Following trends and easy answers isn’t the way to a good life | Tech News

Vegan clothes, biofuel and wood-burning stoves have all been offered up as ethical, environmental choices – but the evidence behind them is much more murky

WHEN it comes to the pressing environmental issues of the day, we are all aware that we need to do our bit. The rise of veganism shows that we are increasingly thinking about how our lifestyle affects not only our own health, but also the world around us.

Unfortunately, jumping on the latest bandwagon is not always the way to save the planet. While research published in Science has again shown that ditching meat and dairy from your diet is one of the best ways to reduce your environmental footprint, the same isn’t true of your wardrobe.


It turns out that vegan-friendly alternatives to fur and leather, as seen on display at Australia’s recent Fashion Week (above), can harm sea creatures, because they are made of that other pervasive ecovillain: plastic (see “Vegan-friendly fashion is actually bad for the environment”). The evidence is not yet clear, but some animal fabrics may be the least harmful choice overall.

Such unintuitive outcomes crop up again and again when we try to make ethical lifestyle choices. As New Scientist has reported, ditching disposable plastic bags for a fetching cotton tote only pays off after you have used it 131 times, due to the large environmental burden of cotton – which is also an issue for clothes.

Turning to our cars, biofuel, seen as a greener alternative to petroleum, leads to deforestation and increased carbon emissions (see “Europeans now burn more palm oil in their cars than they eat”). Also, burning wood instead of gas to heat our homes results in greater air pollution.

The rush to follow trends without proper evidence is similarly apparent in the rise of the turmeric latte and other spice-based cure-alls. Despite some of these provoking masses of research, the findings often don’t add up to the hype (“The truth about spices: Is it time to ditch the turmeric latte?”).

So what should we do? Looking for evidence may not be the most fashionable choice, but in the long run, it is the only one worth making.

This article appeared in print under the headline “Beware the bandwagon”

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