Week of 3/7/2004

Dear EarthTalk: What is the environmental impact of America’s consumer buying habits?
—Jenni Perez, Los Angeles, CA

Your next-door neighbor just bought a Hummer. That long-untouched parcel of land around the corner just became home to a new strip mall. And on your short bicycle trip to the office you count dozens of discarded soda cans and bottled water containers with pretty nature scenes on them. Back home, your kid’s floor and closet are littered with CDs, video game cartridges, $150 sneakers and bean-filled toys. Indeed, a recent Time/CNN poll found that 80 percent of people think children are more spoiled today than the kids of 10 or 15 years ago. Arguably, the adults may be, too.

The nonprofit Center for a New American Dream, whose stated mission is to "help Americans consume responsibly to protect the environment, enhance quality of life and promote social justice," says that America’s growing obsession with acquisition is taking a heavy toll on the environment. According to the group’s president, Betsy Taylor, the U.S. consumes more energy, water, paper, steel and meat per capita than any other country, so much so that at least four additional planets would be needed to provide the American lifestyle if every person on Earth were to demand it. Meanwhile, forests are being lost at an alarming rate, farmlands and wetlands are being engulfed by development, plant and animal species are disappearing and our air and water continue to be threatened by pollution.

Participants of New Dream’s web-based Turn the Tide program follow "nine little actions" to try to reduce their personal impact on the environment, including skipping car trips, eating one less beef meal a week, reducing water use and installing energy-efficient light bulbs. The program enables participants to track the positive impact of their actions—and see the cumulative impact of all of the program’s participants across North America. CNAD estimates that for every 1,000 people who pursue the program for one year, 48.5 million gallons of water and 170 trees are saved and 4 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere are prevented.

CONTACT: Center for a New American Dream, (301) 891-3683, www.newdream.org.


Dear EarthTalk: I’ve heard that conventional lice treatments contain toxic chemicals. Are safer, more natural alternatives available?—Dwayne Newton, Charleston, SC

The National Pediculosis Association (NPA) advises consumers to be cautious with conventional lice treatments, including shampoos and lotions, since they contain toxic, and in some cases carcinogenic, pesticides. The NPA says that people with epilepsy, asthma, brain tumors, cancer or AIDS, and pregnant or nursing women, should completely avoid any chemical lice medications. Further, the NPA is calling on the medical community to address the current "resistance crisis" of lice becoming increasingly resistant to pesticide treatments.

Fortunately, several pesticide-free alternative products are now available that help get rid of lice and nits (lice eggs) safely and effectively. The NPA endorses a comb called the LiceMeister (around $10), which has closely spaced, stainless steel teeth that glide easily through hair, collecting lice and nits. The comb is safe but the process is quite time consuming as it works best when used daily during infestation and regularly thereafter. Well-In-Hand Herbals" Non-Toxic Nit Kit ($18.99) includes an easy-to-use herbal formula that smothers and kills lice. This product, which won’t dry hair out, is made from olive, canola and essential oils and has a fresh, natural scent. The Nit Kit also comes with a fine-toothed metal comb and 5x magnifier to help find the unwanted insects.

CONTACTS: National Pediculosis Association, (781) 449-NITS, www.headlice.org; Well-In-Hand, (434) 384-7774, www.wellinhand.com.