Monday, June 14, 2010

I Am Part Of The Problem

When it comes to the environment I really do go out of my way to be good to the earth, for someone who lives in the modern world. I take cloth bags with me to the grocery store, I don't put my produce in those plastic produce bags (I never understand why anyone does, and I've seen people put a single apple in a bag. What the fuck?!!?), I buy organic local as much as I can, I look for bulk bins so I can avoid small plastic bags. The downtown farmers market has a bin of black beans from a farm within 100 miles and I can scoop them right in to a paper bag, thus avoiding both plastic bags and tin cans while buying a product from nearby instead of from California or Mexico.

I also get to the store by foot or public transportation, how I get around in my daily life. I put my kid in the stroller, throw my bags underneath and come home lugging sometimes three full bags of groceries. I haven't owned a car in 18 years and I'm really proud of that fact. Yes, my life would be easier with one, and there are days when I'm going home with heavy groceries, pushing the stroller and getting rained on that I really question that choice. But I'm glad I do it. The world would be a better place with a lot less cars in it.

We, my wife and I, even spend a little more money to use an environmentally-friendly diaper system that involves reusable pants and liners stuffed with biodegradable inserts that collect all the pee and poop. No plastic goes in to the landfills from our diapers. We also use cornstarch garbage bags to limit the amount of plastic we throw out so we can avoid adding to the continent made of plastic swirling around in the Pacific.

And I recycle like crazy.

But there is a good chance that all of this good I try to do for the earth is negated by how much I travel. See, even though I really can't stand to fly I do it a lot. And you want to talk about how many pounds of carbon per passenger mile a jetliner puts out? Ooh boy, no other mode of transportation even comes close. And it puts the stuff a hell of a lot farther up in the atmosphere, as to maximize the damage.

And in the next four months alone I will be taking at least four round trip flights. All from Chicago; two to the East Coast, one to the West Coast and one to Europe. That doesn't even get us to the holidays so who knows how many I might have by the end of the year? And we already know we are going to France next summer.

I certainly do well once I'm in my destination. I'm a master at getting around public transportation around the world. It is very rare that I need to rent a car. It is just the getting there that I'm helping to pump the air full of CO2. Granted, I'm better than someone who drives an SUV in their everyday life and also travels as much as me. But still.

I love to travel. I love it more than I love doing just about anything else. I talk to other people that like to travel and they always mention that, even though they love traveling so much, they are always happy to get home. Not me. Whenever I'm in line at U.S. Immigration after getting off a plane form overseas I'm always thinking to myself, "Fuck, I'm home."

I certainly would fly less if given the chance. I think a lot of people would. If they could get a real high speed train going between Chicago and New York, ones that can go 200+ mph like ones in Europe, that trip could take as little as six hours or less. Even if it got cut to eight hours I would choose that over the plane. But when it takes an overnight 18-hour trip it is hard to pull off when a person has only a certain amount of time. If it wasn't for our laughable vacation time in America it might be possible. My wife gets four weeks, which everyone considers a lot, but would be a reason to go on strike in many European countries.

A train that could go that fast could put air routes between many cities, like Chicago-NYC, out of business. And the environmental impact difference would be amazing. Especially if those trains ran on renewable electricity. If I could get around my own country on just trains and only have to fly when going overseas I would feel a lot better about it.

But for now I know not what to do. I have an insatiable and incurable wanderlust. (To the point where it can drive my wife mad. I started talking to her the other night about thinking where we wanted to move next. This is after we just moved less than ten months ago for her to start a new job. I'm pretty sure she wanted to smack me in the head.) I want to see as much of the world as I can before I die.

I can't imagine giving up travel, even though I know the environmental toll. It would kill me.

I'd like to think I'm better than that asshole driving around Manhattan, the place with the best public transit in the country, in an SUV. But maybe I'm not, after all?


Anonymous said...

In everything we do we "are part of the problem" somehow. Population in general, in its propagation, is part of the problem. I struggle with this issue almost every day. I compost, recycle, bring my own bags, try to buy local/organic (tough luck on THAT one around these parts--seems it's either or), and as much as I'd love to do it more, I DON'T FLY. But instead? I commute to work in a car. So does my wife, whose admirable government job is to try to keep as much out of landfill; to divert and educate people about recycling and reusing--located 33 miles away. Each way. We both see the irony in this lifestyle. But we both realize that most logical systems are not in place in this country. I've been talking lately of taking a trip to Europe via ocean liner. I don't know if it's possible still, nowadays. But I know this: if most people lived as frugally and attentively as we (and you) do (by the way, we generate 3/4 of a bag of garbage per week), the world would be a much better place. I can do what I can, as much as I can...but I expect others to do the same. I can dream.

megan said...

Carbon offsets. Also: And: