Introducing Slate's environmental advice column.

Illuminating answers to environmental questions.
Sept. 25 2007 5:33 PM

Raise the Green Lantern

Introducing Slate's environmental advice column.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker. Click image to expand.

Slate is pleased to launch "The Green Lantern," a weekly Q&A about climate change, pollution, and whatever other environmental bogeymen are robbing you of sleep. The column kicks off in earnest next Tuesday, with a primer on how to identify the greenest airlines—or, at the very least, the carriers that are starting to realize they can't stand pat on emissions. But before we get down to the nitty-gritty, please indulge The Lantern as he offers up a mission statement.

Given the glut of earnest save-the-planet advice, it's all too tempting to declare apathy and embrace our broiling, smog-choked future. One's eyes tend to glaze over after hearing the phrase "carbon footprint" for the umpteenth time, amid the eternal bickering over what's truly green and what's just feel-good pap. For every Ph.D. touting, say, sugar-cane ethanol as a silver bullet, there's another who stoutly believes the solution is bunk; both experts, of course, can marshal copious, mind-numbing statistics to prove their respective points.


Rest assured, however, The Lantern isn't here to add to your frustration by endlessly touting Energy Star appliances or by becoming irrationally exuberant over organic cheese doodles and solar-powered laptops. The aim of this column is to bluntly assess what can realistically be done to protect the environment—and, perhaps more importantly, what cannot.

So, expect plenty of hard-core number crunching as The Lantern fields whatever vexing questions come his way. Are you hastening the apocalypse by flying budget airlines? Is it better to go vegetarian or stick with eating pigs, albeit ones that were slaughtered within a 10-mile radius? Should you feel guilty about preferring NASCAR over tennis? Does hiring a firm to plant trees in Zambia justify your addiction to air conditioning? And can you really become part of the solution by gassing up on Willie Nelson's biofuel?

The Lantern shall strive to answer all of the above in the coming weeks and months while hewing to three main tenets of green guruism:

Skepticism, not pessimism. As polar bears and residents of Linfen, China, can attest, the environment is in such dire shape that even drastic action might not set things right. This is particularly true when it comes to global warming, which can seem hopelessly irreversible, barring a sudden decision by mankind to abandon modern civilization. In The Weather Makers, for example, biologist Tim Flannery states that even if we reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 70 percent over the next three decades—a tall order—we're still in for a massive temperature spike by 2100.

So, should we just gorge on Hummer limousines and Styrofoam packing peanuts while we can and hope that someone develops a workaround over the next century? Heavens, no. For starters, the assumption that technological wizardry can save us strikes The Lantern as hubristic; just because mankind has in the past devised clever methods for improving agricultural yield and finding oil doesn't guarantee that we'll also eventually figure out a way to stave off environmental catastrophe. More importantly, while making eco-friendly personal decisions may not yield many perceptible benefits right now, it's the long term that counts. Any campaign worth pursuing can take decades to bear fruit, but it has to start somewhere. Imagine if 19th-century crusaders against child labor had given up after a year or two, convinced that economic growth would halt if 8-year-olds were forced to give up iron smelting.



The World’s Politest Protesters

The Occupy Central demonstrators are courteous. That’s actually what makes them so dangerous.

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The Feds Have Declared War on Encryption—and the New Privacy Measures From Apple and Google

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You

It spreads slowly.

These “Dark” Lego Masterpieces Are Delightful and Evocative


Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.


Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Activists Are Trying to Save an Iranian Woman Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

  News & Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?