Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Here we go again...

Sometimes I feel like I should title this blog "Everything the Greenies tell you is wrong". Except that, well--I actually do care about the environment. But what bugs me most about many green blogs is that they simply don't make sense.

Today's MSN article about conventional versus soy candles is a case in point: the idea is that burning conventional, paraffin-based candles are more toxic than burning candles made of soy wax. At first glance, this seems plausible--after all, paraffin is derived from petroleum, and we all know how it feels to be stuck behind a diesel truck inhaling the noxious fumes.

But then, ask yourself: what exactly is wax? All waxes are collections of long-chain alkanes and esters, varying only in the details of structure and the lengths of the chains. Soy-based wax, for that matter, doesn't even exist--it has to be manufactured, from soybean oil, using the same hydrogenation process that produces trans-fats.

(And here, I must digress for a moment on the lovely irony that the very people who say that eating trans-fats are terrible for you, would advocate burning them)

In other words, the chemical composition is more or less the same, and if we're talking about combustion, the end products are--wait for it--exactly the same. In other words, you'll get a lungful of chemical smoke no matter what you burn. In other words, if you want to avoid toxins in the air, don't burn stuff.

The only valid point the article makes is that there could be lead in the wick. According to some, 30% of candles have a lead wick (lead in the center of the wick). That would be very bad. But the study that the statement was based on makes no distinction between the usual paraffin candle and the plant-wax based candle. So to assume that all 30% of paraffin candles contain lead wicks, while all plant-wax based candles do not, is still a logical fallacy.

Ex-president Bush was often criticized loudly for ignoring the science and sticking to his agenda, especially on environmental issues. This just goes to show that the knife cuts both ways...

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