Monday, February 4, 2008

Footprints

















Ouch! I've recently had my hand slapped, virtually so to speak, and deservedly so, for a post I wrote last Tuesday about global climate change. And the fact that the hand-slapper was not only right, in theory, but also a respected and eloquent blogger - made the sting of that slap ache even more.

I suppose on some level when we decide to put ourselves out here - when we venture from the safety of our computer screen and hit that send button -- exposing our thoughts and feelings and general interests - we also have to be open to the idea that the response, solicited or unsolicited, might not always be so flattering. I've been humbled to say the least.

I traveled quite extensively last week - a job hazard for certain - my livelihood for the last two decades has been dependent on air travel -- its the means I've gotten used to for paying my bills and taking care of my family. I traveled more last week than I normally do in four months. And within that week of travel, constantly aloft at 30,000 feet, I looked out through the window pane at the earth down below and saw weather where it did not belong -- snow in the south, rain in the north, prairies under ice or on fire and mountain peeks exposed without snow. In a surreal way it seemed similar to what some concerned head-of-state must feel surveying the aerial damage of a natural disaster and my heart raced at the thought of that not so distant reality.

And juxtaposed against that view from the window seat and the associated epiphanies of the landscape below was a series of passengers, row-mates if you will, seated next to me and seemingly, one after the other, hell bent on giving me their very much unsolicited opinion of global warming and their facts that the concept was indeed a farce, a scam, a liberal conspiracy, and an evil attempt to undermine moral family values and the American Way of Life. The irrationality of their rant combined the weird weather below did not go unnoticed.

On the last leg of my travels a fellow Oklahoman seated next to me started in again on the much-too-familiar diatribe on the duplicity of the idea of global climate change. By now I had become the master of the segue and gently changed the conversation to something a little less combative -- my reward: a more palatable topic and his business card -- which I pocketed out of respect.

Once home I learned that my neighbor on the plane - the one who funds politicians and legislation that work toward stifling the growing outcry of global warming by labeling it a hoax - owns a nearly 9000 square foot home -- and in building that new home bulldozed, back-hoed and stripped bare any remaining evidence of the centuries-old hearty oak forests and replaced it with two acres of fertilized sod. In the face of the anti-global warning lecture, it touched a nerve to say the least.

And so fresh off the plane, I wrote a quick little post that spoke of my increasing frustration for the preponderance of people I was meeting in my travels that refuse to accept the idea that we humans have a hand in the global climate change now taking place at an alarming rate. I wrote, not so much about our responsibility to global warning, but to the idea that people refusing to believe in it all together were starting to appear a wee bit selfish to me - especially after spending a whole week in the air looking down at a cross-continental landscape that defied all logic of January weather.

Several bloggers responded with appreciative empathy for that frustration. Some responded with similar first hand encounters with the same types of conspiracy theorists. One blogger, writing with the clear vision that life on Moose Hill offers saw something completely different in my post - a hypocrite:

"OK, forgive me T.R., but whining about global warming in the same post as one is whining about the personal discomforts of four trans-continental jet trips (with associated carbon footprint) in nine days just seems wrong. We are all a part of the problem, and we can't all always do the right thing (even if we knew what the right thing was), but at least we can try to get real about our role in things. Maybe the emperor needs to fly a little higher."

Touche. Despite the fact there was nothing in my post whining about the personal discomforts of jet travel, I stand guilty as charged. One who has just flown across the country four times in nine days should not be grousing about people who refuse to acknowledge global warming. Open mouth insert foot. Thank you Moose Hill Man for keeping it real despite the more gentle ways you might have broached the subject.

E.B. White once wrote, "I arise every morning torn between the desire to save the world and the desire to savor the world.'' And so I rise...life for me is a constant battle to balance the two. And getting "real about our role in things" - in this case being aware of the "carbon footprint" we leave behind in the lives we have created -- is a concept I am keenly aware and one that bares my constant and careful scrutiny in that effort toward "keeping it real".

The man from Moose Hill's reply also reminds me that we should be careful with the assumptions we make about people we don't know -- those assumptions rarely do anyone any good. That fellow passenger hiding behind his 9000 square feet of house and acres of toxic lawn might just be saving the world in ways we never thought possible or probable.

That blogger jetting across the world for his livelihood might own a hybrid car that he can barely afford, or actively participate in the slow food movement in his fast-food, conspicuously consumptive community. He might regularly calculate the carbon footprint his travels create and attempt to offset them with measurable carbon-reducing donations to organizations, perhaps one like Rainforest2Reef - a conservation agency that works to offset carbon emissions through the protection of tropical forests in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. Maybe, just maybe - we really can't surmise until we've come to know a person.

I think a better approach might be one in which we allow for all these possibilities. And so my apologies to the owner of the McMansion - I have no idea who you are and what passions we might share and what legacies you hope to leave behind. I should not have judged you -- your actions will eventually speak louder than my words ever could.

