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Sustainability: The Inconvenient Truth About Idolizing Green Celebs

In case you hadn't noticed, celebrities have focused a lot of attention on the environment lately. Fans and critics alike are still talking about Live Earth, and the Discovery Channel just announced a new Planet Green network to launch in 2008 with programming produced by Leonardo DiCaprio. Not to mention all the Hollywood A-listers who act as unofficial spokespeople for the Prius. Ostensibly, all this media attention has galvanized all us regular folk to do more to help the environment.

However, it's one thing to say you care about the effect you have on the environment and quite another to actually change what you do in everyday life. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau from 2005, 77 percent of Americans drive to work alone every day. Less than 5 percent take public transportation, a statistic that has changed little since 2000. Of the 10.7 percent who carpool, over three quarters ride with only one other person.

That adds up to a lot of miles, a lot of gas and a lot of excess carbon emissions. I can't say I remember any celebrities talking about driving less or driving to work with their costars instead of alone. I guess carpooling just isn't as trendy as owning a hybrid. (For those who read my post last week, I really don't have anything against hybrids. I just don't think they're the end-all answer to all our environmental problems.)

Some interesting facts from the Census: 13 percent of Boston residents walk to work, compared to 2.5 percent nationally. Then again, who would want to drive in Boston? Also, Portland, Ore. has seven times the number of bicycle commuters as the rest of the country (3.5 percent versus 0.4 percent).

I suppose it's possible Americans may have changed their driving habits slightly since 2005, but a Harris poll conducted last month shows nearly a quarter still do not recycle anything in their homes. Moreover, those aged 18-30, the people one would assume are paying the most attention to celebrities' environmental rants, are the least likely to recycle. Not surprisingly, individuals on the East and West Coasts recycle most, with those in the Midwest and South falling a bit behind the national average.

What surprised me is that almost half of Americans don't recycle glass bottles. How is that more difficult than metal cans or plastic (which fares only slightly better)? Overall, people said the biggest obstacle to recycling is it's not available in their area, especially a problem in the South. Perhaps they just don't know where to go - Earth 911 has a search on their site to find recycling centers in your area for everything from glass bottles to motor oil.

I'm embarrassed to learn that 26 percent of people on the East Coast don't recycle because it takes too much effort. Then again, there are recycling bins right in my building for metal cans, glass, plastic and paper. I've never recycled some of the other items Harris asked about, like electronics and batteries.

How do you get to work? If you drive alone, what prevents you from carpooling or taking public transportation? What kinds of things do you recycle? What is recycling like in your community?

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  • Drew

    I live in Cincinnati. I do utilize public transit because it is a pain. Our system requires you to take most buses downtown to a central station and then take another route from that station to get where you need to go.

    I will say that my commute to work is about 2 miles so I just sold my car and purchased a scooter (got to love 90 miles to the gallon).

    If we want people to use public transit it has to be easy. I hear that Cincinnati is very close to approving a streetcar system downtown (see Portland, OR as example). Fore more information about Cincinnati's streetcar efforts visit

    Hopefully the Midwest will catch up with the coasts!

  • Ric

    I live in an area just outside Jackson, MS where there is no place to drop off old televisions and computers and the charity places don't want them. A place is made available to drop off used paint and cans of other chemicals that shouldn't go to a landfill only once a year so most people just hide these items in their garbage. There are neither sidewalks nor bike paths in most areas so walking can be a bit dicey. Building codes don't require new buildings to use modern insulating materials like isynene instead of inefficient spun glass. And the lack of a deposit on all containers leaves little incentive to recycle them.

    Legislation could require deposits on containers, electronic devices and other items that shouldn't go in landfills. Any new property development and buildings should have to provide walking areas and meet much more stringent energy efficiency standards.

    Public transportation must expand anyway as the population ages and a great number of geezers become unable to drive.

    These are just a start. Otherwise, we'll have to settle for jumping up and down to "save the planet."

  • Stephen Downes

    I fail to see the point of this post.

    If it is to suggest that many Americans do not yet take global warming seriously, yes, we knew that.

    This does not discredit those who are campaigning against global warming, however. Even the slightest look will show that these are the people who are car-pooling, biking, and using public transit.

    A post arguing that American politicians should support public transit or make cities bicycle and pedestrian friendly would have been on point, but that was perhaps too much for the author.

    Regarding the celebrities:

    > I can't say I remember any celebrities talking about driving less or driving to work with their costars instead of alone.

    When is the last time you actually looked at how celebrities travel? My guess is that you're just making stuff up.

    Celebrities *never* travel alone. They have an entourage - they have drivers and press agents and wardrobe assistants and bodyguards and more.

    Finally - even if celebrities traveled alone - this does not discredit their message. The earth is still warming, whether or not celebrities travel alone. We need to reduce carbon emissions, whether or not celebrities travel alone.

    How celebrities travel is *irrelevant* to whether or not what they say is true.

    Which is why I say, I fail to see the point of this post.