I am starting to wonder if there is more than one environment. There is the environment that surrounds us, the natural world, which is the environment I thought I was working to protect. Is this the only environment? Is there another environment we should consider? Maybe, yes. There are different guidelines and entirely different groups deciding what is “green”.
There was a link the other day on MSN about the winner of the 2010 Green Car of the Year. The award went to the Audi A3 TDI. Cool car. I am sure it is very fun to drive. But, will I put it on my wish list? At 30K, the A3 is not in our family budget, but that is not the only reason I would not want to own the new A3. It is great that the A3 is so fuel efficient and is powered by a clean diesel engine. But those aren’t the only important criteria to consider when determining whether a car is good for the environment. Can a car be green if it limits its pollution outside the car, but offgases toxins inside the car?
The website HealthyStuff.org offers a wealth of information about the toxins in everyday products. They have a car category on their site that breaks down the chemicals that pollute the environment of our car’s interiors. You know that new car smell. That is the smell of your car offgasing toxins inside of you car. So, just because the A3’s exhaust is cleaner doesn’t mean that the air you breathe inside the A3 is also cleaner. In fact, it is probably not. The 2010 Audi A3 has not been tested yet, and the list mostly includes 2006 and newer car models only, but based on the other Audis and the VW siblings, I can guess that the A3’s interior is pretty toxic.
The 2009 Green Car of the Year was the VW Jetta TDI. Regrettably, it was also awarded a spot on the “Ten Worst Picks” list for toxins. The only car in the VW/Audi family to be ranked with a “low level of concern” is the VW Routan, which is actually a Chrysler. It would take more than both hands to count the number of VWs and Audis that are owned or have been owned by my immediate family. I am very disturbed by this information since I know that EU standards limiting the use of toxic substances are stricter than those in the US. I have always assumed that by choosing a European product that I was making a “safer” choice. Maybe there are different standards for VWs or Audis that stay in Germany than for those that are exported to the U.S. This is sometimes true with other products as I learned in, Exposed, by Mark Schapiro. Exposed is a great book. There is also a great interview with Mark Schaprio on NPR (another blog, another day for that tangent….)
There is a similar crevasse of environmental awareness with cell phones. I just got an email from our roadside assistance company, Better World Club, about CREDO Mobile. This was not my first introduction to CREDO, but it did encourage me to visit their website again. And again, I ended up frustrated. CREDO is very unique because they actually do a lot of good with their profits. They donate to and lobby for great environmental and social causes. So, why don’t they offer safer phones?
A safer cell phone is one that has a lower Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), which identifies how much radiation emitted from cell phone is absorbed by the body. Environmental Working Group (EWG) lists a database on their website with the ranking of current, and many discontinued cell phones, by their SAR levels. I think that this database is so important that I donated to the campaign to support it.
So, why does nearly every service provider offer a phone that has a lower SAR than the phones CREDO offers? This is another area where the US is lagging behind the EU and other developed countries. The number of countries that are banning children’s use of cell phones is increasing. There is a lot of new research emerging about how cell phones, and cell towers adversely affect our bodies.
We have changed our cell phone habits since I discovered the EWG database. We really work to limit Henrik’s exposure and we use the speaker phone ourselves as much as possible. We also turn our phones off when they are not in use. Our phones have a very high SAR, which is why I have been researching phones and plans from CREDO. I first started looking at my cell phone a little differently a couple years ago after hearing an interview with Dr. Devra Davis on NPR.
Dr. Davis is packed with information about the chemical cocktail that is now ubiquitous in our daily lives. I got her first book, When Smoke Ran Like Water, from the library and I was glued to it. Her second book, The Secret History of the War on Cancer, wasn’t available yet at the library so I moved on to Exposed and Nena Baker’s book, The Body Toxic. I was on such a roll with environmental health books and I was tired of waiting for the library to order Dr. Davis’ book so I did.
I think I had reached a critical mass of overwhelming information by the time I started The Secret History of the War on Cancer because it is the first book on environmental health that I have had to put down. It is oozing with information about toxins, testing and politics. Dr. Davis included a lot of information that is not covered in other books and she is really the most vocal person calling for more caution when it comes to cell phone use. The research is trickling in and I feel that the Precautionary Principle should be considered when it comes to cell phone use and cell tower installation. If you are interested in finding out how close you live to a cell tower or antennae you can plug in your address to AntennaSearch.com and see a map of your neighborhood.
We are currently on a car search to replace our ailing Volvos. The A3 isn’t on our list, but we had strongly considered a Jetta. It is too bad the Jetta’s interior is so toxic. I can only hope the interiors of my two previous Jettas were less toxic. I have already researched our current cell phone provider, Consumer Cellular. They do offer a great plan for basic cell phone service, but they don’t offer a phone that is enough better than our current phone to warrant the switch. So, I am also on a cell phone/service provider search. I would really like to support CREDO because they in turn support others who are doing good environmental work, but they need to offer a phone that is safer for me and those around me. They should also offer a more basic plan for those of us who are not eternally affixed to our phones.
Being green should not be determined by such a limited set of parameters that would celebrate protecting one “environment” while simultaneously polluting another “environment”. It is really all one environment. If you produce a green product, it should be green all around. Thank you to the researchers working in the field of environmental health and to the authors who are bringing the research to the public.