How Green is a Nudist Vacation?

With the House’s passage last week of cap and trade legislation, which likely would be the largest indirect tax increase in American history— in the middle of a national recession– after its sponsors inserted a 300 page amendment in the small hours of the night before the vote (that no one had the chance to read), the culture of environmentalism has been on my mind.  The other day, my co-worker sent me a link detailing how scientists planned to breed cows that burp less methane into the atmosphere in an effort to slow global warming.   Absurdities of the legislative process and some cow breeding aside, the most interesting (read: disturbing) news story I read in the past week is found in the New York Times online edition, titled, “How Green is a Nudist Vacation?

The premise is self-explanatory: “Living more hours naked each day results in a dramatic drop in my laundry, which in turn reduces my water and energy use,” says Kathy Blanchard in an article on The Naturist Society’s web site.  The NY Times article mentions that nude hiking in the winter in the Swiss Alps is becoming popular, and “of the 1.5 million people who practice naturism in France, nearly a third come to [the Aquitaine region], while ‘foreign naturists’ account for more than half of vacationers in the centers and campsites across the region.”  (A parenthetical in the article notes that “presumably their fossil fuel use in transportation could cancel any climate benefits of going clothes-free.”)

Correction: the most bizarre environmentally-related item I’ve encountered last week involves this article on treehuggers.com, which I came across in researching for this post, which claims lifting the online poker ban will cause a CO2 emissions “boom.”   In pursuit of online gambling, people will increase their computer use, and “computers generate between 40-80 grams of greenhouse gas emissions simply by being on.”  (Apparently hours spend perusing treehuggers.com doesn’t count.)

Really people??

The biggest problem I have with the kind of thinking illustrated by the above examples is that it has no natural stopping point.   I think the cited stories bear this out.  Every activity has an environmental impact that could reasonably considered deleterious, from breathing to wearing clothes (even not wearing clothes.  The body has to expend energy to keep itself warm, which, if not aided by clothes, will require more food, the production of which will have environmental impact).  “Minimizing our carbon footprint” is an exercise in arbitrariness; given that I have to get out of bed, what can I do to minimize my impact on the environment?  But who says I have to get out of bed?  Given that I have to commute to work, what can I do?  But why do I have to have a job?  Given that I really enjoy mountain biking, which impacts my caloric needs and production of carbon dioxide, how can I mountain bike in an environmentally conscious manner?  But if it’s so harmful, why should I be allowed to mountain bike at all?  My own particular effort to minimize my carbon footprint depends first on what my lifestyle choices are, which themselves are subject to universal environmental scrutiny.  The ultimate logical conclusion of the paradigm is suicide (after all, non-life has minimal effect on the environment), which leads some of my more jaded friends to conclude that environmentalism, at its core, is anti-human.  (Meanwhile, others see it as a tool that government is tempted to use to control behaviors and the economy.)

Now, just because something is arbitrary, doesn’t mean we are absolved from engaging it– just because environmental responsibility is somewhat hard to define doesn’t mean we should abandon our efforts to pursue it.  But this particular environmental paradigm– that virtually every human activity damages the environment via heating the atmosphere– encumbers us with nearly unlimited demands.

Another problem is that personal efforts to “combat” global warming that seemingly appeal to our common sense often have unintended results, because again, even our changed behaviors leave a mark on the environment.  Buying a Prius, as opposed to a Taurus, puts a stamp of approval on a manufacturing process that sends parts all over the world, creating hidden environmental costs that could cancel out the relative benefits of operating a hybrid.  I can’t seem to find a link right now, but I remember hearing recently about a study that found that an increase bicycle traffic in urban areas actually leads to higher carbon emissions, because bikes cause automobile traffic to flow less efficiently and cars spend more time idling.  (Now, if more of those pesky bikers would actually stop at stop signs…) And it’s easy to imagine that the practice of recycling, in which large diesel trucks make short trips between houses to pick up household salvage and bring it to the recycling facility, sends a lot of extra CO2 into the air (though, from a preservation of resources perspective, I find recycling perfectly legitimate– it’s just probably not going to “fight” climate change, even if you believe that it exists and humans are causing it).  Incidentally, the solution to the problems posed by these three examples seems easy enough– eliminate automobiles.  But that illustrates the kind of absurd impracticalities environmentalists are increasingly asking us to consider with a straight face, and should give us pause– before we contort our lifestyles to such a degree, are we really sure we’re causing global warming (if it’s even happening)?  After all, carbon dioxide makes up only 0.038% of our atmosphere (of which only 3.4% of that minuscule number is caused by human activity), and even the EPA recognizes there’s mounting evidence the world has been cooling since 1998.  For starters.

