Wired's dumb cover story

By , Blogger for The Christian Science Monitor

This month's Wired has a fluorescent orange cover that reads like this:

Attention
Environmentalists:
Keep your SUV.
Forget organics.
Go nuclear.
Screw the spotted owl.

Inside you'll see similarly outrageous headlines, all supporting the thesis that carbon emissions are the only environmental problem worth caring about. But when you actually read the articles accompanying the headlines, you'll see that they back away faster than Bill Gates happening upon an open-source developers' conference.

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Take the SUV one. It points out that "pound for pound," making a Prius produces more carbon than making a Hummer, mostly because of the nickel in the battery. (It doesn't mention that a Prius weighs less than half what a Hummer weighs, or explain why "pound for pound" is a useful comparison.) Then it notes that a used car lacks the "carbon debt" of a new Prius, which requires the equivalent of 1,000 gallons of gasoline to produce. "Buy a decade-old Toyota Tercel, which gets a respectable 35 mpg, and the Prius will have to drive 100,000 miles to catch up. Better yet, buy a three-cylinder, 49-horsepower 1994 Geo Metro XFi, one of the most fuel-efficient cars ever built."

So in 250 words, they take you from a brand-new Hummer, to a used Tercel, to a 14-year-old Geo. Try throwing any of these vehicles in reverse as hard as this story, and you'll need a new transmission.

The other articles follow the same formula. Fire up the A/C, Wired tells you, because it takes more energy to heat your home than it does to cool it (as though that's the choice you're facing on a hot summer night). Chop down the forests (so you can regrow them in a more carbon-sequestering-strategic fashion). Accept genetic engineering (because at some point in the future scientists will find a way to make it less carbon-intensive). And so on.

It's actually pretty easy to write this kind of thing. Here's the template:

Provocative headline!

Hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge hedge.

It's not that Wired gets any of their facts wrong, as far as I know. My concern is that the one thing a casual reader will be left with, aside from the lingering afterimage from the cover, is the impression that sustainability is bunk. It's not. Take it from me, and from everyone in the environmental movement: SUVs are wasteful, organic food will nourish you and the planet, and nukes won't solve all our energy problems.

Wired's story is available online, too. The Web version comes across as somewhat less provocative, but the basic analysis still applies.

To their credit, Wired also ran a rebuttal by Alex Steffen, the editor of an excellent enviro site called WorldChanging. So all is forgiven.

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