13, 1999 10:13 AM
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
of Concerned Scientists
Michael Brower 978-749-9591
Paul Fain 202-332-0900
Impact on Environment Ranked for First Time: New Book Helps People Distinguish
Meaningful Choices from Trivial
- April 13 - A new book takes the first comprehensive look at the full range of
consumer activities to identify which cause the least and most environmental damage.
The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices shows that only a few
consumer activities--primarily our use of cars and trucks, consumption of meat,
and choice of homes and appliances--are responsible for the vast majority of consumer-related
"Some consumer decisions, like whether to choose paper or plastic grocery bags,
are insignificant," said Dr. Warren Leon, Deputy Director at the Union of Concerned
Scientists and co-author of the book. "Our book shows people how to focus on those
environmental choices that make the biggest difference."
UCS developed an economic model to analyze the impact of household spending on
the most significant consumer-related environmental problems: air pollution, water
pollution, alteration of natural habitats, and global warming. After grouping
134 consumer spending choices into 50 categories (like furnishings, clothing,
computers), the authors discovered that most environmental degradation is linked
to just seven categories: cars; meat; produce and grains; household appliances
and lighting; home heating and cooling; home construction; and household water
and sewage. Cars and light trucks (including minivans and pickups) cause the most
environmental damage overall, and are responsible for nearly half of the toxic
air pollution and more than one-quarter of the greenhouse gases traceable to household
"Driving less and buying a cleaner car are the best things people can do for the
environment," said co-author Dr. Michael Brower, a physicist and expert on energy
and environmental issues. "Because cars cause so much harm, even modest changes
Food is second only to transportation as a source of consumer-related environmental
problems. Red meat causes especially high amounts of environmental damage for
the nutrition it delivers. According to the book, cutting the average household's
meat consumption (both red meat and poultry) in half would reduce food-related
land use and common water pollution by 30 and 24 percent, respectively.
"Replacing beef with grains and produce, or even chicken, can significantly improve
the environment," said Brower. "People can also help the environment by buying
Some consumer activities that are highly damaging--like lawn pesticides, snowmobiles,
large powerboats, and fireplaces--did not make the "dirty seven" because they
account for very small shares of total consumer spending. Consumers should either
avoid using these items or take precautions. On the other hand, UCS suggests that
people stop worrying about choices, like cloth versus disposable diapers, that
involve alternatives whose differences are insignificant.
"The book sweeps away confusion over what matters and doesn't matter for the environment,"
said Leon. "No one should feel guilty about modest use of such things as spray
cans, paper napkins, and polystyrene cups."
To help inform consumers about everyday decisions, UCS today launched The Great
Green Web Game at www.ucsusa.org. The game moves players through an animated board
as they face consumer choices that affect the environment. In addition, UCS is
teaming up with Stonyfield Farm Yogurt on a campaign to reinvigorate consumer
action to protect the Earth. The yogurt-maker is drawing attention to the UCS
book and game on 8 million yogurt lids that hit stores nationwide in mid-April
UCS's Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices is published by Three
Rivers Press, a division of Crown Publishers.
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