Which environmental factors increase my blood pressure?
In a book on environment and health there should be at least one very personal account: what irritates me personally most in human behaviour or in the acts of the authorities. Undoubtedly everybody has his or her pet irritants, so I don’t expect all readers to agree with the views presented here.
The Finnish Association for Nature Conservation selects once a year The Most Useless Item of the Year. The choice for the year 2000 was the leaf blower. Indeed, the machine in front of your open window might be more tolerable, if it was powered by electricity. Now while “cleaning the environment” it violates almost every single rule of environmental and health protection. Many of these blowers are powered by two-stroke engines. The efficiency difference compared to a rake is at best minimal, and, in addition to emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants, also the noise output is intolerable. The combined dust cloud of exhaust gases and dust from soil contains enormous local concentrations of fine particulate matter. It is no wonder that many California cities have banned or greatly restricted their use, and some U.S. states have considered enacting laws to control leaf blowers.
It is not much better with the mini-tractors used to cut grass on small lawns. The efficiency and cutting area are sometimes not much greater than that of conventional lawn mowers. The user will lose an excellent possibility for exercise, and how ridiculous then to head off to golf course to shed the excess kilos, and pay for the privilege of having both. One could just as well build a household vacuum cleaner on four wheels and equipped with a seat and a steering wheel though perhaps then also husbands and even adolescent boys might happily participate in household tasks. Especially if the “power cleaner” was equipped with two-stroke motor and made a lot of noise.
In fact, all gasoline mowers are problematic because of their emissions. Due to their rather simple motors, their toxic emissions may be worse than those from a car. And as anyone knows who lives near to an enthusiastic lawn mover also their noise pollution is significant.
A new cause of irritation is the water scooters or one-man water craft buzzing on the lakes. Many of these also have a two-stroke engine, although cleaner and less noisy four-stroke engines have become more common. The people riding on these scooters obviously have no idea how far noise can travel along the water surface; one of these vehicles can totally destroy the peace of the whole lake. Often riding simply means riding back and forth, with no purpose other than some personal feeling of omnipotence (that may be deceptive, because the vehicles are dangerous, too).
Another example is a formula-one racing car which drives around the same tedious route again and again, simply returning to the start point hundreds of kilometres later. Their emissions are incredible, and since these races are huge spectator sports, they encourage others to produce emissions when they drive to the race track to see the race.
The fact that the railways in many countries have been allowed to deteriorate indicates that the brightest people do not seem to be concentrated in the government planning offices. Those concerned with the expenses implicit in Kyoto protocol should be reminded that road transportation of goods may produce 16 times more carbon dioxide emissions than transportation by train (depending on the way of producing electricity in a particular country). Road traffic also causes huge economic losses due to its health impact. One could argue that heavy traffic should not be allowed onto the roads at all if there is a railway alternative.
The most meaningful way to make both compete on a level playing ground is that the government should maintain roads and railways viewing them both as the general infrastructure of the country, and train companies and truck companies could then concentrate in organising the traffic. State-owned railway operators are usually very rigid, and the competition would benefit from devising some kind of integrated traffic planning, aiming at the most effective combination of railway and road transportation. It would also make sense for the same government agency to plan simultaneously the railway network and the road network to find optimal connections for each type of traffic and to encourage cooperation. Sometimes the planning offices seem more like competitors rather than functioning as civil servants charged with planning for the common good.
You should not go to a dump site if you have weak nerves. Everyone always seems to complain about a shortage of cash, but at the dumpsite it seems as if people have five times as many goods as they actually need. Many items that previously were viewed as family heirlooms handed down from generation to generation are now simply disposable. This is best seen in looking at the furniture disposed at the dumpsite. Clothes are another obvious example, being valued almost in the same way as disposable towels. When did you see any clothes that were repaired?
Restaurants have started to compete by increasing the size of their portions to the extent that no healthy person should go into a restaurant and eat that much food on a single sitting. This leads to huge leftovers that are wasted. This has been the situation for a long time in America; in Europe it was considered a bit rude and not very polite to take huge portions and then leave most of the food uneaten, but this seems to be changing in many places. So people complain about the rising cost of living but order more than they can eat.
There is obviously a bit of pomposity and snobbery in these attitudes. People want to show off. One of my relatives was selling small boxes of raspberries at a marketplace. A middle-aged male customer stopped and asked the price. He considered the price expensive, but the salesgirl exclaimed: “Yes, of course, but raspberries are not meant for the poor.” “OK, OK” said the man, “give me ten boxes.”
Child protection authorities should take a firm stand against special offers or giveaways connected to products sold to children. While bribery, blackmail and threats are considered sometimes the standard methods of child education, they may not be the best methods. This bears a resemblance to Nikolai Gogol’s stories of the old Russian habit of slipping a banknote between the official application forms to speed up its processing. Free gifts give rise to the delusion that something can be free. But there is no such thing as a free lunch; you pay for it, one way or another. This is especially true in environmental protection.
The destruction of the environment elevates my blood pressure especially if it is totally unnecessary – often based on vanity or laziness. We have to hope that the lessons of Easter Island will teach us something.
Notes and references
- See the chapter “Is it the final straw that breaks the camel’s back?”
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