Thursday, April 30, 2009

We count calories. Why not carbon? Golightly's opinion in The Christian Science Monitor

It's been on my mind for several months. On every store shelf, in every product, I now see energy and imagine over-sized atomic models spinning about the store. Hey look, there goes oxygen! Cool! Check out the carbon in those bananas!

It's not frightening. It's perplexing. Why do we pretend that the daily product market is devoid of energy? Is it because physicists and engineers of energy don't go shopping? Do they leave their ideas at work? I find that hard to believe, I always have stuff simmering on the back burners of my brain.

I tossed my thoughts over to The Christian Science Monitor. They caught them and published them online, "We count calories. Why not carbon?" This article will appear in print on May 3rd.

Please read this and perhaps you'll start to see these giant atomic models in layman's terms and realize we have to slow down and overhaul the information flow between manufacturers and consumers. Wait! We need an infrastructure for this information exchange because manufactures are not sharing.

When points like mine are raised, many people find them overwhelming. Well, some things in life are just that, overwhelming. My point is certainly one of them.

We have become an impatient culture and become annoyed and find a hundred reasons not do something that might make a healthy difference when we cannot have results on demand. We bark at our PC/Macs when they don't load fast enough! I often see adults pitching fits of impatience made for a toddler.

My answer? Recognize that we need to mend our ways for a healthier world and, in the least get on the road of continual improvement. It's a long road but someone has to walk it.

Why would anyone have a problem with consumer carbon education given the current energy crisis?

What about Global Warming? Don't tell me Global Warming is all in my head. Someone hand me a fan! I'm getting warm and no it's not menopause quite yet. Ladies, remember when we were told hot flashes where in our heads?

Until the debate that will be raised is settled and the fits of impatience are tossed, I can write with certainty that if you wish to do right by the planet in your shopping carbon footprint, get thee to a thrift store where we reduce the flow of items to landfills and reuse and recycle perfectly fine products.

Looks like money is not the only thing we need to be thrifty about.


Anonymous said...

I applaud your effort to be "right" for you and your world view.

I don't actually look at the calories on the box when I buy items, but I am 6' and 180lbs. I am blessed with my grandmother's metabolism, and I can't say that I care about calories since I don't "eat too much."

My position on carbon use is that you are going to use carbon. You can be judicious in your use, but there is no "right" or "wrong" way to live (in and of itself).

Vegetarians argue that they have a lower carbon footprint due to not supporting "meat farms" where animals "pollute" the air with "emissions." At the same time, scientists tell us that vegetarians might have more "emissions" since they are digesting more plant material...

There are way too many "unknowns" for us to accurately state what our carbon footprint is at the present time. We can guess, but it is no more than a SWAG--scientific wild ___ guess.

I would suggest everyone have more empathy. We should teach it in schools. Why? We would be able to set aside our "feelings" and understand other people and their positions. It has been shown that empathy reduces violence and increases understanding.

Whether the "anger" is over a bully or over "save the environment," I don't thing it says anything about us when "the sides" (and I don't count myself on either side...) sit there and "argue" back and forth--it just seems like the generation of a lot of hot air...

My fear is that any "carbon footprint number" would become as well understood, and used as often, as "calories" when it appears on a box. Basically, I think most people (not on a diet or not having a medical condition) avoid looking at the "nutritional label." Similarly, I am afraid that the only people who would be looking at the "carbon footprint number" would be those who are already concerned about the issue.

How much more carbon does it take to print the carbon footprint information (and determine that number)? Perhaps empathy would help everyone understand why it is important in a manner that would not set off a backlash.

Good luck.


Anonymous said...

If people applied your suggested carbon comparrison to vehicles, hybrids in particular, I think a lot of eyes would go shockingly wide. As the driver of a mid-sized SUV, I'm often irritated by the "pious Prius driver." If they understood the importance of the vehicle's entire carbon footprint - design/production/use/disposal - sales of these goofy little cars would almost vanish. The "cost" of my Jeep to the planet, over its whole lifespan, is about a third of that of a Prius.

Alan said...

Well written and you raised some good points. Congrats!