I submit that we need a different model than climate change to spur us to be better stewards of what we have.  Personally, I never thought conservation of resources was such a bad paradigm.    The alternatives are too speculative, arbitrary, and limitlessly demanding, but are thankfully fraught with symbolic absurdities like nudist vacations that have the power to make us question whether the sky is truly falling.

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20 Comments

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20 responses to “How Green is a Nudist Vacation?

  1. Peachey Carnehan

    My goodness. I’m super busy today, so I don’t have much time to comment on this discursion in it’s entirety, but wouldn’t wearing the same clothes for a longer period of time accomplish the same feat as going nude? That is if you aren’t a huge sweaty beast?

    I also wonder about the ultimate goal of this movement? At what point will their goal be achieved? Environmentalism seems scarily focused on humans as being the source of all kinds of problems, which could lead to some lapses in judgment (for lack of a better term) when it comes to devising solutions.

  2. czf

    I have to be honest and say that this is the kind of post that I don’t feel like responding too.
    The issues raised are very important in the environmental movement, which despite the tag’s silliness, I am a part of. But how can anyone attempt an honest response to the cynicism of these kinds of articles towards climate change? (I admit, we do not agree on these issues, and I have written the same things from the other side.)

    I will say, however, that we do need to have a radar for viable concerns. Automobile emissions are a viable concern, as are concerns surrounding energy use (clean and dirty). They need to be attended to by the government and business and individuals. Nudist vacations are not a viable concern, nor are belching cows. However, if nudism does actually lower one’s footprint, go for it. Why not?
    Again, all this hinges on one’s belief in climate change, or at least humans ability to negatively impact the earth. If you don’t believe it, it is impractical and horrible taxes and burdensome and ridiculous, and what was it? “Disturbing”. If you do, it’s not nearly enough.

    Finally. Individual choices on the micro level are how problems are solved. It’s fun to point out how ridiculous they can seem, but I’m in no way personally affected by something like nude vacations becoming popular. And I am not being asked to take them; neither are you. But positive personal environmental choices (I don’t know if these vacays are among them) do matter. Why would I be disturbed by people being nude on the beach? I’m far more disturbed by Bernie Madoff and Corruption and crime and murder and adultery and egoism and greed and wastefulness and deforestation and the rest of the lot.

  3. Holly

    Depending on the biases of your media sources, you may or may not have heard that so far this summer has been the coldest in the U.S. in recent memory. (Do a Google search for “coldest June.) While I’m not one to say we humans should trash the earth, the jury’s still out on the existence of global warming. (Notice how the mainstream media is now focused on the more ambiguous “climate change.”)

    While I think we should all do our part to reduce, reuse, recycle and pollute as little as possible, enacting sweeping legislation that will stunt economic recovery and ultimately hurt the poor and middle classes is another issue entirely…

  4. On some environmental issues I lean “left.” On others I lean “right.” I don’t understand why the left is so bent on proving that global warming is certainly induced by human, and I don’t understand why the right points towards the coldest June to disprove global warming. Could the left please say global warming may have to do with natural cyclical causes as much as it may have to do with humans? And, could the right please stop saying that cold weather disproves global warming and that it may be the result of the environment being out of balance? And then, could we all agree that we need to be better stewards of our resources? At least we could find some common ground before debating real environmental issues… maybe.

  5. Holly

    Notice that I did not say that the cold June disproves global warming. I only said that the jury’s still out.

  6. blraatikka

    Thanks for your comments guys. czf, I agree that we need a radar for viable environmental concerns. I know Terrence would also agree with that. Like I said, I think it’s about being faithful stewards of what God has given us.
    I’m just suggesting that climate change has not shown itself to be a viable model because I doubt its validity and utility. In addition, with its proponents claiming that the “science is settled,” and there’s “consensus,” when it appears to me that such is not remotely the case, I start to wonder whether such people have more sinister motives than trying to protecting the environment– especially when I see few who are clamoring for “clean” energy (except the French) endorsing the cleanest (non CO2-emitting), cheapest, most abundant and efficient energy source there is– nuclear.

    The cases I cited don’t necessarily paint a representative picture of the climate change crowd. And I know no one is saying that all should be forced to take nude vacations (although, it’s easy to imagine we may be going in such a direction– after all, in a couple years I won’t even be allowed to have certain kinds of lightbulbs in my house.) However, I used these cases to represent the kind of absurdities the climate change paradigm allows, and to demonstrate that not even these cases go far enough if the paradigm is followed to its logical conclusion. While I support an individual’s choice to refrain from online poker and clothes (in private), I submit that the model that have motivated these individual choices isn’t realistic, a model which requires all this upheaval for something we can little prove.

