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Good News: Being Lazy Can Be Good for the Environment

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You may feel bad about the days when you never leave the couch, but there is an upside to working remotely, watching Netflix, ordering food and consumer goods online, and lying around your house scrolling through Facebook. A new study in the journal Joule, spotted by Fast Company, finds that as technology allows people to spend more time at home, it's reducing American energy usage.

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin examined data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' annual American Time Use Survey, finding that between 2003 and 2012, people spent more time at home and less time traveling to and from stores and work. According to this data, Americans in 2012 spent a total of 7.8 more days at home than in 2003 and 1.2 fewer days traveling. That means they weren't getting in their cars and burning up fossil fuels to drive around town. And, if fewer people are working in offices overall, presumably those buildings require less energy to run (for example, they don't need as much power for lights or air conditioning). In total, the researchers estimate that Americans used 1.8 percent less energy as a nation because of this home-bound change in lifestyle.

Considering that these metrics are from 2012, it's likely that people are spending even less time traveling outside their houses these days. U.S. government data show that e-commerce has been a steadily growing portion of total retail sales for a decade.

There's reason to resist becoming a total hermit, though—and it's not just the need for Vitamin D or exercise. There are aspects of staying home that aren't quite so carbon-friendly—ones that aren't fully addressed in this study. You may be staying off the road, but the trucks delivering your groceries and goods aren't, and they require fossil fuel. Cities are currently overwhelmed with delivery trucks ferrying packages from Amazon, Peapod, Postmates, and all the other online services that people can now use as their go-to shopping destinations. The massive upsurge in people getting groceries, office supplies, home goods, clothing, and just about anything else delivered to their homes has led to an increase in freight traffic, because trucks still have to be deployed to get those packages to front doors. (At least until drone delivery takes off.)

Staying at home and watching a movie on Netflix instead of going out to the movies saves energy, but having your toilet paper sent to your home still requires some gas. Time will tell whether shipping services dropping off purchases, versus people going out shopping, significantly reduces carbon usage. One study found that results depend on whether the shopper lives in a suburban or urban environment, among other issues [PDF]. So enjoy your Netflix night, but don't get too smug about your Amazon purchases just yet.

[h/t Fast Company]

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Daniel Berehulak, Getty Images
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environment
Sip on This: The Queen Has Banned Plastic Straws at Buckingham Palace
Daniel Berehulak, Getty Images
Daniel Berehulak, Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth II is a big fan of naturalist David Attenborough, and it’s making an impact on royal dining. After working with the iconic Planet Earth narrator (and British knight) on an upcoming conservation film, the monarch felt inspired to take action close to home, banning plastics at royal palaces, Fast Company and The Telegraph report.

At Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and Scotland’s Palace of Holyroodhouse, staff will now have to eschew plastic straws and plates, ditching disposable plastic dishware for china, glass, and recyclable paper. The ban will slowly rid public areas of plastic, too. In the palaces’ cafes, all takeout containers will be replaced with compostable or biodegradable alternatives, and plastic straws will slowly be phased out.

While plastic water bottles and bags often get more attention in anti-pollution campaigns, plastic straws are terrible for the environment, and the Queen isn’t the only one taking notice. Plastic straws are one of the most prevalent types of litter, and because of their size, they can’t be recycled. Scotland’s government banned them in parliament in January 2018 and hopes to ban them throughout the country by 2020. Companies like Pret a Manger are already trying to take action against straw waste, introducing paper straws instead.

The problem isn’t limited to the UK—in the U.S., Americans throw away an estimated 500 million straws per day (that’s between one and two per person). In California, several cities have mandated that restaurants provide plastic straws only if customers specifically ask for one, and the legislation may soon spread to the rest of the state. Beginning in July 2018, Seattle restaurants will have to offer compostable or recyclable straws instead of plastic ones as part of a new ban.

Time to make like the Queen and start a BYO-straw movement. Might we suggest you try a reusable silicone or stainless steel option?

[h/t Fast Company]

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NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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