Tzvi said...

Your attitude is deeply anti-human. We exhale carbon -dioxide, ergo we humans, without doing a thing, are polluters. Killing the planet, melting the ice, etc. Perhaps we should all kill ourselves, to save the planet? would that make you happy? Or maybe just kill everyone in china, since no matter what we do, it wont have an iota of impact because they don't want to follow suit. Perhaps that's the noble, environmental thing to do.

Or, we don't we try to be sensible instead of demonizing the basic element of all life on earth, carbon. Don't be wasteful and don't be an utterly ridiculous fanatic.

Shopping Golightly said...

Counsel, as a mother, I couldn't agree more, this with empathy needs to go to the schools, pronto!

I used the FDA as merely an example. But, when you need that information, like when I was pregnant and needed that added protein, it was an excellent resource.

Wenchypoo, I'm almost used the vinegar and water example opposed to "Greenlist TM" Windex. ;-) And, there was a paragraph on the Prius that had to be cut for length.

TZVI, I think you missed the point. I understand carbon is a natural element. CO2 is a natural gas. We are organic beings. The basic definition of organic is "made of carbon." The problem is we've made too much of it and it is out of balance. We can control our factory emissions of it. I don't believe Americans should commit mass suicide nor should we knock off China.

There is no doubt this is a huge question. But, I believe it worthy of an answer. In the meanwhile, thrift and live simple.

Y's Kindermusik said...

I am on a spectrum and continue to find ways to live more simply...

I for one would appreciate the information. I'd like to make better choices and imagine that I'm not the only one who, while rushing around doing errands, doesn't pause long enough to see even 6 months into the future of the item we "need".

Shopping Golightly said...

Y's Kindermuzik,

You raise a great point. We are all on at different places on a spectrum and if we can all agree to move in a healthy direction, the world will be a better place.

I grow tired of this mentality when a person raises a point like mine that this is something that must happen tomorrow! Obviously, it cannot happen tomorrow and so, with our new impatient nature, we are like small children and we throw it down and stomp on it.

I would like to know the carbon cost of what I'm buying. It would make a big difference in my spending.

The road to continual improvement is a long one. But it would be nice is Americans could agree to at least walk on it.

Anonymous said...

The thing that concerns me about this carbon counting stuff is the question, "who gets to say what the appropriate number should be?" How much carbon should be in the atmosphere?" How much should be locked up in a landfill?" What is the ecologically sensitive amount for the production of a box of Wheeties? etc. This type of question is value laden and seems to me to be wholly philosophic. The scary thing is that I can see a future where some authority dictates for us individuals the ecologically correct answers. Industry is on the brink of this command and control precipice. I would not be surprised if our individual freedoms are sacrificed in the name of our new Green Idol.

Shopping Golightly said...


I understand your concerns. However, I'm not demanding consumer carbon regulation, I'm asking for reporting from manufacturers so that consumers can make educated choices.

I sincerely doubt we will ever come to have the entire world worship a Green Idol. Yet, even if we did, I think it beats the tar out of a selfish Monetary Idol.

Piper Foster said...

The Sopris Foundation, which I direct, published a wallet-sized reference guide that gives the carbon footprint of everyday activities and products: taking a shower, eating a banana, a cup of coffee.

We launched the card in February, and are keen to distribute it!
Help us! Or download a copy for yourself:
Look for the card under "Projects"

Jennifer said...

Though I'm almost 100% opposed to cap-and-trade, carbon footprint propaganda, thrift should not be a politicized issue. It is almost a psychological issue, if you look at it hard enough. When will we begin to value ourselves, our time, our relationships, our faith instead of material goods...whatever they are. Break the consumerist mindset, and the rest will follow.

Shopping Golightly said...


It’s not a matter of politicizing thrift, it’s a matter of getting the word out that thrift stores are options to American consumers. The average American would not even consider thrift because they are locked in an “If it’s not new, it’s eww” mentality. Shopping thrift is more energy efficient than shopping new, better on the pocket book, reduces landfills and – when done with a charitable organization – provides funds that go directly to repurposing lives.