  7. blraatikka

    czf– I should also mention that this is a difficult situation, and on which reasonable minds may differ. It is binary like you suggest– either anthropomorphic climate change doesn’t exist, and we’re doing too much, or it does exist, and we’re doing too little. There’s really no middle ground, unless we’re having a real affect, but not to the degree to cause consternation. And I do see the green movement having a lot of incidental benefits– we’re becoming increasingly aware of how to conserve energy and natural resources, which also helps to protect against the spiritual ills of rampant consumerism.
    That said, however, I think the paradigm does more harm than good, which admittedly is colored by the fact that I find it highly dubious.

  8. Joseph

    I feel like I’m warning you guys from manbearpig, but here goes:

    The key is, who benefits from the proposed actions?

    Environmentalist hippies have little to gain from making the earth a less polluted place. Unless we seriously believe that their nude vacation suggestion is something they want to force on people, or their light bulb regulations are not because of environmental concerns but because they secretly want to control everything you do. To me that type of thinking is a little Dr. Strangelove for me. Public health officials just want you to be healthy.

    On the other hand, businesses who cheaply pollute (and would incur costs to clean up their emissions) seem to have quite a good financial reason to cast doubt on climate change arguments.

    So when we’re talking, keep in mind that on one side you have a large sample of scientists (and it is extremely close to consensus) who have published research in highly respected journals – research that has yet to be formally discredited – who have nothing to gain aside from the notoriety that they discovered something important – and on the other side you have businesses who make a lot of money operating the way they do now, and oppose every regulation put upon them by governments anywhere. They especially reject universal regulation because it means they can’t move the factory to Bangladesh to escape.

  9. John

    Love the South Park reference, Joseph!

    I don’t mean this as a slight, but your defense of the hippies, scientists, and public health officials seems a tad naive. Everyone (including industry) has a stake in the game and biases that dictate their actions.

    Public health as wanting us to be healthy? The field itself is predicated on money, as the justification for any health initiative inevitably turns to how good health = savings to the system (smoking is a good example). The field is also concerned about regulating lifestyle choices. This is not Strangelove stuff–serious studies are starting to bear out such claims. For example, read Michael FitzPatrick’s _The Tyranny of Health: Doctors and the Regulation of Lifestyle_ (Routledge) for a withering critique of the British system.

    For hippies, it is less about what they gain than what others lose. The movement is very anti-corporate, anti-profit, anti-sprawl, anti-growth (to some extent), and, more recently, anti-globalization and even anti-airline travel. “Never trust a hippy” (Sid Vicious, “Friggin’ in the Riggin”)!

    As for scientists, they have a tremendous amount to gain in the form of multi-million (dollar, pound, whatever) research grants that fund their labs. They routinely parlay these grants into better positions at research universities (b/c the grants can attach to the scientist, not the institution), not only for them but also their graduate assistants. I have seen this first-hand at my and other institutions.

    As for the consensus, I have no expertise in any scientific field and therefore nothing substantive to add. I will offer, however, that there do seem to be numerous peer-reviewed studies disputing the effect of humans on warming. Climate Debate Daily does a good job of providing studies for each side: http://climatedebatedaily.com/. I would throw in as a monkey wrench the recent report that the EPA is suppressing its own skeptics on the issue: http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/06/26/politics/politicalhotsheet/entry5117890.shtml

    One question, though: how important is scientific consensus anyway? If I recall, weren’t folks on this blog pretty high on Galileo–you know, the guy who went *against* consensus and proved it wrong???

  10. blraatikka

    I appreciate your thoughts, Joseph– I think it’s very important to assess motivations in this and other issues. Little makes me cringe more to read of a connection between a prominent anti-AGW voice/study and the oil companies. But along that line of assessment, John just saved me about 20 minutes (and made a bonus Sex Pistols reference)…

  11. Joseph

    Thanks for the link – though the site could do better at pointing what’s a peer reviewed study vs. what’s a person’s opinion 🙂

    Perhaps my naivete is due to my anecdotal experience with one hippie: me 🙂 . And so some of these things seems incongruous. Do you really believe my reasoning for lowering greenhouse gases is because I want to take something from someone else? Just because this is at times the net result does not mean this is the motivation behind the effort. I want to spend my whole life taking stuff from people? That’s my whole mission? I’m not offended, just surprised if this is what is reflected in my writing.

    A business’s stated mission is to make money. Changes in emissions laws directly affect their bottom line. To me it makes perfect sense for them to argue against regulations. Heck, if I was working for one of them, I could see myself (the sellout that I am) arguing against lowering my emissions.

