Monday, February 4, 2008


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 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.

taken in Tunisia by
David & Catherine Thambiratnam
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