I am endeared to your comment about Goodwill. I love it.

Anonymous said...

Someone has to say this.

"Anonymous" on May 1st had some comments I consider uninformed:

Supposition #1:
"The thing that concerns me about this carbon counting stuff is the question, "who gets to say what the appropriate number should be? How much carbon should be in the atmosphere?"

Informed Response #1:

*Who* says it is not important so long as it's agreed and adhered to, like any other informed, scientifically-based agreement between countries, states, people whatever. As for how much carbon should be in the atmosphere? Qualitative answer - less, whatever preserves the quality of life our recent forebears enjoyed. Quantitative answer? How about keeping in mind where our CO2 PPM started around the industrial revolution as compared to now and thinking about some sustainable value in between, instead of a lot greater.

Supposition #2:

"How much should be locked up in a landfill?"
Informed Response #3:
Carbon is not stored in a landfill.

Supposition #3:
"What is the ecologically sensitive amount for the production of a box of Wheeties? etc. This type of question is value laden and seems to me to be wholly philosophic."
Informed Response #3:
Carbon costs for goods are not value laden, so long as standards that specify HOW similar goods are to be compared with each other. For example, Duracell and Energizer batteries, 12 cents apiece, whatever. If the per unit cost of one is 20 units carbon badness versus 5 for the other, that helps even you make an informed decision, driving competition because sales drop like a rock for one. It's called "incentive", and it tends to work in a capitalist economy. Thrifted items have almost ZERO carbon cost and represent a great alternative for the conscientious shopper.

Supposition #4:
"The scary thing is that I can see a future where some authority dictates for us individuals the ecologically correct answers."Informed Response #4:
OK. The FDA does not "dictate" what goes into food, it merely levels the playing field by saying that nutrition information is a good thing to stick on your label. Looking out for the consumer is far from being PC or Big Brother. It's common sense, and in this case, of infinitesimal cost to any producer.

Supposition #5:
Industry is on the brink of this command and control precipice. I would not be surprised if our individual freedoms are sacrificed in the name of our new Green Idol".Informed Response #5:
There are people who make problems and people who solve problems. Sometimes we are both. "Sacrificing individual freedoms" and "industry on the brink" have no causal relationship to the simple notions of accountability and ensuring a level playing field.

I salute the Thrifty Chicks for going beyond absolutely cool stuff about thrifting - and exploring how good ecology can supplement good economy (and philanthropy).

Carol from Savvy4 said...

Congratulations! I have just nominated your wonderful site for a "One Lovely Blog Award". I really enjoy reading your great articles!

Lily said...


My name is Lily Alexander and I'm a reporter for Montgomery Blair High School's newspaper, Silver Chips (Silver Spring, MD). I'm writing an article about the increase in popularity of "thrifting," and I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions regarding this subject and about your love of thrifting?


Lily Alexander

Anonymous said...

I love it when people see things my way, which is why I loved your article!
Every month I go to two different book clubs, and every time, unless I'm hosting, the host uses paper plates, plastic disposable cups, and plastic knives and forks, all of which are in the trash before we leave.
Haven't these people ever heard of land fills? Global warming? Thrown away plastic that will exist when our great great great grandchildren are walking the earth? (Probably stepping carefully around our piles of trash!)
It drives me crazy to use a rather substantial plastic fork once and then toss it away, so that it will rest for eternity in a dump.
These are my friends who are wonderful people, and I don't want to insult them by suggesting that paper and plastic are not a great idea, so I remain quietly amazed that creating all this trash doesn't faze them in the least. I keep thinking, "Don't you have a set of china behind those cabinet doors?"
Of course they do, these people have had at least one wedding, so they probably have both a "good" and an "everyday" set of china on hand, but the convenience of throwing things away after use wins.
I realize that the alternative will require running the dishwasher, but that seems much more reasonable than creating piles of junk to fill the earth.
Okay, I've gotten that off my chest, I'm ready to talk about all of the containers that we buy and throw away, like the cereal box in your article. But, I'll save that for next time.
Thanks for listening and thanks for sharing your thoughtful article.