WASHINGTON - Stop worrying about choosing paper or plastic at the checkout line or selecting cloth or disposable for baby's bottom. Instead, think more about the things that matter most, such as what you drive and how much you drive.
That's the message for consumers in a new book from the Union of Concerned Scientists, a group that says it uses science for the public interest. The book is The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices.
While largely avoiding anti-truck rhetoric, it represents nonetheless another attempt at cooling Americans' passion for pickups, sport-utilities and vans and reviving public interest in fuel economy.
Authors Warren Leon and Michael Brower describe how they scientifically estimated the environmental impact of more than 130 consumer decisions, from mowing the lawn to heating the home.
They conclude that, despite cleaner cars and trucks, driving is the means by which the average household can inflict the most overall environmental damage. Their analysis included measurements of air pollution, water pollution, global warming and habitat alteration.
Leon, deputy director of the group, told Automotive News he is not anti-vehicle. 'People should have cars, and they should drive their cars. But they need to drive less, and they need to have better cars,' he said.
The book is designed in part to counter various published lists that recommend things people can do for the environment but that fail to differentiate between those with significant impact from those without.
Diane Steed, president of the Coalition for Vehicle Choice, supported in part by the automobile industry, has not seen the book but said it sounds like it is worth a look. In any case, she maintained that a vehicle buyer has to take into account many factors, including safety.
Brower, a physicist, is former director of research at the group and is now an independent consultant specializing in energy issues. Leon, originally a college teacher, coordinates the organization's planning and research. Both have doctoral degrees from Harvard University.
Founded in 1969, primarily as an anti-nuclear organization, the group is funded with foundation grants and individual donations, a spokesman said.