releases greenhouse gases. Plus, farmers often clear forest land to produce materials for these biofuels.
Items billed as "sustainable" or "natural" can make people think they're buying environmentally sound products or investing in eco-friendly companies. But those labels can be meaningless.
Airlines that advertise recyclable materials, carbon offsets, and biofuel use aren't making much of a dent in the environmental impacts of their planes, which amount to 2% of human greenhouse-gas emissions.
Meat production is responsible for 14.5% of human greenhouse-gas emissions, but eating fish instead may not always be better.
In most parts of the US, electric cars are not emissions-free. Often, they simply constitute a fuel switch from petroleum to coal.
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