ABC Slams Americans as 'Most Wasteful People on the Planet'

According to ABC reporter Elizabeth Vargas, "Americans are the most wasteful people on the planet. We use more than any other people on the planet." The network correspondent's America bashing came as she appeared on Friday's "Good Morning America" to promote a new "20/20" special on how United States citizens haphazardly abuse such amenities as showers and diapers. [Audio available here]

While appearing in front of hundreds of prop-diapers, Vargas lectured, "Well, if everybody lived like [the United States], we would need four, at least four, planet Earths to meet our resource demand and our dumping ground demand." Now, while Vargas did claim that the diapers she used would be given to a hospital, throughout the segment many more diapers, bottles and cut-down trees appeared as props. The question needs to be asked, did "20/20" and the National Geographic network, who co-produced a companion program, waste products, while at the same time haranguing the United States for doing the same thing?

The whole point of special seemed to be simply to make Americans feel guilty. Vargas began by lamenting the fact that "busy parents lose track of just how many [diapers] our children go through and we never stop to think about what has gone into making the average diaper." Next, however, she ruled out cloth diapers as an alternative. "But, have you ever considered what it takes to launder them," she asked. Vargas then proceeded to explain that, over the course of the time a baby would need cloth diapers, they use 22,455 gallons of water. So, no regular diapers and no cloth diapers? What would Ms. Vargas have Americans do instead?

In April of 2004, CNSNews.com reported that militant environmentalists are actually encouraging "diaper free" babies:

Citing concerns about plastic disposable diapers clogging landfills and the amount of washing and detergents that cloth diapers require, many environmentalists are taking a page from tribal cultures and seeking to eliminate the use of the baby diapers altogether.

Is this the future that "Good Morning America" has in store for Americans? GMA is the same program that in 2007 twice featured a "noble" environmentalist who shuns toilet paper. Additionally, in April of 2007, to celebrate Earth Day, GMA co-host Diane Sawyer stood on a plastic bag mound and, at the same time, implored Americans to be less slothful. (The picture at right is representative of the "20/20" special. It looks as though some of the props are computer generated, but Vargas clearly interacts and picks up others. So, again, are the producers of this program being wasteful in order to decry waste?)

At the end of the GMA segment, guest co-host Bill Weir claims, "...If we just trim a little bit, it will have a wide ranging effect." By "trim," does he mean less showers or no diapers? Or both?

A transcript of the segment, which aired at 8:34am on April 11, follows:

BILL WEIR: Well, here's a question for you. Do you really know how much you throw out every day? From extra food to magazines to diapers, what you consume may shock you. Consider this: In your lifetime, you will drink more than 43,000 cans of soda. You will eat 12 shopping carts full of candy bars and generate 64 tons of waste. And that's just the beginning. National Geographic Channel and "20/20" look at the human consumption trend in a new special called "Human Footprint." And Elizabeth Vargas is here with more on this.

ELIZABETH VARGAS: Good morning, Bill. It's one thing to recite those statistics. It's another thing to actually see in one place all the bread you'll eat or all of the milk you'll drink in a lifetime. Take something that is a staple in most American homes, every American home, nearly, at least at one point, the diaper. We spend our first two and a half years in diapers, brilliantly designed for comfort, convenience and hygiene. Diapers are made to use once and throw away. So, busy parents lose track of just how many of them our children go through and we never stop to think about what has gone into making the average diaper. How many diapers require changing over our first two and a half years of life? It adds up fast and it looks like this. [A pile of diapers is in front of Vargas.] This is a little more than four diapers a day. 1518 diapers a year for a total of 3,796 diapers over our diaper-wearing time span. It's convenient for parents but all these diapers make a big impact on the wider world. Because there's more inside a disposable diaper than meets the eye, it takes half a pint of crude oil per diaper to make the plastic waterproof lining that encases them. This is the amount of crude oil [Graphic: 1,898 pints] you'll need for one just child. And over 30 months that single diaper baby will use 715 pounds of plastic. That's as heavy as three heavy weight wrestlers. And that's not all. The soft, fluffy padding on the inside requires the pulp of four and a half trees. Multiply that by the number of babies in the U.S. and the grand total is 18 billion disposable diapers thrown away every year. That's enough to stretch around the world 90 times. And all those diapers will long outlive the babies who soiled them. It could take 500 years or more for them to bio degrade. It could be even longer because we don't really know how long it takes plastic to break down. We may think that reusable diapers are the answer. They are made of national fibers and avoid plastic. But, have you ever considered what it takes to launder them? Washing all those diapers at home will use 22,455 gallons of water. Enough to fill a swimming pool of this size. It's also enough drinking water to quench the thirst of an average person for 93 years. So, in case you were thinking cloth is the option-- And also the heating oil you need to make that water hot to wash the cloth diapers and all of the detergent that goes down the drain. And remember, all of these diapers were sitting in the middle of, one American baby.

WEIR: One child. We should point out, not just a prop, We're going to send these over to the New York Foundling Hospital after we do that.

VARGAS: We're donating them.

WEIR: What about milk? How much do we consume?

VARGAS: We consume in a lifetime 13,056 pounds of milk. Obviously more as children, but three pints a week even as an adult. And you don't think about it. It's in your coffee. It's in your breakfast cereal, in your yogurt, in cakes. That sort of thing. And all of that adds up. We show in the special all of the pints of milk a single person will consume. And it goes from, you know, the front of the street down this, like, long residential street. It's pretty incredible.

WEIR: And water is such a precious resource. What about showers?

VARGAS: We take 28,433 showers. That's a phenomenal amount of water.

WEIR: Each one of these [computer generated picture of rubber ducks appears onscreen], I guess, rubber ducks represent, one shower?

VARGAS: Each rubber duck represents one shower. And you can't see this. Again, those rubber ducks also goes across an entire field and finally go down to a pond. The-- I mean, the whole thing about this, Bill, is to think about in the aggregate, what you and I each will use. Americans are the most wasteful people on the planet. We use more than any other people on the planet.

WEIR: Right. And if we just trim a little bit, it will have a wide ranging effect.

VARGAS: Well, if everybody lived like us, we would need four, at least four, planet Earths to meet our resource demand and our dumping ground demand.

WEIR: Wow. A sobering, important reality check. Elizabeth thanks so much. And you can see much more tonight on "20/20" at 10/9 central. And "Human Footprint" airs Sunday, April 13, on the National Geographic Channel.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org