Profoundly important issues are raised in An Inconvenient Truth. These issues cover a range of things from the great to the minute, from the direct to the indirect, from the obvious to the surprising. And each large or small, direct or indirect, familiar or new issue revolves around the personal, individual choices we make.
Al Gore’s (former Vice President of the United States) new movie An Inconvenient Truth tells the story of the effects on the planet, Earth, of the industrial and military (even medical) progress of mankind. It is a story that takes a dramatic turn about 150 years earlier and a radically profound turn about sixty years earlier than today. The direct importance of this story is visually summed up in An Inconvenient Truth in the data charts and pictures of Greenland melting, of the North Pole melting and of Antarctica melting. The indirect importance of this story is summed up in the way indoor air in your house smells, oddly enough.
Al Gore offers very specific means through which every single individual – financially secure or poor, healthy or ill – can make a contribution to the the planet, Earth, that will help change the ending of the story. The story is a suspense thriller and, at the moment, we’re at the part where it looks like the evil villains are going to win. The story is a love story and, at the moment, we’re at the part where it looks like truth and love and right will be vanquished and the love story will crumble into the sea. The means to change the ending of this story rests in daily choices, in minutia, in what might be thought of, by some, as irrelevancies.
Al Gore shows statistically and graphically how these choices in minutia, which effect both the direct and the indirect threads of the story, are not irrelevancies, but, rather, are critical to the story’s desirable ending. These are little choices of how you use electricity, of the light bulbs you buy, of planting trees (“lots of trees”). These are big choices of driving hybrid cars, buying (demanding) alternate fuels, buying energy efficient appliances, putting better insulation around your homes (which causes a potential danger to rear its head, doesn’t it). These are public choices of making your opinions and desires known at local, state and national government centers, asking for green sources of energy from your power company, supporting the Kyoto protocols, and recycling (which is a bit of a sticky wicket, though, isn’t it).
Recycling is a fundamentally necessary part of attaining a desirable ending in this suspense thriller and love story. And recycling is one of the things that makes the indirect thread of the importance of your home’s (and office’s) indoor air problematic. Recycling doesn’t rightly exist without what is called a closed loop: The returned and reclaimed used up goods must be turned into a usable end product. The end product must also be safe to use. Without going into a science lesson, when papers are recycled, very often the chemicals used in making original paper and inks, when mixed with the surfactants and bleaches necessary in the recycling process, combine to produce dioxin, which is a dangerous toxin in the same category as DDT and endrin. Among other dangers, dioxin tends toward a gaseous state and emits toxic gases into the air – of your home when your have recycled paper or paper products at home. But that’s not all. Recycled plastics, containing the volatile organic compound called phthalate, do something similar and emit phthalate dust and gases into the air – of your home. Good end products?
The EPA determined that indoor air is at least – at least – 10% worse than outdoor, automobile polluted air. One of the reasons is the recycled end products that we come home with from the stores. Does this danger to our health mean don’t recycle? No. Absolutely not, it does not mean don’t recycle. What it means is this: Demand – consumer demand makes the world go round, remember – demand safe end products. Don’t use the recycled plastic shopping bags at your favorite market. Buy cloth shopping bags to use. Or – if you are economically challenged and can not do that – complain, a lot and often. Insist on shopping bags that are not emitting unstable dangerous gases. And how do you know if they emitting these dangerous gases? They stink, that’s how you know: some more, some less, but they stink. Insist on buying recycled paper that has not been chlorine bleached and that has not had ink dispersal and that has not got surfactants dried into it. Tough order. But ask for it and insist on it.
And the thing is: Recycled goods are not the only way our indoor house air (and office air) is contaminated. No mam, no sir, not by far. Original goods and products also contribute toxic dioxins and unstable phthalates and toxic surfactants into our home (and office) air. Vinyl products, like your dish drainer, produce phthalates. So do your shampoos and fragrances. So do laundry detergents and dish washing detergents (surfactants, too!). So do varnishes on wooden furniture, adhesives (cellophane tape!), ink pens, carpet and upholstery fibers, books your read (plus dioxins!), soft rubber toys that babies chew on – the list goes on and on and on.
Choices. We make small, personal, minute, seemingly irrelevant choices everyday. These choices are changing our world. Our changed choices can change our world…again. These choices, and the needed change in choices, will be even more important as we all take steps to follow Al Gore’s recommendations, one of which is that we put better insulation into our homes and other buildings. In the latter half of the 20th century, earlier builders responded to a call to up the level of insulation in homes and buildings. And low and behold, a new thing came to be. It is called by various titles. It is called alternately Chemical Sensitivity, Environmental Illness, Environmental Poisoning, Toxic Chemical Poisoning Syndrome, Multiple Sensitivity Disorder.
If we improve our insulation while our homes are filled with off-gassed dioxins and phthalates and surfactants – the syndromes and problems related to these chemical exposures will increase. It might affect you, this time. Or, worse yet, it might affect your daughter or your son. Or your wife. Or your husband.
While we make choices to ensure the right ending to the suspense thriller love story that An Inconvenient Truth tells us, we must make sure we make changes to our minute personal choices, as well. Use dish and laundry soaps that do not contain surfactants and phthalate laden fragrances. Buy these and personal grooming products from a health food store and make sure they contain real things – oils, herbs, fruits, nuts. Buy carpets, upholstered furniture, clothes, sheets that are made from real fibers – cotton, wool, silk, hemp, ramie – and that have not been treated with anti-stain, anti-fungal, anti-mold, etc., etc., chemicals.
Let us insist on recycled end products and original products that won’t make us and our loved ones sick. Let us take care of ourselves indoors while we take care of Greenland, Antarctica, and ultimately Manhattan, too, out doors.