    One more piece of anecdotal evidence: my brother is a scientist (currently working on ALS research). The reason scientists have to hold themselves to high standards is because grants don’t go to scientists who never get published. And it is not easy to get published – your data is cross-checked for inconsistencies and missed correlations by teams of peers working together with the sole mission of poking holes in your logic. My brother’s lab has had the good fortune to work together and receive some high honors in the world of cell biology, but it took a lot of work on their end and many, many revisions.

    With this in mind, I would love to see an actual list of peer-reviewed studies conflicting each other on climate change. Opinions in newspapers and books written don’t hold as much weight for me because the only thing needed to get those words out there are the dollars to print the stuff (and arguably with both sides those dollars exist). On the other hand, science tends keep itself pretty well locked down as to what they’ll accept in their peer-reviewed journals. ClimateDebateDaily has a lot of stuff but it’s a pretty jumbled site upon first glance, and the assenting and dissenting opinions are just that – not peer-reviewed, just peer-asserted 🙂

  12. GCC

    It seems to me that the dialogue on this subject (both here and elsewhere) would be elevated if a distinction was drawn between the interests and concerns of private individuals and the interests and concerns of “the powers that be,” whether business, political, or otherwise.

    When it comes to the latter group, it seems there’s money to made, jobs to be saved or enhanced, other ideologies to be pushed, etc. on all sides. I don’t see money as a big question in the debate at that level, because either way, people stand to make plenty of money. Power is similarly at stake.

    Private individuals, on the other hand, hardly have those sorts of dogs in the hunt. Rather for those of us down here, we have our individual values and priorities and preferrences. Take lightbulbs for example. One person may find the idea that his/her choice of lightbulb should be regulated to be utterly repugnant. At the same someone else may find any negative aspect such a regulation to be nothing in comparison to the potential harm done to the environment by certain lightbulbs. Neither person has an ulterior vested interest in the debate. The two parties can though debate the strength of their own values and priorities. There’s a moral argument on both sides. There’s an economic argument on both sides. It seems to me that the debate would be more interesting and worthwhile, if we spent time discussing the relative value of each priority and the implications of choosing one over the other.

  13. Joseph

    Thanks for the course correction, Grant 🙂

  14. Peter

    For the record, I’m Joseph’s brother — the scientist brother. I originally wasn’t going to say anything in regard to any of the arguments here, but after reading John’s comments I can’t help myself…
    I work at Harvard School of Public Health. It’s very true that a lot of money gets thrown around for the sake of personal advancement in science, but that’s part of a huge game that people in the general public never see. Just like every business is trying to be the most competitive in their market, scientists are pushing to make the next big discovery in their field. If you aren’t the most competitive, you rarely “gain in the form of multi-million (dollar, pound, whatever) research grants” and are thus forced to scrounge for funds to pursue an idea you think is important. Everyone does have a stake in the game, but does that mean we should stop playing it?
    For those people publishing in the area of climate change, I can guarantee that 90% of what you hear in the media is unsubstantiated garbage – however, that doesn’t mean they don’t have something important to say. How important, then, is scientific consensus? I would argue that it isn’t important until convincing data comes out of the arguments leading to consensus. In the case of climate change, the conclusions won’t be made until something happens, and it’s clear that once something happens it will be too late to reverse. Argue about the change all you want, but don’t complain when God sends a plague to kill all those methane-overproducing cows you’ve been so supportive of all these years (Ex. 9:1-7). (By the way, I do think these cows are worthwhile to pursue until we’re all eating vat-grown meat…)
    With all that said, I do find myself skeptical of the studies that I see on climate change – equally on both sides. There are too many variables and statistical models to reliably predict what’s going to happen. The weatherman can’t predict tomorrow, so why would a PhD wielding weatherman be able to predict a heat wave in 20 years? My personal observations, however, have convinced me that something is going on, so it’s not a bad idea to try and reduce my footprint. I live in Boston, so I have the luxury to not own a car, enjoy ridiculous prices on used goods via craigslist.org (from which my entire apartment is beautifully furnished), and spend ridiculous amounts of money to eat as organic as I would like.
    Keep driving your H2 and leave your incandescent lights on all day if you don’t think it matters, but at least weigh the alternatives. There is a point that precedes the annoying hippie while being just as observant of your role as a consumer. If going on a nudist vacation makes you feel better about yourself, just don’t show up wherever I’m vacationing 🙂

  15. GCC

    I was going to complain (in jest) about how unfair it is to have a real scientist chime in (something I should’ve said about John as a historian long ago!) on this subject . But then, this new participant said this: “The weatherman can’t predict tomorrow, so why would a PhD wielding weatherman be able to predict a heat wave in 20 years? ”

    That always been the most simply perplexing thing to me about the study of climate change. And it turns out it’s not just some completely sophomoric reaction – a real scientist thinks the same thing! I feel so good.

