Play the Earth Day game sweeping the nation — That’s Unsustainable!

What is the most unsustainable activity you have ever seen?

So I was taking my daughter upstairs last night when I happened to look outside the window and saw a “Mobile Grooming Salon” for dogs and cats.  The big tricked out van looked something like this:

Anyway, while I suppose this could conceivably save the energy of individual pet owners each driving to a salon in a world of overconsumption and cheap gasoline, I don’t think I saw this van in my copy of The Transition Handbook: from oil dependency to local resilience [which I just started reading and will blog on eventually].  Though it does occur to me just now that this van could easily be replaced by a plug-in hybrid in the near future, and essentially always stay charged up as it moved from home to home.  Hmm.  Would that make it sustainable, assuming the grid goes low-carbon?

Anyway, it reminded me of my earlier post “What is the most unsustainable piece of junk you own?

I plan to keep expanding on the Ponzi scheme discussion. So I’m gathering examples of unsustainability at every scale — things that won’t survive the coming collapse (assuming we are not smart enough to act in time to prevent it).  We’ve already hit your personal unsustainable items — from wipe warmers to clothes driers.

Now I’m interested in slightly larger scale unsustainable things that you have seen or read about. I’m talking electrifyied walking (aka the Segway).  Or this climate crime: The Versace beach will be refrigerated.

I’d also be interested in any interesting factoids and statistics (with links).  My favorite in this regard was from a 2006 Washington Post story, “Flush With Success, and Looking to Spend Bathrooms Becoming Retreats in Americans’ Pursuit of Luxury“:

Spending on luxury bathrooms — those costing at least $8,000 — will be $22 billion this year, compared with $7.3 billion in 2003, according to the Market Forecast Report, published by the trade magazine Kitchen and Bath Business.

That is 10 times what the U.S. government will spend on AIDS research this year. It is six times the annual budget of Kenya.

I’m guessing that we won’t be seeing a new record for a long time, given the collapse of the housing Ponzi scheme bubble.

Anyway, what is the most unsustainable activity you have ever seen?

46 Responses to Play the Earth Day game sweeping the nation — That’s Unsustainable!

  1. Doug says:

    One word: Disneyland

  2. Doug says:

    Or if we’re looking for a more modest scale, how about the Universal Studios “Backdraft” show/ride thing (if it’s still running): massive amounts of natural gas burned regularly just to make people go “wow, that’s hot”.

    Or the various flood-related items along their tram ride (lots of water being pumped, then dumped).

  3. Gail says:

    okay this ticks me off.

    This van is providing a service that working people, who don’t have time to take their pet to a groomer, drop it off and then drive back again to pick it up, can use.

    What really ticks me off as unsustainable?


    Burning fossil fuels for pure entertainment.

    Like, cigarette boats, snowmobiling, quads.

    These should be banned and people who like such outdoors activities should try, instead, those that required some physical exertion to replace them such as:

    sailing, cross-country skiing, and hiking.

    And, don’t even get me started on the vast, polluting, useless, wasteful spending on the DOD and weapons, and war. Now there’s something to get ticked off about.

    A pet grooming van? Give me a break.

    [JR: Struck a nerve! That said, I seriously doubt “working people” as you seem to use the term are the ones availing themselves of this luxury. I came from a strictly middle class upbringing and I don’t think it would have ever occurred to us to pay anyone to groom our pets.]

  4. PeterW says:

    Gold and diamond mining. We have enough gold and diamonds to last us numerous lifetimes. We don’t need to dig any more of this stuff up. Gold and diamonds for the most part do not have any practical applications. Jewelery is a complete and utter waste of energy.

  5. Gail says:

    Joe, I came from an academic family with little money and we never paid anyone to groom our pets. However, it is cheaper for me now (not that I earn very much) to pay someone to groom my cocker spaniel than to spend the time to do it myself. It’s more economic for me to work for a couple of hours and pay somebody else to do that, than to do it myself.

    And in general, I just think there are such much vaster squanderings (I know that’s not a word) of energy to demonize.

