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Podcast 103 - Eco Poser Test

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Credit: Julia Winter

Paul and Jocelyn are here after a few weeks without podcasts. Paul’s been accumulating things he wants to put in a podcast, but he’s been too busy to sit down and make one. The web) empire continues to grow. It’s hard to decide whether to put energy into making new stuff, or promoting the stuff that he’s already made, like his hugelkultur article.

Somebody complained about him going on and on about CFLs, which is just one of many, many topics. Recently he’s gotten some good feedback on that, on top of all the greenwashing hate mail.

Common Sense. Paul rejects this term. The people who use the phrase often don’t seem to have common sense. Anyway, if it’s defined by being “common,” why is this something to be valued? Many times, people described as having no common sense are doing some deeper, more creative thinking.

Normal vs Abnormal. Sometimes abnormal is the better thing. For example, re-using items is not “normal,” but it’s far preferable even to recycling materials.

Agreement vs disagreement. If somebody agrees with Paul on 9900 things, but disagrees with one hundred, they tend to completely reject him as “crazy.” They can’t focus on the 9,900 things on which they agree. Jocelyn thinks maybe it’s part of the American culture to be less accepting of people for wacky or out-there ideas.

Reddit. Paul has been banned from 3 subreddits for “posting his own stuff.” They are unhappy that he is linking to his own stuff. Many forums have this sort of rule, banning self promotion. You could make a sockpuppet account and have them post links, that’s totally OK, apparently. But Paul can’t, for example, post a link to his hugelkultur article. (Ed: this would make more sense if the hugelkultur article were selling something.)

Podcasts and links (and Google). Paul started making podcasts when people begged him to do this. Those people were supposed to post links to these things on Reddit, instead of Paul posting links. He stopped posting links, and nobody picked up the slack. His traffic dropped by half. (Ed: you, dear reader, could still help with this, if you have a Reddit account.) There are people who are posting things, and they are helping, it’s just not as many as Paul was hoping for. The great thing about Reddit is that it’s a link aggregating site, showing people what’s cool on the internet. Just recently, somebody posted a link to his rocket mass heater article on Reddit, and he got 5000 views from that. Facebook has much lower click-through levels, more like one view per posting (on somebody’s wall). Right now, Paul’s lawn care article is in position 16 when you google “lawn care.” Those 15 in front of Paul’s article have likely employed “thousands of people in China” to make links to game the google search function, and so now when people look, they don’t see Paul’s article on the first page. You could help, by making your own blog, and linking to Paul’s stuff, to help his Google-fu.

Hugelkultur article. He wrote the article in 2005, and as of 2012, it has reached 64,000 people. Paul really thinks it needs to reach 50 million people. Here’s another way to help: you could post a link to the article to your local permaculture email list, or Meetup group.

The Age of Stupid: the movie. It’s a documentary that starts with the perspective that it's 2055 and humanity is nearly extinct. From there, they ask: didn’t people see this coming? Then they document actual craziness that is going on right now. But the average person hears that the environment is being destroyed, and they feel like since they’ve bought a cfl they’ve done their environmental thing for the day, they can get some pizza! Most of the movie is showing our modern reality, the construct helps the movie be more entertaining. There’s a family who are learning, and are making hard choices to make things better, but there’s another family who feel like they are helping, but they are actually making things worse! There’s a fight over a wind farm, where a rich lady whose second home would be near the proposed windmills fought the project, as an “environmentalist.” They said the windmills would be too noisy. Paul and Jocelyn actually tried to hear a windmill, but even though they got really close to one, they still couldn’t hear it over the noise of the cars on the road. There’s a terrible bit about Shell Oil in Africa, drilling for oil. They just burned all the natural gas they found, making massive clouds of black smoke that sickened locals. A village that protested was massacred.

