10 Shocking Facts About Our World

By Jeff Yeager. Last updated 8 April 2010. 10 comments
Photo: iStock

When you write about money and the environment for a living, you're constantly bombarded by related facts, figures and other interesting stuff. It seems like a day doesn't pass without someone emailing me a press release about how much CO2 is released via cow flatulence every year, or how much money you could save by heating your home with cow chips. Come to think of it, maybe I'm just on some type of All Bovine News list serve.

Last year I decided to keep track of some of the most interesting eco-facts (as in ecological as well as economical) I ran across, and start a new annual tradition: The Green Cheapskate's Top 10 Shocking Eco Stats of the Year. Here goes:

10. The organization Environmental Defense says that U.S. cars and trucks emit 314 metric tons of CO2 every year, and -- in case you were wondering -- that's equivalent to burning as much coal as would fit in a 50,000 mile long freight train. Gosh, I'd hate to be stuck at a railroad crossing waiting for that one to pass.

9. Remember the Exxon Valdez oil spill? Thank God something like that hasn't happened again. Sorry, but according to the National Academy of Sciences, on average there are 27 oil spills every day somewhere in the waters of the worlds, and the Valdez spill doesn't even make the list of the top 30 all-time largest.

8. But now for some good news about oil: The American Petroleum Institute (API) tells us that if the government would lift those silly environmental restrictions and allow the petrol industry to drill everywhere, there's enough oil right here in the U.S. to fuel 60 million cars and trucks for 60 years! Unfortunately, API seems to forget to mention that there are already more than 250 million cars and trucks in the U.S. Somehow "drill baby drill" doesn't sound like the lifesaver API claims it is when you know all the fossil fuel facts.

7. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson's character in A Few Good Men, "Credit cards? You can't handle the credit cards!" Apparently that's true for most Americans. BankRate.com says that people who pay for fast food using a credit card spend approximately 50% more than those who buy their burgers with cash. And the average purchase on a credit card ends up costing 112% more (that's right, more than double) because most people fail to pay off their cards monthly. So according to Bankrate, a $1,000 charge on an average card will take almost 22 years to pay, and will cost more than $2,300 in interest ($3,300 total) -- if only 2% minimum payments are made.

6. Man, have weekly allowances ever increased since I was a kid. According to an Associated Press article, American kids between the ages of 12 and 19 now spend about $179 billion annually. That translates into more than $100 per teen per week.

5. Maybe kids these days are raking in the big bucks by mowing neighborhood lawns. According to the U.S. EPA, Americans spend $25 billion a year on lawn care. Residential lawns and gardens are doused with 80 million pounds of chemical pesticides and 70 million tons of fertilizers annually.

4. I love that Joni Mitchell song Big Yellow Taxi. You know, the one with the lyrics, "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot." Every year in the U.S. we pave over roughly 1.3 million acres of formerly unpaved land, according to a Carrying Capacity Network conference held in Washington, DC. Since that's almost twice the size of the Hawaiian Islands, I guess Joni actually understated the problem.

3. According to the Harvard Center of Risk Analysis, more than 2,500 deaths and 330,000+ injuries every year in the U.S. are caused by the use of cell phones (both handheld and hands-free phones) while driving. Yet only six states prohibit the use of cell phones while driving, and that only applies to hand-held phones; no state currently prohibits the use of hands-free phones.

2. World hunger stinks, but maybe it doesn't have to. According to the website globalissues.org, it would cost about $13 billion annually to satisfy the world's basic sanitation and food requirements. As they point out, that's roughly equivalent to what Americans and Europeans spend on perfume and cologne every year. Can't we all agree that the world would smell a lot better if no one wore perfume or cologne, but no one was starving to death either?

1. Oh well, I'm sure the next generation will be more ecologically and economically savvy than we are. Or maybe not: According to the Children in Nature website, "Children can identify up to 1,000 corporate logos, but fewer than 10 plants or animals native to their backyards."

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Guest's picture

My shocking fact:

Marijuana has been used for over 5,000 years with not a single attributable death. Yet it's still illegal according to the Federal Government, and classified as a schedule 1 drug. That classification means that it has no perceived medical benefits and has a "high potential" for abuse.

Numerous studies, including the Nixon report, have shown that the propaganda surrounding the drug is almost entirely unfounded. There is no evidence of any physical addiction or evidence showing it causes cancer. Some studies are claiming that it may actually help to fight cancer.

It has been used to effectively treat multiple sclerosis, depression, glaucoma, nausea, PMS, asthma, vomiting, spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer's, AIDs, and chemotherapy patients. Yet, the government still refuses to reclassify and/or legalize it.

Guest's picture

i wouldn't call it shocking, i would call this facts interesting. I think the reason why so many kids can identify corporate logos is because of all the advertising and the subliminal images projected into their minds daily

Guest's picture

I didn't know the numbers regarding the driving and using the phone cells in the same time. These numbers are huge!

Guest's picture

Of course the amount "kids" spend is going to be dramatic if you include the ones in college! I only just turned 20 and I'm already $13,000 in debt because of student loans, and my university is one of the cheapest in the country. Also take into account the fact that a lot of kids over age 16 have jobs and work for every penny they make. It's not like their mommies and daddies are giving them money to spend on nothing but video games and candy.

Guest's picture

Did you know that in 2000 there was an article published in JAMA discussing the deaths attributable to doctors and hospitals? If you buy those statistics then it follows doctors were the 3rd leading cause of death in the US in 2000.

Check out this article:


Guest's picture

Correlation is not causation. I put larger expenditures on the card to conserve trips to the ATM, and pay smaller ones in cash for speed.

The iatrogenic death statistics are spectacularly overblown, too... and I'm no fan of doctors and hospitals.

Guest's picture

That claim about credit card users spending 50% more on fast food seems very dubious to me.

I would note that the article linked to on that actually says that people spend "up to 50% more" which is not the same as "spend approximately 50% more". The words "up to" matter a lot.

Guest's picture

Jeez, we spend enough on perfume and cologne to end world hunger? Maybe I'm the only one, but I'm embarrassed by that statement. Its time to do something about that.

Guest's picture

Are you kidding "drill baby drill."  Why not have the oil industry put  its profits where it would count maybe IDk renewable energy for  starters, just because your living rich docent mean everyone is, stop  being so arrogant.& For one I would rather not have to pay for what can  be provided free do to that fantastic nature of the world and universe.  I'm sure it wouldn't be hard to find your name somewhere in the list of  stock holders of a major oil company just itching to pop a rig up off  the coast of California... You're no better than the very people who  bind the American to a currency inflating out of control enslaving the  youth of to days feature of pasts "Dept". So keep telling your self you  know what its like, after all you do have a book?

Guest's picture

I could live without increasing the oil drilling in the U.S. We dont need anymore oil spills like the one in the Gulf. As a finance guy, I understand the profit in oil, but we need to start seriously decreasing our dependence on the stuff!