I believe our differences of opinion and our approach to life might have been seeded in the very bosom of our birthplace. In a timely opine this week former democratic gubernatorial candidate Laura Boyd wrote in the Oklahoma Gazette about this same disparity of viewpoint between a later-in-life meeting of childhood friends who once shared similar neighborhoods, lives and dreams:

"In getting to know each other again and our obviously different backgrounds now, suddenly the world became smaller and clearer. That moment of understanding is simply this: John's father taught him from an early age that his responsibility was to pull himself up by his bootstraps and make something of himself. My father taught me from an early age that my responsibility was to leave the world a better place than I found it."

I believe therein lies an epiphany greater than any view from an airplane window - the fundamental differences between me and McMansion grew and changed anchored by the respect we had for our elders and the values they instilled in us as their keys to our survival. That understanding alone bares withholding reproach for those who do not share our point of view - no matter how many thousands of feet high the view might be. In my belief that actions speak louder than words -- leading by example, opinions withheld, might be the best path to effect change.

According to my carbon footprint calculator, I traveled 13,071 miles last week creating 5440 pounds of CO2 emissions. Even with the obvious mark of an F given to my air travel, my Carbon Footprint Report Card still grades my total emission impact a B minus for my overall lifestyle. I hope that mark suggests in some way that other parts of the way I changed my life are offsetting my reliance on an income that requires travel.

Earth in the Balance. Everything in perspective. Whether you dance to the beat of the bootstrap boogie or the pas de deux of the pay it forward tango -- all I really hope is that you dance through life aware of the footprints you leave behind - aware of the impact your choices make on the health of the planet and the people living on it. How you choose to live in the wake of that awareness is not for me to judge.

It is suggested by one of the many carbon footprint folks that the 5440 pounds of air-travel-inducing-CO2 I generated last week can be offset by a donation of $39.60 to the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve who will take that money and protect a tree, teach a farmer and subsidize a sustainable industry replacing the once common deforesting ones of the area.

So, I write a check, once again, a small sacrifice really in the scheme of things -- and I round up and pay forward doing the best I can to keep it real.

Photo:
taken in Tunisia by
David & Catherine Thambiratnam

14 comments:

P. Ollig said...

Well said, T.J. I think we all need a little reminder now and then to help us toward a little more humility and accountability. I know I certainly do.

And I love that quote from E.B. White. I think that sums my life up pretty well, too.

P. Ollig said...

I meant T.R.

DOH! It's like when someone comes up to you and greets you by name even though you have no idea who they are or what their name is. All you can say in response is, "Hey....you."

Besides, the R and the J are so close to each other on the keyboard it's easy to press the wrong one. Right?

T.R. said...

Right! no worries. I usually get called Ryan which is my last name or people think I have two first names.

MojoMan said...

My most sincere apologies, T.R. You are absolutely correct. I don't know you, and my remarks were way out of line. From your posts, I can clearly see you are a thoughtful, caring and observant person who loves the natural world. As an average American living in a single-family home and driving an internal-combustion vehicle, I live in a house of glass and have no business throwing stones.

I guess I've been reading too many things lately about people making token and/or symbolic efforts to save the world without doing any serious, honest, clear-headed self-examination. The juxtaposition of your flight schedule and comments on global warming in the same post were too much for me to resist. I should have counted to ten. Although I took it out on you, I was really thinking of all of us. I fear this climate change problem is bigger than any of us in the developed world are prepared to admit. To really make a difference, we will no longer be able to live life as we know it. Maybe your friend on the plane understands this better than anyone. Maybe there's not a damn thing we can do, so why pretend? Maybe we should just get it while we can.

Please forgive me. We may be going to hell in a handbasket, but at least we can try to be humble and nice to each other along the way.

T.R. said...

Apology accepted of course but no need to apologize. It initially caught me off guard but then I laughed as it was a well deserved point to be making and actually one that I might have made similarly to someone else if I were in the same mood. I was glad you called me on it - its good to be encouraged to reflect and reminded to live up to our word. I was already familiar with your blog and knew you were fundamentally a nice guy with a perspective of the world that I had come to admire. Your definitely good by me and If your going down in this handbasket then I am in good company.

Lana Gramlich said...

I appreciate this post because it's so true. There are no easy answers. I just wish the news didn't seem to get worse on a daily basis (but that's the business of the news, I guess.)

sulustu said...

Wow! This post really hit hard. Yes, it's all true. We cannot judge the actions of another, especially when our own actions create the same or worse results. Furthermore, life is soooo much more complicated than we ever give it credit for.

But in the end, I still don't give you any fault for reacting the way you did. The only thing worse that being part of the problem is to DENY or ignore being part of the problem.