    I shall have an extra beer tonight, pouring out the first splash as a libation to the community of discursion.

    Thanks fo chiming in, Peter.

  16. John

    Hi Peter. We’re in very different fields, with perhaps the most critical difference being the professional link between public health and government policy. History, on the other hand…well, I heard that W. was a fan of Stephen Ambrose, I guess… 🙂 Our grants are also very small: 50K is considered an exorbitant amount of money for anyone in the humanities, and we don’t maintain labs.

    But, I wonder if you’d agree that the scholarly process can sometimes lead to false consensus. In the humanities, whatever is “hot” is what makes it past peer-review, which often leads to entire sub-fields being either elevated or marginalized. I know this happens in science as well. Peer review is often put on a pedestal, but I’ve had enough encounters of my own to know that a blind review process is not a smoking gun. Finally, have you by chance read FitzPatrick’s book? I’d be interested in your thoughts on it if you have.

    Joseph: I echo Grant’s points–I was thinking about organizations, not concerned individuals who just want to be responsible. As for the website, I guess you’ll have to look through each the references of each article to find their academic sources. Sorry–bibliographic work is neither fast nor easy!

    I’ll also give you an anecdote about industry. In 1987, my father helped launch what was then the fastest paper mill in North America in Duluth, MN (it’s still there on I-35 as you come down the hill). It was also the most eco-friendly paper mill–not because it had to be but because the corporations backing it *wanted* it to be. Green Peace, Sierra Club, et al didn’t bother doing their homework and showed up after the plant was up-and-running. They spiked trees in the woods (injuring several workers), chained themselves to logging ships, and protested the fumes rising from the stacks. That was, of course, until they learned that the factory was emitting water vapor, not smoke; that its logging practices met and exceeded all forestry regulations for harvest and replanting; and that the chemical processes used in the bleaching of the paper were entirely organic. A few years later, the backers of the mill (Pentair and Minnesota Power) funded construction of a de-inking facility next door for the recycling of paper–I think it was the first of its kind in the state of MN.

    Anyway, my point is that industry can sometimes be environmentally conscious on its own. Labeling “business” as regulation-avoiding is probably as misleading as me claiming that all health officials want to ban smoking because they are fascists…well, I might hold onto that one for a while longer… 😉

  17. Peter

    Hi John. It’s very true that our fields are drastically different. I work on the research side of public health as opposed to regulation, so my work requires significantly more funding. It may seem ridiculous, but my animal housing (I work with mouse models of neurodegeneration) runs about $50k/year. As a lab we spend $1,600/day just on mice, and per month it takes more than $350k for supplies, equipment needs, etc. for 40 of us.

    As for the scholarly process leading to false consensus, it’s different when you’re in a field where things can actually be tested reliably. If you don’t believe someone’s published work, you can repeat it to see if it’s correct. I can point out several high profile publications that are simply wrong, but the problem in the field is publishing refuting data – once something is in print, it’s nearly impossible to disprove their work publicly. Peer review is not a perfect system, but often neither are the methods used to draw conclusions. In the end, the peer review process depends on the reviewers and the editorial staff of the journal. I don’t know about humanities, but there are drastic differences in quality, and therefore believability, in biology journals. (btw, I haven’t read FitzPatrick’s book, so I can’t comment)

    Regarding the paper factory in Duluth, I believe our father worked on a related project doing reforestation in the area early in his career. It’s very true that companies can be environmentally conscious on their own, but legislation mandating that they do so certainly leads to better adherence to something that can only bring good.

  18. Peachey Carnehan

    After reading all of these comments, I have to say that my favorite part was this statistic: “$1,600/day just on mice.”

    It makes me grin from ear to ear, and I don’t know why.

    I am not trying to be sarcastic, I really, actually got quite a kick out of that number, and I can’t explain why.

  19. GCC

    Ummm…is this the environmental spin-off of Idiocracy?

    People who realize (or have decided) we need to reduce emissions (i.e. primarily westerners), decide that the benefits of not having kids surpass the benefits of having kids. So they don’t have kids. Meanwhile, those who don’t realize (or haven’t decided) we need to reduce emissions (i.e. everyone else) remain unconcerned with birthrates and continue to have kids. So, what are we then left with? No one to support for climate change initiatives, because the only people who still populate the planet are those who “evolved” without such a concern.

    “Carbon. It’z what the atmosfear craaves!”

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