    Years and years ago I got annoyed as a young mother because environmentalists were shrieking about disposable diapers when they were first invented. Those greenies had obviously never spent hours and hours scrubbing, bleaching, and folding cloth diapers. After a short career in an office where I witnessed unimaginable wastage of paper, it seemed to me then that the convenience of disposable diapers was a mere blip in the stream of waste.

    Frivolous jewelry and fashion, PeterW, absolutely.

  6. Anybody ever heard of Dubai. You know, in the UAE. They’re building islands there. And an indoor ski slope in the middle of the equatorial heat.
    Why? To get Western tourism to pump their economy, which means the UAE is expecting thousands of flights to carry Americans to Dubai.

    This is unsustainable on so many layers. The freezing of heat for an indoor slope, the bottom-less cup of gas jets need, and all the other unnecessary energy spending spent on island building.

  7. paulm says:

    Does anyone feel guilty nowadays …..

    ~Driving to work on their own?
    ~Going off to Mexico and the Caribbean on holiday?
    ~Running full central heating/cooling constantly?
    ~Upgrading to a 2000sqft+ house?
    ~Eating meat everyday bought from Brazil and wrapped in 3 layers of plastic?
    ~Drinking wine imported from Australia?

  8. GFW says:

    Actually, plenty of gold is used in electronics, and I think that industrial usage of diamonds is a bigger dollar value than gem quality diamonds.

    My candidate for unsustainable activity: car races, monster truck rallies, and similar.

  9. Brewster says:

    How about all the time and electricity I waste poring over climate blogs?

  10. Jim Eaton says:

    How about the San Alfonso del Mar resort in Chile, located within a few dozen meters of the Pacific Ocean (good location for tsunamis). Between the huge hotel buildings and the ocean is an artificial lagoon and swimming pool eight hectares in size and containing an incredible 250,000 cubic meters of water pumped in from the ocean. Acknowledged by Guinness World Records as being the world’s largest swimming pool.

  11. Rick says:

    gas fired outdoor patio warmers at coffee shops.

  12. Thomas says:

    How about the average American?

  13. jorleh says:

    Greenhouses in northern countries. Real plastic covered (or glass) greenhouse gas chambers. Half a year no sun, temperatures -0 – 40 C C. They farm tomatoes, lettuce etc all the year round. Average energy consumpion per tomato 10x as farmed for example in Spain. Be sure, in Finland we eat just these tomatoes all the year round.

  14. Scatter says:

    Coincidentally, this landed in my email yesterday…

  15. Pangolin says:

    Las Vegas; the temple to human stupidity.

    There are lots of black roofs in inland California where temperatures regularly exceed 100º F (37º C). I turned on my air conditioning in the last two days. Earth Day in Northern California was hotter than a good chunk of last summer. Black asphalt roofing tiles are flat stupid and unsustainable.

    Other local unsustainability favorites are the sprint car races on friday nights at the fairgrounds. Overpowered cars drive in furious small circles turning amazing amounts or fuel into noise. Also we have the regional fire bomber service airport. Fire bombers look like they do something but they rarely actually put out fires. Mostly they burn fuel to protect houses where the owners didn’t cut their fire breaks.

    My personal best spotting is a local guy who tows his rock-crawler Jeep with his Hummer. I’ve seen this guy several times over the years but I can never get a camera when he’s doing it.


    -A 2000 sq. ft house isn’t an upgrade but the average residence size in the U.S.
    – Many building designs are uninhabitable unless you run the central heating/cooling. As in: they grow mold due to poor ventilation and central bathrooms. I can show you some.
    – Wine imported from Australia comes by ship. As does every part that makes your plumbing work; they come from China.
    – The greenhouse in Chena Alaska uses geothermal heat to keep it warm. This is the waste heat from the energy plant. Assuming you put your greenhouse next to an existing geothermal, coal, gas or nuclear power station there is plenty of heat available.

  16. Robert says:

    Everything. The whole lot.

    6.7 billion people is unsustainable.

