Let's start out easy. How about a big, dumb, obvious, forehead-slapper of an of-course-you-already-knew, shall we?
1) Let's start with, say, tanning beds. Turns out they cause cancer like a mofo. I mean, as bad as arsenic. As mustard gas. Smoking. Chimney sweeping. The Jonas Brothers. I mean, obviously.
Like you didn't already know. Like you thought it was all healthy fun and games to strip yourself naked and lay on a bed of giant blue light bulbs and have ultraviolet rays blasted into every inch of your skin for hours per week and think, yeah, this can't be all bad, can it? What with my skin turning a bizarre shade of orange and that weird tingling in my brainstem and my genitalia melting like bubblegum in the sun? Like it's not the transdermal equivalent of placing my mouth over the tailpipe of a Chevy Tahoe and gunning the engine? Mmm, stupid.
2) You are green to the core. Organic everything, grey water, solar, Prius, compost your nail clippings and your urine and your condoms, the works. You have a child, maybe two. You are considering having a third, or maybe even a fourth or fifth. You say you care about reducing your carbon footprint? You say you care deeply about your impact on the ecosphere? You might be lying.
Because of course, deep down, you know that you can compost and recycle your eco-friendly butt off for your entire life and still never come close to matching the reduction in carbon footprint you would gift the planet simply by not having that additional child. It's a rather harsh way to look at it, I admit, but there it is. But of course, personal responsibility has its thresholds, right?
3) Oh, but wait. Maybe overpopulation isn't really the most pressing problem after all. Relatively speaking, the U.S. does pretty well in managing birth rates, especially compared to explosive developing nations like China and India, so horribly strained for resources and with such staggering proportions of extreme poverty.
Maybe the real problem is rich Westerners sucking up far, far more than their fair share of, well, just about everything. Did you know 50 percent of all toxic emissions come from just seven percent of the world population? I bet you did. Upshot: Maybe the real solution is a nice combo of the two. Not having too many kids, and buying less stuff you don't actually need. Radical! Or not.
4) One large study has dared come forth to claim that organic food is really no better for you than "regular" food, implying that the organic thing is all a big sham, a multibillion-dollar lie, that the giant, watery, flavorless Safeway tomato doused in chemicals and gene-spliced goodness is really no worse for you than that fragrant, delicious, organic heirloom from Rainbow Grocery, or that the chem-blasted asparagus shipped in from Mexico in November has the same nutritional value as the organic goodness you should be getting in April from the local farm.
Is it tempting to believe? Not in the slightest. For one thing, going organic is only partially about basic, keep-you-alive nutrients. It's just as much about the various toxins, chemicals, refined sugars and hormones slapped all over corporate foodstuffs in general; not to mention the brutal, earth-stabbing, industrial manufacturing and farming practices that go into most crappy mainstream foods.
In other words, yes, in terms of basic nutritional values, maybe some organic foods are no better for you than their "normal" industrial-produced equivalents. Unless you count the viscious environmental impact. And the chemicals. And the cancer. And the death. Otherwise, same.
5) Dammit. Wait a second. It also turns out that "USDA Certified Organic" label is just all sorts of mealy BS, too, and can't really be trusted. Turns out the USDA has been so pressured by various industrial food titans to loosen the definition of "organic," that the label has been rendered, if not meaningless, then more watered down than that same Safeway tomato. Are the USDA's standards still a huge improvement over what came before? Hell yes. But they're far from ideal.
Solution: Learn to read the ingredients yourself. Figure it out. Understand what you eat, and where it really comes from. It's not really very difficult. Or, pretend that it is, that it's too weird and you don't have the time to care and it's just too complicated. You are probably lying. But that's OK.
6) 7) 8) The late infomercial pitchman Billy Mays' OxiClean powdered miracle cleaner? Really just sodium percarbonate. A standard chemical you can buy in bulk right now at your local swimming pool supply shop. Whitening toothpaste? Just regular toothpaste with extra grit. Red Bull? Massive shot of caffeine and a megadose of sugar combined with whatever they can squeeze out of the pituitary gland of dead rats. I might be wrong about the rats. But maybe not.
Oh, and if you buy high-end, thousand-dollar "audiophile-grade" cables to hook up your home theater system? You have achieved true greatness. As a total sucker.
9) Wal-Mart is, apparently, hankering to launch a big initiative to stamp every product it sells with an eco-friendly rating label, some sort of grand, awareness-raising system to inform all Earth-conscious Wal-Mart customers -- I know, I know: oxymoron -- where every product falls on the you-are-destroying-the-planet scale. It's a rather wonderful idea that could radically transform the company's entire supply chain for the better.
Except for one thing: Wal-Mart has no plans to slap a giant label on its own bloated megastores themselves, no plans to reveal the enormous waste and destruction Wal-Mart itself embodies merely by existing, by shipping a million products over from sweatshops in China and Malaysia and India. Nor does it plan to offer a Smiley-Face Local Economy Decimation rating to all those countless small towns it's swooped into and gutted. But hey! That giant tub of HFCS-blasted caramel corn? Not all that bad for the planet. Yay!
10) We could totally do light rail in the United States. We could totally invest in this massive, culture-altering project like it was the next man on the moon and within 20 years have this ridiculously cool, lighting-fast, super-efficient Euro-style train network connecting most major urban hubs like we were Italy and France and Japan and Disneyland all rolled into one, but with better drinks and free Wi-Fi and superlative in-seat movies like they do on Virgin.
We could totally do it. But 50+ years of Big Auto PR bulls--t has slyly convinced us all we really can't, that no one wants it, that big dumb America loves its big dumb open-road freedom far too much, that car culture is so embedded in our road-trippin' nostalgia-thick psyches it can never be extricated.
Of course, Big Auto is full of crap, is now begging for table scraps, handouts, oxygen. Who we thought we were, who we thought we had to be has essentially been a giant lie all along. Didn't you already suspect as much?