Monthly Archives: November 2012

A Thanksgiving Cornucopia of Wrongest Products

We could almost throw in the 1000 thread count towel and just admit we’ve been insurmountably topped in the Wrongest Product Awards competition.  First came the suggestion from a reader following our nomination of the lighted pillow spied in a local outpost of a chain store. (local chain store = oxymoron?) He noticed the proud and iconic “As Seen on TV” logo and mentioned he’d once survived a visit to the As Seen on TV store. (We didn’t even know there was such a thing. Is everything displayed on TV’s?) For our awards, he said, it was a “target-rich environment.”

Then along comes a post from one of our favorite blogs, Unconsumption, linking to a thoroughly justified lampoon of the Williams-Sonoma catalog. In it one can apparently find such necessities of life as a waffle batter dispenser (in what I can only assume is a related post, Unconsumption points out a suggestion by Real Simple for a free one), an acorn shaped wooden container for twine (they squandered, though, the opportunity to call it a twine cozy), and my own

$29.95 from Williams-Sonoma vs free as suggested by Real Simple via Unconsumption









favorite gift for an instant greenie: a “reclaimed rustic chicken coop” that costs $759.95 with a painted chicken on the side or $599.95 without. The site’s author notes “and honestly, if you’re buying a goddamn chicken coop from a catalog, why NOT spring for the painted chicken?”










As far as our simply conceding defeat here and now in the search for the Wrongest Product, we prefer to take it as a sign of just how many candidates there are out there.

Previous Wrongest Product Award nominations


Wrongest Product Award nominations are open! Send your nominees to ImNotBuyinIt (at)

Are we scared yet?

Scary things I’ve experienced or heard in the past couple of weeks:








On the bright side, I guess, we’ve a re-elected president who actually mentioned climate change (though barely) and, here in NY, a governor and a mayor who are willing to go further than just mentioning it. Whether that will amount to more than lip service is yet to be seen.

Among the many issues this quadfecta of scariness raises is one that starts with the question: is it time to be scared? Once you get past the basic question of whether this truly is scary stuff — the dead canaries before an imminent disaster — it’s actually, I think, a matter of several more complex questions.

The primary one I’d pose asks whether getting societally scared is useful. This is an old question in the environmental movement. Will we be more successful and persuasive if people fear for their lives? Historically this has been true, but there are risks in that approach: backlashes, accusations of crying wolf and/or hysteria and, conversely, the possibility – which seems to have proven the case so far – that there’s no way to create an imminent enough and sustained environmental fear. Climate disasters and oil crises come and go. Most of the country has long moved past Katrina and the BP oil spill, and Sandy is already all but gone from the headlines.

Can one be scared and optimistic, too?

For a blog incorporating the word optimism in its title, a further question is whether fear is antithetical to optimism. I don’t want to get embroiled in language or psychology definitions; certainly one can be afraid while hoping for the best. But EcoOptimism is based on the idea that we neither want nor need to make the eco argument on an “end is nigh” approach. We know that hasn’t worked with previous warning signs. Perhaps it might this time. We don’t, however, know whether there is a tipping point of warnings, in terms of either frequency or scale. In other words, even if we wanted to, we can’t count on it.

Many of us have also been reluctant to make our case hinge on such a tipping point because it’s entirely possible that by the time the public perceives that we’ve reached that point, it will be too late. That fatalism would seem to be even less in keeping with this idea of EcoOptimism, but here’s where I think some clarification is needed. E-O (I’m tired of typing it out) isn’t about a belief that the worst won’t happen. We’ll leave that head-in-the-sand delusiveness to the James Imhofes, Koch brothers and other Friends of Fox.

Rather, the optimism in E-O is the belief that, yes, there are solutions to our environmental issues, but additionally those solutions are also compatible with (or the same as!) solutions to our economic travails AND, furthermore, implementing those solutions will result in improved well-being and improved life styles. This is counter to both the usual notion that environmental solutions are a drag on the economy, and that environmental solutions require sacrifices in the quality of our lives. (Apologies if you’ve been a regular reader of E-O; you’ve heard me say this innumerable times.)

So what this means is you or I can be an EcoOptimist and yet be concerned or even pessimistic about our future. Phew, so in my moments of eco despair  I’m not contradicting myself after all. Nor do we have to be delusional or unrealistic; we can comprehend that we’ve got a nasty situation here, and we may or may not be too late. (More on that in an upcoming post.) The point is that you don’t have to agree that doom is imminent (plus or minus a century or two) in order to pursue the same steps and policies advocated by the Chicken Little greenies when those policies are also beneficial in non-enviro senses…and, oh by the way, might also save humanity. As any number of Jewish moms would say:

What’s not to like?  

What we have here is the environmental analog of Pascal’s Wager. (What’s the term – other than “plate of shrimp” –used to describe when something comes up multiple times in a short period? Pascal’s Wager has done that to me this week.) Blaise Pascal argued that one might as well believe in God because, in doing so, you’d have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It’s just, he says, the rational thing to do. And so it is with environmental policy.