    Anything relying on mined fuel or minerals is unsustainable.

    There is only one system that is truly sustainable and that is the natural world. Everything is recycled, survives on local resources, self-maintained, replaces itself automatically and there is no such thing as waste.

  17. russ says:

    So now we have established:
    1. Doug does not like Disneyland
    2. Gail does not like cigarette boats, quads, snowmobiling and the DOD however pet grooming is a good thing
    3. Peter W does not like gold and diamonds – industrial items
    4. Asparagus Soup does not like Dubai
    5. paulm does not like anything – have seen his nonsense posts before
    6. GFW does not like monster truck rallies & races but sees a use for gold & diamonds (industrial type anyway)
    7. Brewster does not like the time spent reading much of this garbage
    8. jim Eaton does not like the San Alfonso del Mar resort
    9. Thomas does not like the average American
    10. jorleh does not like greenhouse in northern climates
    11. Scatter shows a link to something which I didn’t bother to open – never do
    12. Pangolin does not like black roofs, sprint car races, fire fighting planes and the guy with the rock crawling jeep behind his hummer but does like OK sized houses, A/C (there are other ways), imported wine and green houses in Alaska (providing they use waste heat.

    Wow! I am impressed with all of us!

    [JR: You left out that I apparently don’t like groomed pets!]

  18. Pangolin says:

    Russ- You forgot: Las Vegas; the temple to human stupidity.

    A city, built in a desert, where everything but gravel has to be imported. The financial justification for which is tourists delivered by airplane to gamble away excess wealth.

    see: Average Total Square Footage and 1993-2001 Change for U.S. Housing Units and you will find that the actual enclosed area averaged 2,066 sq ft for all residences and over 2,500 sq. ft. for detached houses. That’s a lot of room available for doubling up in cold/hot weather.

  19. russ says:

    Hi Pangolin – Right, good old Las Vegas!

    You might try looking into heat recovery ventilation (HRV) or another variation energy recovery ventilation (ERV).

    They help with whole house ventilation and minimize the expense of warm/cool air losses and still help on the mold front.

  20. Greg says:

    Gold as a waste? One ounce of Gold can be pounded into a mile of telephone wire it is higly conductive, also Gold will never oxidize making it a precious metal. Just and FYI, I am not a big gold guy or anything.

  21. Gail says:

    Russ thank you for that synopsis. I think everyone can agree that the list of wasteful energy consumption is endless – and of course we all recognize that one person’s waste is another’s necessity, or at least passion. I love the monster truck shows! Thinking about this before I went to sleep last night I suddenly remembered that when I was little, my mother taught me to rip out my father’s shirt collars, turn them over and sew them back in so the frayed part was underneath. And she made her own bread, pickles, jam, canned tomatoes and beans from her garden, and fried french fries, for the economies, not to be gourmet!

    What I cannot understand nowadays is why there are so many nail salons. They are everywhere, like mice. Why would anyone drive to a strip mall and pay money for someone to file their nails for them, and then paint them with toxic lacquer? Every week?

  22. Scatter says:

    11. Scatter shows a link to something which I didn’t bother to open – never do

    You never open links? Your internet usage must be rather one dimensional. I think you can probably guess from the URL though. And it’s not even a joke website.

  23. ecostew says:

    The ICE and corn-grain ethanol.

  24. PeterW says:

    Okay I’ll give you diamonds for industrial use. Gold is a different story.

    According to the World Gold Council’s website only 13% of gold is used for industrial purposes 474t a year. The rest 87% is used for investment and jewelery. They also say that 952t a year is produced from recycling. This is twice the industrial demand produced without having one gold mine operating.

    Now when you consider that the above ground stock of gold is 161,000t, (that’s approximately 340 years of industrial supply), you realize that we don’t need one gold mine operating in the world.

    Considering the energy used and the environmental damage done by gold mining, it seems pretty obvious that we don’t need to be mining gold anymore and we definitely don’t need any new mines.