Watching that movie inspired Paul to write his article about “Are you an eco-poser?” It’s gotten him a lot of hate mail. We do tend to think that if we’re participating in various greenwashing activities, that makes us “green.” He proposes that to decide whether someone is an environmentalist, you should simply look at their energy use. If you spend less than $1000 per year on electricity and gas ($83/month) then you are spending less than the average American and thus, you can call yourself an environmentalist. If not, you can’t! So there! Jocelyn points out that Paul’s test doesn’t take transportation energy use into account. It doesn’t take food sourcing into account. Paul counters that a truly accurate test would “fill a library” and would change daily. It’s just an eye-opening thought, to poke at those who think themselves green because they are now 20% more efficient than they were 3 years ago. Paul thinks that being an environmentalist is just being kind to your neighbors.

Back to the Hugelkultur article. Paul thinks this article has the best chance to really change the world. If he can get people to stop throwing away waste wood, stop hauling it away, stop burning it (in a pile, a rocket mass heater is something else, obviously), stop chipping it, that could really make a difference in the world.

“People keep telling me what I HAVE to do.” Folks don’t realize how many hundreds of people are all telling Paul what to do, and how the things they demand are in complete opposition to each other! Paul can’t even come close to getting his own stuff done, don’t try to add to it. Jocelyn says well, is this just the price of being a celebrity? The river of email that Paul gets is endless and entrapping. People want to get Paul to broadcast their stuff in his persuasive voice, via his empire and such. He can’t. There’s too much to do.

There are cool ideas about rocket mass heaters, that need to get done. There were 4 cool T-shirt designs that they came up with, but the guy making the t-shirts unilaterally decided that Paul’s investment needed to go from $200 to $1000. That was the end of that project.

Compact fluorescent lightbulbs. This is something that Paul feels he NEEDs to crusade on. It’s the quintessential example of greenwashing, that the thing people think is green is actually making things worse. Even Geoff Lawton told Paul to drop the topic, that it’s beneath him, but he feels like SOMEBODY needs to point out this hypocrisy. These things make people sick. Paul guesses that about a third of people have adverse reactions to them.

Paul shares a story about a guy who wrote a scathing letter to the editor about his CFL experiment. Paul was able to call him on the phone and in person, get his point across. The guy thought he was an environmentalist and was very offended that Paul was attacking these green things, but when presented with the facts, he came around.

Finally, there’s a discussion about podcasts and publicists and promotions. If you, dear reader, were to contact the hosts of a large audience podcast that might like to learn about something from Paul then he would have an opportunity to reach thousands of new people. Paul can’t do it, and he doesn’t have a publicist to do it.

Relevant Threads

Wheaton Eco Scale
Paul's Article on CFLs
Paul's Hugelkultur Article

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Yes! Yes! YES!!! FINALLY, someone else who understands- and is not afraid to point out-
the environmental disaster called 'CFL' bulbs! Thank you, Mr. Paul Wheton, sir!

The compact flourescent bulb issue is definately just one aspect of 'greenwashing', as mentioned.

It is perhaps an illustration of how easily the masses are led by marketing - or (promotional campaigns,
disinformation, etc. (Some would point out that the ease of manipulating the masses is why the USA was
not designed as a true democracy; the masses tend to devolve to 'mobs'. And mob rule is not pretty. But
that is another topic altogether.)

Then again, maybe it is not so off-topic, as the political influence of those who THINK they are standing up
for the environment can be devestating. To be fair, many of those people do care, and truly believe they
are 'right'. After all, they can SEE those windmills, but they cannot SEE the effects of environmental damage
caused by things like nuclear power plants (mine damage; radioactive fallout from accidents like Three Mile
Island or Chernobyl or Fukushima; the unresolved issue of what to do with the radio-active waste - [I recently
read that it was going to be used to help increase the shelf-life of food(!) ], just to touch on a few issues with
nuclear power plants). If the cause and effect is not almost immediate, too many people totally miss the

It can be a challenge in today's world to separate fact from... fiction. It requires an ability to think critically.
And to view 'information' in light of it's source.

