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How Green Are You?


new internationalist
issue 203 - January 1990

How green are you?
Illustrations: Jim Needle

There is more to being green than recycling
your newspapers and using unleaded fuel. Here is a
chance to test your ecological intelligence.

1. Which of the following does not pollute indoor air?
a) carpets made of artificial fibre
b) electrical equipment
c) household solvents
d) chipboard furniture

[image, unknown] 2. Which uses the most energy?
a) fridge
b) cooker/stove
c) washing machine

3. What is the best way to make cars ecologically safer?
a) buying a car with a catalytic converter
b) using unleaded petrol
c) buying a more fuel-efficient car

4. How much food colouring will a child have eaten by the age of 12?
a) a tablespoon full
b) a large cup full
c) four large cups full

5. Which of the following does not damage human health?
a) metal polish
b) aspirin
c) roast beef
d) excessive intake of vitamin C

6. Which uses the most water in your home?
a) the toilet
b) the bath
c) the washing machine
d) the dishwasher

7. Which one of these statements about 'ozone-friendly' (non-CFC) aerosol cans is true?
a) they contain no ozone-damaging propellants
b) they are biodegradable
c) they are an energy-intensive form of packaging
d) they are recyclable

8. Only one of the following is not associated with the destruction of,' the Amazon rainforest. Which is it?
a) greedy Brazilian land barons
b) paper-consumption in the West
c) soft-drinks cans
d) the greenhouse effect

[image, unknown] 9. Which is the best way of improving the quality of drinking water?
a) buying bottled water
b) collecting water in a barrel
c) lobbying for a dual water-supply system
d) boiling tap water

10. Which of the following statements about disposable napples/diapers is true?
a) they damage the ozone layer during production
b) they are biodegradable
c) they are the US's second biggest refuse problem

11. Which is the best way to dispose of waste?
a) burning waste in incinerators to generate energy
b) recycling
c) composting

12. Which is the most environmentally-friendly form of energy?
a) nuclear power
b) coal
c) gas
d) oil

13. Pentachlorphenol is
a) soft plastic made with a dangerous gas
b) a toxic emission from car exhausts
c) a powerful poison contained in many wood preservative
d) a banned chemical that was contained in artificial sweetners

14. Which of the following has not been associated with increased rates of miscarriage?
a) sleeping under electric blankets
b) working in operating theatres
c) too much sex
d) VDU (visual display unit) use
e) excessive coffee consumption

15. Ecologists agree that eating less meat is better for you and the environment. Which of the following is untrue?
a) many crops produced in the Third World go to fatten up livestock for Westerners' consumption
b) meat contains residues of antibiotics, pesticides and hormones
c) vegetarians can expect to live nine years longer than meat eaters
d) meat-eating in the West is the main cause of world hunger

16. Which of these statements about 'environmentally sound' washing powder is untrue?
a) it can be used in the washing machine as well-as for handwashes
b) it contains no phosphates
c) it contains no bleach
d) it contains no enzymes

[image, unknown] 17. Which of the following does not pose a risk to wildlife?
a) discarded condoms
b) railways
c) tourist souvenirs
d) acid rain

18. Which one of these statements about plastic cling-film is untrue?
a) it may cause cancer
b) it soaks into fatty foods like cheese and meat
c) it is less harmful at lower temperatures
d) it contains bacteria which can cause salmonella.


[image, unknown] 1. a) High-voltage electrical equipment and household appliances with bad connections can produce toxic ozone. Chipboard and other pressed wood products are made with a resin containing formaldehyde, an irritant and suspected carcinogen. They have been identified by the US Environmental Protection Agency as an important source of indoor air pollution, along with air fresheners and cleaning solvents.

2. b) The cooker/stove is one of the most energy-hungry machines in the house but gas is more efficient than electricity. Ask about the energy-consumption of gadgets when you buy them.

3. a) All these options are useful but a catalytic converter will cut out 90 per cent of emissions of carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and hydrocarbons. These gases are toxic and damage human health; the second also contributes to acid rain and the last is the main cause of photochemical smog. However, a catalytic converter does not tackle carbon-dioxide emissions, which contribute to the greenhouse effect. By far the best course is to use your car less.

[image, unknown] 4. b) By the age of 12 years old a child will have eaten about half a pound weight of coal-tar in the form of food colouring and dye. Some colourings cause allergies and hyperactivity, while the effects of many others are unknown.