Wrongest Product Nominee Discovered During Sandy

Wrongest Product Award nominees can crop up when you least expect them. Or perhaps that’s the only time they appear. In this case, I stumbled upon the BrightLight pillow (batteries not included) while on line in a CVS during Superstorm Sandy. “Useless,” I thought, but then realized it was perhaps exactly what I needed for my semi-refugee status. It could serve as both pillow and emergency light. Assuming, of course, that the store hadn’t run out of batteries.









Previous Wrongest Product Award nominations


The Wrongest Product Awards will go to those products (and their designers) that embody the least amount of redeeming value while incurring the use of unnecessary, often gratuitous, materials or energy.

How is this relevant to EcoOptimism, you might ask? Easy – it shows how extraneous so many products are, often in a “what-were-they-thinking” sense.

Nominations are open. Send yours to ImNotBuyinIt (at)

Sandy May Be the Tipping Point, But We Really Didn’t Need One

Which are we more likely to believe: fact or fiction? There’s been much written about the “fact” that many Americans don’t believe in “facts.” Or to put it another way, what defines a fact? When does a theory become a scientific consensus, and is that different from a fact?

The point of relevance, of course, is Superstorm Sandy.  The “Frankenstorm” scenario that just transformed from run-of-the-mill screenplay to reality – that is, from fiction to fact — is not that much different from any number of eco-disaster movies: global warming-fueled hurricane converges with winter storm to devastate the NY region. It even has a subplot, what with the election next week and pundits wondering how that will be affected. (Did Christie stick it to Romney by complimenting Obama?)

We’ve been warned by a tsunami of dramatic scenarios, ranging from the mildly plausible The Day After Tomorrow – yes, there actually is some theoretical basis in its explanation if not in its timeline — to the sneakily messaged Wall-E, and from there to made- for-TV dreck that doesn’t even qualify for B-movie status. (Can I please have back the late nights I’ve lost hoping that some SyFy channel rerun will actually give me something to write about. Oh wait, they just did.)











I’m fascinated by post-apocalyptic visions and have lately been treated to a (genetically modified?) harvest of TV series. More on that in another post. What we’re pondering here is what it will take to convince us, as a country, that climate disruption is real, and that it poses “a real and present danger” (stealing from yet another movie). It’s easy to understand why fictional tales haven’t swayed the skeptics. They are, after all, fiction. But real life is another story. When the real thing occurs, we rationalize that any individual weather event does not serve as proof of a pattern, let alone a pattern that is induced by us. But when does the pattern add up to a new reality? At the Institute for Policy Studies, Daphne Wysham writes

[W]e are fooling ourselves, again and again, just as our children do every Halloween. This Frankenstorm, can we stop fooling ourselves? Our planet desperately needs us to act like adults and get beyond [just] responding to one storm after another, as though each one were a unique shock, and not related to an overall climate crisis of enormous proportions.

Will we see the pattern through the politics? If not, how many more puzzle pieces will be needed?

Or, if you prefer the more “rational” economic argument, when does the cost of climate-induced damage exceed the cost of action to curtail further climate disruption? (And – we have to ask ourselves – how does the cost of adaptation and resilience figure in?) A barely three week old report from the insurance giant Munich Re says the US losses from weather catastrophes from 1980 to 2011 amounted to more than $1 trillion. And 30,000 deaths. I don’t have more numbers handy (I really need an intern), but I strongly suspect that if we added up the costs of disasters that were caused or exacerbated by fossil fuel related activities, they would be greater than the costs of switching to alternative energy sources. And if they aren’t, well then, it doesn’t take much imagination to extrapolate that they will be in the near future.

The number of climate-related disasters has increased greatly while the number of other natural disasters has remained fairly constant. (source: UNEP,











So, as I write this from my temporary Manhattan-refugee location in Brooklyn (with much thanks to my wife’s brother and sister-in-law), I come back to the point of EcoOptimism. If you need to rationalize the environmental steps advocated by the “alarmists,” if in the term scientific consensus you hear only the word con, then forget about the stick for a moment and focus on the carrot. The steps to a carbon neutral existence will also improve our lives. I’m not talking about the idea of sustainability, which is merely ensuring that humanity can continue to exist (as if that isn’t a basic enough goal), but the idea that we also will be better off after buying the insurance. We’re talking about tangibles like better health as well as intangibles such as spending less time and money keeping apace with the treadmill and more time to spend on things and activities that really make us better people.

Most times when we buy insurance, it’s just to protect ourselves from exposure to future costs. Buy fire insurance and, if your house burns down, the insurance buys you another one. But environmental “insurance,” whether it be in the form of a carbon tax or something else, is not merely money thrown at a potential problem to cover your potential losses. (Never mind that no amount of insurance can buy us another planet.)  It’s money that is directed against an all but certain eventuality and at the same time has the ability to improve the value of the asset you’re protecting: your life. That has to be the deal of a “lifetime.”