The Green Triangle

Last week I went to a conference on climate change, a.k.a. global warming, at San Francisco State, my local university. About 1,000 students, teachers, and community members were there. I now understand that we face a terrible threat from the greenhouse effect created by burning oil, coal, and forests and by raising huge numbers of cattle and pigs.


Actions like these create gases (mostly carbon dioxide and methane, but there are several others) that act like a blanket on a bed or like glass windows on a car. In other words, these gases trap heat from the sun, warming the environment.

The greenhouse effect has always been here and we need it to survive. Otherwise the world would be too cold. But with our burning of fossil fuels and our animal farming, we have created an accelerated greenhouse effect. It’s threatening to get way out of control, which is why the glaciers and ice caps are melting.

But there is some good news in all of this: It turns out that the things we need to do to help the environment are also good for our health and will additionally save us money. This principle is called the Green Triangle.

Get Well and Save the Planet
Ernest Callenbach, author of Ecotopia and other books, first described how Earth-friendly practices tend to be good for us and save money. For example, hanging clothes out to dry instead of machine drying saves money, saves energy, and gets you some good exercise (as well as being better for the clothes). Taking public transportation, biking, or walking instead of driving produces fewer greenhouse gases, uses less oil, is less stressful, is cheaper, gives you more exercise, and might even get you some social contact.

This concept works for almost everything. Grain-fed cattle are raised on massive feedlots and generate tons of methane. They are also fattier than grass-fed cattle and their meat is therefore worse for your arteries. So eating less meat and milk from grain-fed cattle is both healthier and better for the environment.

Of course, vegetarianism is also cheaper and can be even healthier if you get enough protein. (See Amy Campbell’s blog entries on vegetarianism and diabetes, starting with “Vegetarianism and Diabetes: Do the Two Mix? [Part 1].”)

You can apply the Green Triangle to your diabetes self-management, too. Exercise is free, green, and healthy. Buying a fast-food burger, on the other hand, supports a production chain that pollutes and damages the environment all the way from beginning to end. Also, preventing complications is a lot less expensive than treating them, and the treatments probably cause pollution.

A Social Triangle
Callenbach says the reason the Green Triangle works is that doing things with other people is cheaper, more fun, and better for you than doing things on your own. For instance, carpooling with friends for a game night is better for the environment, costs less, and provides more social contact than driving by yourself to a movie (where you will have to spend money and won’t get the social support).

Can you think of other examples where the Green Triangle works? Leave a comment here. And check out this Web site (or many others) for eco-friendly living ideas.

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  • robinhood16

    You should Read Michael Crighton’s book State of Fear. I would not be so quick to jump on the global warming bandwagon.

  • Beth

    I live very near my adult daughter and her family. There are many advantages, not the least of which is that my husband and I see our grandchildren often.

    One of the best things about us living near each other is that we frequently share cooking meals — from raw ingredients. For example, tonight she is making chicken and pasta. I am making broccoli and a large, home made green salad. Neither of us would have made this whole meal alone tonight. By splitting the work, both households get a full, healthy meal with plenty of veggies and whole grains; neither of us has to work too much; and my daughter and I get to express our love for each other in a very practical, cooperative way.

    Of course, if you don’t live near your parent or adult child, you could still regularly share cooking with another relative or friend who is nearby.

  • David Spero RN

    Robin, I haven’t read Crichton’s book, but a detailed and balanced (not critical) response can be seen at Real ClimateClimate Science. I was in Alaska last year and everyone is panicked about how fast things are melting up there.

    Beth, those were some great ideas. You are really living green and well.


  • CalgaryDiabetic

    The cows are nothing. We are spewing out millions of tons of carbon dioxide and creating Lakes of polluted water of hundred square miles in order to make oil out of the tar sands. Living in a place with 7 months of winter and a possiblity of snow 12 months a year makes us not worry about global warming. But drought is another matter unlike Lake Powell we no longer have any spare water to divert south because the Tars sands are using it all. So please use your bikes to go to the conner store, plan your trips to minimize. Do something smart not ethanol that will emit more not less green house gases.

  • Melissa

    Hi David. Thank you for your article on the Green Triangle. I am just now learning about things I can do to help my diabetic health and the earth. Melissa

  • David Spero RN

    Hi Anne,
    Congratulations for commenting one year almost to the day after the blog went up. I don’t know if anyone else will see it but yes, you are right about growing herbs and vegetable.
    BTW, I’m not so sure about global warming anymore either. I hope it turns out to be exaggerated, or we’re all cooked, strange weather or not.

  • Anne W.

    Growing a few veggies and herbs could qualify for the green triangle. It’s soothing for the spirit, has a moderate amount of physical activity for the body and it’s good for the purse and the planet. And I forgot to mention delicious!

    By the by, I did read Crighton’s book a few years back and his arguments are compelling. But the reality is the planet is changing. Global warming is technically correct but I think people would understand it better if we called it “global weirding”: the weather is more extreme and more erratic, in short, WEIRD!