Could it be that mercury exposure has already impaired people's ability to think?
(From fillings, from the air as a result of burning coal to produce electricity, from fish, and who knows what else:
Mercury migrating out of sheetrock made from gypsum recovered from coal stacks? From plastics where it may
be used to provide UV resistence? Or...? In addition to flourescent lights.)

Two benchmarks I find useful:
- How does this work in nature?
(But that requires that people not assume a 'man vs nature' attitude; or believe that man-made is better than
natural Ever notice how many people hesitate to eat real, natural food that their ancestors evolved consuming,
but think nothing of consuming chemical-laden foods? In some cases, just to make the food 'prettier'?? )

- Occam's/Ockham's Razor, technical corollary: 'All things being equal, the simplest technology - that will get the job done -
is usally best.' Not always, but ususally.
Lm McWilliams
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Location: USDA Zone 5
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On fear-mongering:

Isn't it a basic business/sales principle to either find or 'create' a NEED, and then fulfill
that need, for a fee, of course.

Fear mongering has already convince maaaaanny people that plastic cutting boards,
spoons, and other kitchen equipment is somehow safer than wood, (or glass, or metal-
all materials that have been safely used by humans for countless generations). Swiss
cheesmakers have used wooden utensils for 'ever', for instance. (And glass is made of
silica, and returns to sand, not to mention that it is easily reused or recycled simply
by melting and reforming.)

Plastics, on the other hand, are environmentally damaging at every step- from obtaining
the raw material
(petroleum), through manufacturing, and disposal. Burning plastics can be especially
harmful. And evidence is mounting that contact with food and beverages does expose
us to harmful components (whether they be plasticizers, UV stabilizers, or components
of the plastics themselves). Vinyls outgass toxins for the life of the material. Even
contact with plastics used in childrens' toys and playmats can expose them to substances
no human (or other creature) had ever been exposed to in the history of history, yet we
are to assume that such things are 'safe'.

'Alternatives', a health newsletter from Dr. David G. Williams, ran an article years ago
on a study of the bacteria growing on a plastic cutting board vs that found on a wooden
one. Guess which had the lower bacteria count?

Some psychologists have said that humans are more motivated to avoid something they
fear, than they are to seek what they believe will make them happy. Somehow I think
that the advertising & promotion departments of the giant mult-national corporations
know that.
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Ok, great opportunity for me to make a point I've thought of and mulled over for at least a couple years.

Jocelyn, around the one hour mark of this podcast... or just before or just after, makes the point that she doesn't think she could be an environmentalist because she still driving around a minivan that she's had 14 years.

My supposition would be that that alone may prove that she is in environmentalist. Here's the counter intuitive thought to that. Earlier in the podcast they were talking about not just recycling, but reusing. Keeping a vehicle going that has already been gone through and manufactured with all of the inputs of oil and energy and transportation and everything, I think could be much more environmentally friendly, than the energy inputs and cost in plastic and polymers and highly refined rare earth metals of manufacturing a brand new vehicle. Especially the energy efficient car that depends on more oil derived polymers, and rare earth metals, and other highly refined components.

So to say this simplified, a vehicle that all of the inputs have already been expended, will have a lower environmental impact than going through and recycling that vehicle with all of those energy inputs and manufacturing a new vehicle with all of those energy and environmental inputs and impacts.

I don't know if that will hold true for the vehicle that leaks a ton of oil, or that doesn't get better than 15 miles per gallon, but anything that doesn't leak oil and gets 18 or better miles per gallon. I think with stand up to the test.
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According to your calculations I am not Eco That is OK with me - in the course if the next year or so I will be, so I am working on it.

I do know though that the energy I am currently using to power up my house, corresponds to what an average person in Denmark uses just to drive to work. So the calculation is not as simple as that, as I am not currently working and my husband works from home. Even when I used to be specifically "not green", I used to drive a bike around Copenhagen, not to be green, just to get exercise and save money.
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