  25. ecostew says:

    From “Plan B 3.0”: “The annual production of 2,500 tons of gold requires the processing of 500 million tons of ore, more than one third the amount of virgin ore used to produce steel each year. One ton of steel requires the processing of two tons of ore. For one ton of gold, in stark contrast, the figure is 200,000 tons of ore. Processing 500 million tons of ore consumes a huge amount of energy-and emits as much carbon dioxide as 5.5 million cars.”

  26. paulm says:

    Hey russ, I like life, family , friendship and nature… and joe’s blogs…

  27. Gail says:

    oh come on David. People fly for frivolous reasons all the time. In fact a lot of “business” flying is frivolous and just an excuse for a vacation.

    What we need to do is downscale to more sustainable lifestyles, and find sources of clean energy so we don’t have to give up travel altogether.

    Obama’s election is the best thing ever to save the human race from self-destruction and if he’s going to eat imported pizza I couldn’t care less.

  28. Milan says:

    “Anyway, what is the most unsustainable activity you have ever seen?”

    Cheap, low-cost air travel? Especially between cities that are only a few hours apart by train.

  29. Hmpf says:

    Whoops. Previous post didn’t get posted due to links. Well, never mind, here’s an improved version (with only one link, and slightly improved sentence structure in a few cases *g*):

    Well, I’m a jeweller, so obviously, my job would be non-existent in a society that really dialed down all consumption to the absolutely necessary (which would be, what? The daily amount of necessary calories in food, two pairs of trousers, three shirts, a sweater, a pair of shoes, a coat, and some underwear and socks per person?)

    I have to defend the unnecessary here for a moment, and not just because of my job (and I’m not even working as a jeweller at the moment – I went back to university).

    I have spent some time, this past week, playing free flash games on the internet – surely a waste of energy, as it was a waste of energy for the designers of these games to create them – strictly speaking. But these games made me very, very happy, because they were so beautiful. (I’m talking of games like this: Similarly, I recently bought three beautiful tea bowls, just because they were beautiful.

    Now, don’t get the wrong idea. I don’t play computer games excessively; nor do I stuff my place with hundreds of pieces of porcelain; in fact, the vast majority of my crockery is inherited 1950s stuff from my gran. And the majority of my furniture is 30-year-old IKEA stuff I inherited from my parents. And I wear my clothes until they practically fall apart – I have t-shirts well over a decade old. So, I’m not, usually, big on consumption.

    The thing is, the desire for creating things, and the desire for experiencing beauty (and not just the beauty of nature, but also beauty created by humans) are deeply human; as is the desire for play, and many forms of creativity are really forms of play. I’d restrict many, many other uses of resources before I’d restrict the use of resources for play and creativity. Of course, people need to practice moderation. But saying, “jewellery as such is unsustainable” or, I dunno, “computer games on the internet as such are unsustainable”, makes no sense.

    A society that thinks it’s sane and normal for people to have to drive an hour by car to get to work – a society wasteful due to bad organisation – is unsustainable. But a society that thinks that it is a waste of resources to make a beautiful object, or to give someone a beautiful object, to cherish, hopefully, for decades (and perhaps pass on to someone else afterwards) – such a society is unsustainable, too, because it starves the soul. Whatever new society we make (and I do hope we will make one, somehow), it will have to have room for beauty and play.

  30. PeterW says:

    Hmpf it’s all in your perspective I guess. I would say the places in this world that have been destroyed by gold mines and their tailing ponds, were far more precious than jewelery could ever be. Perhaps we need to appreciate the beauty of the natural world too?

    But with that being said, there’s lots of gold available that’s already been mined if you really need jewelery. There’s plenty of antique/old jewelery that can be reused. It doesn’t have to be new.

  31. Scatter says:

    @Milan, too true!'s_busiest_passenger_air_routes

    Some very proximate routes which are very well connected by fast rail alternatives there!

