Have you seen the John Wayne-type character with the huge cowboy hat on the billboards that scream, “Go Green, Buy Yaller”? I was outraged by the boldface lie I saw again and again as I drove around town. Jeanne tells me this same ad is all over television too! Treated lumber is treated with poisons to keep insects and the elements at bay for awhile. Do they think we are stupid? True, the treated-and-poisoned lumber carries a slightly yellow cast, but the declaration that it is “green” can only be considered crass commercialism. Any spot on earth that produces this poisoned wood becomes a hazardous wasteland. The workers that produce the chemicals and the workers who treat the lumber with these toxic chemicals are exposed to serious health hazards.
When a consumer buys this poisoned product we are cautioned to handle the wood with gloves on our hands, to use a mask when sawing the wood and not to burn any scraps. I know a carpenter who regularly ignores this warning and burns the scraps at group bonfires endangering anyone nearby breathing air. And what happens to the infants or pets who crawl all over a deck made from this toxic lumber?
Extending the life of any wood we must use is a priority for anyone trying to be environmentally conscious. We have used cedar and local oak with positive results. We used rough sawn local oak for the siding and the stairs on our house. After twenty-two years the inch-thick siding is intact because we have a generous roof overhang which keeps much of the rain off the siding. After twenty-two years of hard use in this moist climate, we did have to replace the oak boards in the steps. “Treated” lumber may or may not last twenty years.
Both cedar and cypress are resistant to the damage from moisture. Pine is not and will rot in less than five years. In 1993 I purchased a Adirondack style chair made from cypress. It served us well for two decades living outside year round. The seat has decayed, but the arched back is intact and I plan to recycle the back into a plant trellis. Last summer we finished fencing a large area behind our house to help protect our rat terriers from roaming predators. We chose cedar boards for the gate and employed a talented woman carpenter to craft the beautiful gate pictured here. As we helped to set the cedar posts, we learned from her that a gate needs to be sturdy because it defies gravity twenty-four hours a day.
Only the constant exercise of our critical thinking skills will counteract the misuse or out right lies attached to labeling a practice or product “green”. “Big Daddy” profiteers will try to lure us to their products and lull our sense of outrage at the audacity of their claims. Mary Daly, radical and wicked thinker, warned us about patriarchal reversals of the truth. In this case, the industry that creates poisoned wood declares their product to be environmentally desirable.
At times, even committed environmentalists will disagree about the benefits and tradeoffs they consider advantageous to the health of the environment. “Best use practices” involve judgement calls–we all need to be referees guarding the health of the earth and the living creatures she supports. “Green” has become a advertising “buzzword” worthy of a buzzard’s contempt. (For the uninitiated, buzzards can reguritate at will when alarmed.) At least the buzzards are doing an environmentally helpful chore of recycling carrion. At times outrage is the appropriate response to outrageous claims for “green” products.
Photo credits: Cedar gate on the east side of the house was photographed by Paula in late 2008