5. d) Taking too much vitamin C is unlikely to be harmful. Metal polish, on the other hand, often contains ammonia which can burn skin and petroleum distillates which are highly poisonous if swallowed; aspirin - one of the most widely used painkillers - can damage the stomach lining and is dangerous for people with stomach ulcers and kidney problems; and more cases of salmonella food poisoning were caused by beef in the UK during 1984 than by any other single meat.

6.a) Major uses of water in the home

Average water consumption (litres/gallons)
% of total
water used
WC flush
10/2.2 a flush
Baths and
Washing machines
100/22 per wash
50/11 a wash

7. c) Some non-CFC aerosol propellants still damage the ozone layer. And the manufacture of aerosols consumes considerable resources. Refillable pump-action containers are preferable.

[image, unknown] 8. b) Only a negligible amount of paper used in the West derives from Amazon trees. But vast tracts of tropical forest are destroyed to create grazing for cattle, Usually owned by rich ranchers who already have too much land. Tropical forests are also destroyed to make way for the hydroelectric plants to smelt bauxite - used in aluminum cans. And the burning of wood contributes to the greenhouse effect.

9. c) Relying on bottled water encourages a wasteful trade. Besides the cost of fuel for transport there is the expense of packaging. And there is no way of checking that bottled water is any cleaner than tap water. Rain is often too polluted to drink. Boiling tap water does nothing to remove harmful pesticide traces. But a dual-water-supply would mean that only less good water would be used for wasteful practices like using garden sprinklers and washing the car.

[image, unknown] 10. c) Even disposable nappies/diapers which claim to be biodegradable are in practice virtually indestructible. It is increasingly difficult to find sufficient land to bury them. The unbleached disposable diapers which have recently become available should not be called ozone-friendly as bleached nappies do not damage the ozone layer either. The prospect of dealing with endless buckets of towelling nappies can be very daunting. A growing trend in North America is for parents to pay a laundry service to pick up a bucket each day.

11.b) Incinerators sound like a good option but they release highly toxic gases. If the temperature in an incinerator is below 900 degrees centigrade - as it often is - plastics, pesticides and wood preservatives can give off dioxins which are among the most poisonous substances known. Composting is good, though highly labour-intensive because the rubbish has to be sorted manually into biodegradable and non-biodegradable material. But recycling at least saves on raw materials.

[image, unknown] 12. c) Gas appliances are usually more energy-efficient and cheaper to run than electric ones. Gas also produces less pollutants than oil or coal - which generate large amounts of sulphur and nitrogen dioxide: these end up as acid rain. Nuclear power carries the risk of accidents and produces radioactive waste which will pollute the environment for centuries. There is no totally green' energy source and if we want to help the environment we must be sparing with what we use and campaign for renewable energy sources - like wind, wave and solar power - to be invested in and taken more seriously.

13. c) Applied to timber it is meant to keep fungi away by killing spores, but it remains active for many years and is a health hazard not only for people in their homes, but also for the workers who make it. Cirrhosis of the liver, bone-marrow atrophy and nervous disorders are all part of the price paid for this common household poison.

14. c) Decreased fertility and increased miscarriages have been recorded among couples who sleep under electric blankets - because of the zigzagging wires which generate electromagnetic radiation. Prolonged exposure to anaesthetics has been associated with reproductive problems, and cathode-ray VDU screens have long been suspected of causing foetal deformities and miscarriages. In the US pregnant women are advised to drink less coffee.

[image, unknown] 15. d) Because of a), our consumption of meat is connected with the world food problem but there are other much more significant causes: the most significant of all is simply poverty, since well-off people never starve even in a famine-stricken country. But vegetarian diets are so much healthier overall that they significantly increase people's life expectancy.

16. c) Some washing powders are pure soap flakes and therefore do not contain bleach. But most 'alternative' powders still do, although the bleach is sometimes packaged separately.

17. b) The increased use of condoms due to the spread of AIDS is causing farmers to worry that discarded condoms could choke their grazing bulls. Tourist souvenirs like furs, ivory, animal skins, coral necklaces and shells can devastate wildlife. And acid rain is killing the fish in lakes across the rich world. But while trains kill some creatures that cross the line, they preserve a wild habitat for many more creatures in their cuttings and help minimize the much greater destruction wrought by cars and roads.

18. d) Cling-film does not cause salmonella.


15+ Dark Green: Very aware of green issues and the practical side of green living. Your understanding of the earth's plight is greening everything and everyone around you.

10-14 Light Green: Growing greener by the minute. The world may be shrivelling around you but you are doing your bit to bring it to life again.

5-9 See-through: Try a bit harder - or you may not be able to hold up your head when your children ask what they can expect from the future.

0-4 Brown: Your head is firmly in the sand.

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