For my own part, I still fumble around in the dark, just barely becoming aware of the impact my existence has on the planet. Rather than throw blame, I just wish we could begin discussing real solutions, rather than argue about whether or not global warming is real.

Selma said...

I am sorry you were pulled up for your post but glad you got an apology because actually I agree with your original position. I do a lot of environmental work and I can tell you from my experience that the guy who has just cleared acres of land to build his mansion did so because he doesn't give a toss. Pure and simple. We have to accept that this self-serving attitude is the major problem we face in trying to formulate policy that will make a difference. We also have to accept that some people have to fly to earn a living, as well as doing other things that are perhaps not as eco-friendly as they should be. Generalisations with regard to how people should behave help no one. Accepting that some people care and some people don't is crucial. Then we have to meet somewhere in the middle. It's the only way we are going to save what's left of our world. Sorry to go on but I feel quite strongly about this and I LOVE your work so I'm mad someone had a go at you. However, I understand that this is a very emotive issue and know that those of us who do care should stick together because united, we can make a difference. More power to you, TR!

Mary said...

T.R., thank you. Your words are profound and generous.

"Whether you dance to the beat of the bootstrap boogie or the pas de deux of the pay it forward tango -- all I really hope is that you dance through life aware of the footprints you leave behind - aware of the impact your choices make on the health of the planet and the people living on it."

That's all that is important.

A blog is a personal journal and sometimes we forget it's on-line! I've had my hands slapped a few times for making innocent but thoughtless and careless generalizations - some of them offended. Ouch. But hey, it made me think a little deeper, along with my commenters.

No harm done. I think I'll plant a few more trees this spring.

KGMom said...

T.R.--this is my first time to your blog (coming by way of Julie Z's where I read your comment)--very thoughtful words indeed in this post, along with the prior post on your view from 30,000 ft.

Sometimes I get downright Darwinian--as in survival of the fittest. I fear the potential for a coming catastrophe as we over-fish the oceans, chop down too many rainforests, render land and air uninhabitable for all. Someday we may discover that we have done ourselves in.

What makes me the most upset about the naysayers on global climate change is that they are consciously following the same pattern used by big tobacco--deny the problem, question the science, demand the "other side" be presented, and instill fear for lost jobs.

Damn it--and, sadly, it is working too well.

Kalirati said...

After reading your post and the comment made by "Momjoman" I can only say that isn't discourse grand? Wonderful post, thought provoking. I know I think daily about my footprint and it frustrates me that there are those who say that there is no such thing as footprints on the sand. It is like the great quote from Lewis or Clark as they rounded a hill and saw the enormous herds of buffalo rushing the plains. That night, he wrote that the buffalo were "inexhaustible." I only hope we will not have to wait for our environment to be stripped, to join the debate of not "IF" but "HOW" to stop Global Warming.

zeladoniac said...

Beautifully said, completely apt, and something I've been struggling with, too. The ethical questions of our age have expanded to address new, urgent issues, all of them complex. Thanks for the thoughtful and beautifully written post.

BigAssBelle said...

you are a far more gentle spirit than i. i find myself driven to absolute hair pulling rage by those who deny.

it is the shortsightedness that maddens me. it is the same shortsightedness which urges the cutting of the last of the redwoods to save the jobs of loggers. for another few years. and then the jobs are gone AND the redwoods AND the spotted owl. gone forever, never to be reclaimed.

it is the shortsightedness that drives george bush to approve an oil lease sale that will endanger the already threatened polar bears. the oil will be pumped and the pristine environment will be ruined and the bears will die and we will STILL not have a viable alternative energy plan in this country.

we taxpayers are now cutting roads into the Tsongass roadless wilderness area so that logging trucks can enter and destroy one of the few true wilderness areas that we, the american people, own. and for what. once destroyed, it will never come back.

it is the same way with climate change. it enrages me. i want to take up arms. i envy your gentleness. i don't have any of it. IF we are wrong, then we are wrong and we will have viable alternative energy that will help us disengage from the oil producers who hold us hostage and thus the terrorists who resent our efforts to control the oil producers. IF we are correct, then we will save the planet.

that people in this nation, using so much more of the world's natural resources than we are entitled to, should even consider debating this issue when the world has come to a consensus makes me furious.

i imagine how they must feel ~ the sane countries of the world ~ and then i realize that i know exactly how they feel, on a smaller but no less tragic scale, when japan launches its whaling boats yet again.

not a good morning, but this post is incredibly thoughtful and well written and your words are so soothing. you have a rare talent. i strive for empathy most days but it's nowhere to be found today. i am too angry to be trying on the shoes of another. they do not fit. they will never fit.

deep breaths. look at the beautiful pictures. sorry for the rant.

Anonymous said...

E.B. White once wrote, "I arise every morning torn between the desire to save the world and the desire to savor the world.''

I've never heard the quote before, but it eloquently describes the dilemma for many of us.

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