  32. Kathy says:

    one of the worst offenders I’ve seen is a swimming pool “cooler.” We live in the desert of southern California and our swimming pools get pretty warm in the summer so now some people put in a system to “cool” their swimming pool…

    check it out at:

  33. Hmpf says:

    PeterW, I greatly doubt that the majority of the gold that is being mined today is being used for jewellery. I would be willing to bet that most of it is ‘used’ for investment – and I agree that that is a most unsustainable ‘use’.

    There aren’t *that* many tons of jewellery produced, nor bought, per year, in the world. Granted, I don’t have the numbers, and in some countries jewellery *is* sold and bought by the pound. However, I’d argue that in cases like that, jewellery does not fulfil its purpose as *jewellery* anymore but is, in fact, an investment, and therefore my ‘need for beauty’ condition does not apply there. When I talk of beauty, I think it’s probably obvious that I don’t mean mass-produced gold chains bought by the meter.

    Here in western Europe – I’m German – people typically own, at best, a few hundred grammes of gold and silver jewellery – and the acquisition of that is spread out over a lifetime. And we tend to recycle most of the material – any jeweller will buy your old jewellery off you. The kind of gold jewellery buying that happens in, say, Saudi-Arabia, *is* unsustainable. Buying your girlfriend a ring to commemorate the day you proposed to her, on the other hand, isn’t. That’s what I meant when I said moderation was important.

    But, as I said, I was trying to make a case not just specifically for jewellery but for everything that uses resources and does not fulfil an immediate survival need, but gives people a sense of joy – e.g., computers powered to produce or play games. All I’m saying, really, is that, if it is at all possible, we should aim for a society that can sustainably fulfil both the absolutely vital physical needs, *and* have some space – and resources – for things that *aren’t* physical needs: Beauty. Play. Art

    I do hope that with the right kind of social organisation this would be possible. If the only sustainable society we could hope for were one in which everyone would have their daily handful of rice and the shirt on their back and a mat to sleep on, that would be pretty sad. Sure, artists would ultimately find something artistic to do even in such a society – because artists can’t help being artists, really, and if they have to work with mud and twigs, they’ll use that. (This is an exaggeration, of course; I know that even the most extreme ‘let’s get rid of industrial society’ people don’t advocate this extreme a reduction.) But it would be sad to lose so many forms of expression that are available to us now.

    Well. Obviously this is a bit of a touchy topic for me. ;-)

    (If we want to go after artists – what about the chemical products used to create colours for painters? And aren’t there far more painters in the world than jewellers? How unsustainable is painting? ;-))

    IMO – we should all try to *greatly* reduce our consumption of everything (and, as I said above, I *am* keeping my consumption levels very low, generally speaking), but before we start to eliminate the things that give us joy we should take a good look at their relative impact and ‘use’ (and ‘giving joy’ *is* a use). Now, this sounds like an excuse to keep up a wasteful lifestyle: “but it gives me *joy* to fly to Thailand three times a year!” Well… with something like flying, to my mind the individual impact is so large that even moderation does not make the activity sustainable. Playing a computer game, or buying a ring, or a tea bowl, on the other hand, has a much smaller individual impact, so that, if all individuals who do these things did them only in moderation, it seems quite possible to me to keep them up in a sustainable society. So, these activities are not per se unsustainable in my view, but are badly managed at the moment because our ways of using resources and producing energy are fundamentally wrong.

  34. Hmpf says:

    Sorry for the manifesto/dissertation. :D

  35. Hmpf says:

    Incidentally, there are companies that sell ethically sourced gold and silver. The material I use at the moment is still ‘non-ethical’, because I bought a greater amount some eight years ago, before I knew of the possibility of buying ethically sourced material, and since I don’t work much I’m not using it up very fast – but once that runs out I’ll be getting the ethical stuff. (Although what I’m using now is probably mostly recycled, anyway. I got it from the same place that I sell my ‘leftovers’ to – can’t do the resmelting very well at home.)

  36. oxnardprof says:

    I think war is the most environmentally unsustainable thing we do.

    Also the industry of providing implements for war. For example a bomb is designed to be blown up. While it is possible the bomb will not be used, it serves no productive function.

    Beyond some level, the production of war planes, military jeeps, tanks, etc. are dangerous to our long-term health.

  37. paulm says:

    War has always resulted in our progress ….

  38. Ahmes says:

    Food packaging!

  39. PeterW says:

    Hmpf I think you missed my point. We don’t need to mine anymore gold for a very long time we’ve got enough to sustain us for quite some time even if you’re going to use some for jewelery.

    Check out the supply and demand here:

  40. Gail says:

    Packaging in general. Why are toys almost impossible to unwrap?

  41. S.W. Ela says:


    I’m glad to learn that you’re reading “The Transition Handbook” and will eventually write about the transition program (And, you’re correct; there’s no image in the handbook vaguely close to the “mobile grooming salon.”)

    Be aware that the Transition Handbook is a Brit (Rob Hopkins) writing for Brits. For Anglophobes like myself, Hopkins produces some translation problems. My favorite is Hopkins’ continually writing about “cob building.” Finally, I did a little bit of dictionary work to learn that “cob” is equivalent to what we in Central California call adobe – one of our best building materials, only recently replaced by green builders with straw bales.

    Be aware, too, that the Transition Initiative is fast escaping the UK. Transition US – – is coming on strong. It’s basically an offshoot of Richard Heinberg’s Post Carbon Institute – see

    The power of the Transition approach is that local people with positive visions are designing local solutions appropriate to our own communities and ecosystems. And, we’re having great fun doing so!

    There are universal similarities to Transition solutions – growing local organic food is one. But, given the differences in water availability between California communities and those in Britain, we build our own solutions based on our own specific limitations.

    I trust that, as head of this fine blog, you have access to my e-mail address. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me privately if there’s more you’d like to know about the amazing growth of the Transition Initiative in my neighborhood.

  42. Rick says:

    Ha! Obama burns 9000 gallons of fuel on Earth day in order to recognize Earth day. Whats that worth? 20 years of driving maybe? anyway whatever – how bout some constructive criticism from progressive sites about how stuff like this just doesn’t look good and shouldn’t be done?

    [JR: ‘Cause it’s irrelevant right-wing noise.]

  43. Hmpf says:

    >Hmpf I think you missed my point.

    PeterW, I think you missed mine. (Not being confrontational here. No hard feelings here, just a need to clarify.)

    I wasn’t defending mining, and never said I was; I completely agree that it’s unnecessary at the moment, and definitely wrong in the form it’s currently done. – I was defending *jewellery*, not mining – and by extension I wanted to defend other ‘unnecessary’ but aesthetically pleasing, entertaining, etc. things and activities. I did this because in your original post you said “Jewelery is a complete and utter waste of energy” – which is a categorical statement that could easily be expanded to, “art is a complete and utter waste of energy” and a number of equally disturbing statements, and which I therefore could not let stand uncontested.

    Again, no hard feelings – I agree that we (society) need to achieve a great reduction of pretty much every kind of resource use, and a closing of as many cycles of production as possible (i.e. recycling instead of discarding, etc.). I just think that, in calculating the minimum of needs that we want to assure to be met for everybody, we should not disregard those human needs that go beyond nourishing, clothing and sheltering the body. To me this is an important point to keep in mind, and one that has been lost a few times already in previous movements for social change.

  44. Gail says:


    Everybody dies sooner or later. What grieves me most about climate change is the fear that the feedback effects will overpower any balance in nature, and that ultimately, not just individual lives will be lost, and the beautifully diverse species in nature lost, but the great achievements of human civilization will evaporate.

    Whether it is jewelry, or paintings, or literature, or plays, or music, or architecture, or the discoveries of science, these are at risk as well. And it’s an enormous tragedy that you seem to realize. What else is the point of being human if not to create, imagine, explore, and dream?

    I for one welcome your perspective.

  45. Hmpf says:

    Gail, thanks. Yes, that is exactly my point. These things, just like the beauty and variety of nature, give me (and many other people) so much joy, and I want them preserved – possibly want them preserved just as much as all the human lives that are at risk.