It's time to stop concealing the truth from my peers, loved ones, readers and most of all myself. Despite adherence to a groovy lifestyle that includes buying candles at stores dedicated to Gaia, I am destroying the Earth. According to www.climatecrisis.net (the website promoted by Al Gore's film, "An Inconvenient Truth"), my Sasquatch sized Carbon footprint makes me one of the gluttonous energy consumers cremating the Globe. I feel like a Where's Waldo figure amidst the slow-moving traffic in TV news stories about escalating gas prices: "Oh oh there she is! In the black car. That's the culprit!" My personal contribution is a scary 22,900 pounds a year of Carbon Dioxide (7,900 more than the average American)-- the global warming equivalent of clubbing baby seals.
How did it come to this? It's not as if I drive a Hummer transporting farty cows at top speeds across the freeway. I drive 8,000 miles per year in a mid-size '97 Nissan, take 4 long plane trips a year, and spend between $25-50 per month on natural gas and electricity. Apparently that's all it takes to be stigmatized "Larger Than Average" by the hard-line folks over at Climate Crisis. Even Jenny Craig is more forgiving.
But I've recycled for ages. I always turn off the water when I brush my teeth. I even used to give to Greenpeace until I found their strong arm street team tactics overbearing. You know those kids in the green shirts always catching you at the worst time to ask if you have a moment for the environment? And if you're in a hurry and say "no" it's like implying that you don't care, giving them the moral high ground? Besides, there is nothing I hate more than the combination of youthful earnestness and jewelry made of string. (Don't listen to me and please donate to Greenpeace).
Al Gore is actually responsible for my misconception that I am an environmentalist. It all started in 1992, when I was in sixth grade and a member of my school's Environmental Task Force. At the time Gore was one of only two senators to participate in the Earth Summit held in Rio De Janero, Brazil. The two week summit, attended by Government Leaders and NGOs, adopted "Agenda 21," a blueprint for ways in which countries should go about developing while also protecting the environment in the 21st century. Our little club of 12-14 year olds was invited to attend a conference at the U.N. where Senator Gore spoke about the Summit and the environment. Until then my interest in the environment was based in the perception that Earth people were free thinkers drumming it up in the circle of a Ganja klatch. After hearing Gore speak I felt differently. I thought he was the most electrifying, brilliant politician I had ever seen in person. (Of course the only politician I had seen prior to Gore was Mayor Ed Koch who limited his words to "How my doin'?" as he darted through the crowd.) Gore spoke of a future with trees, humming birds and the refreshing breezes of wind farms--a nice departure from the Nuclear Holocaust foretold by Reagan and Bush I, the Presidents during my formative years.
From then on, I was an Environmentalist. Not only did I insist my parents recycle and take shorter showers, I now felt a sense of crushing guilt whenever I did something that could hurt the Earth like forgetting to cut those plastic six-pack rings that strangle seagulls. Well played, Mr. Gore. I even threw myself wholeheartedly into the Environmental Task Force until our teacher/club leader stole money from one of the wealthier students and skipped town. Nevertheless, that teacher introduced me to whole-wheat pasta and Al Gore and for that I am truly grateful.
Sadly, by my senior year of high school, Vice President Gore was thought to be as exciting as a pencil eraser. I couldn't understand how this had happened. One day, I described to a favorite teacher of mine Gore's star-making charisma at the U.N. in 1992. My teacher dismissed my opinion in one foul swoop: "Yea, no offense, but you were 12." Now as I watch big-screen Al Gore throw off bon mots such as, "I used to be your next president," I say, "Who has egg on their face now, Professor?!" Yes, Al Gore can be engaging and more importantly, as far as my relationship with the environment is concerned, inspire a sense of absolute, crushing guilt.
So naturally I'm depressed about my big fat scuffmark on the atmosphere. But what can I, a person on an incredibly fixed and pathetic income, do to curb my damage? I can't afford a hybrid. I can't even afford a supped up '85 Benz that runs on kitchen grease.
According to www.climatecrisis.net, I can help by signing up for the Los Angeles Green Power program and switch to compact fluorescent bulbs. Although my guilt is somewhat assuaged, these acts of brave environmentalism do nothing for my score--totally unfair. Messing with the numbers on the "Calculate Your Impact" page of the Climate Crisis website I gauge that by using slightly less electricity I can knock off 500 pounds of Co2 but I am still contributing more than the average American. Only by driving 1,700 miles less per year do I reach 17,900, the much-ballyhooed "Average." Once I compare my current score to that of my former non-driving New York City lifestyle (5,100 "Much Smaller Than Average"), I see that driving is adding the extra oomph to the carbon dioxide geyser of my day to day. So, off to the bus I go! First stop? Where else? It's L.A., so, the gym.
I feel like a bus novice despite a lifetime of practice in New York City where my parents never even owned a car. I pack an activity bag filled with magazines and granola bars as if I'm preparing for a wagon train across the Sahara. Though I will only be traveling two miles, I feel I am launching into the abyss (what if I'm stranded some place and can't figure out how to get back?) and this feeling is compounded when I realize I forgot my cell phone and therefore don't know anyone's number. The bus arrives instantly (impressive!) and drops me off a block from the gym in as much time as it takes for me to drive there.
At first, even with the appearance of that New York MTA staple, "Poetry in Motion," taking the bus in L.A. still feels sort of off. The people look the same: kids, tourists, the elderly, crackpots...The décor is more or less the same though Los Angeles favors orange over blue. The metal bars still entice one with the promise of stability on a bumpy ride though they remain, in my opinion, untouchable--over a decade on subways and buses, I've seen too many hands go into too many places before they grabbed that bar. But before long I am staring out the window, remembering how much I miss the feeling of getting lost in my thoughts, being a passive traveler with nary a middle finger or a honk disturbing my commute.
I'm assuming that I got lucky on this first trip and that the bus won't always be as efficient as driving--in fact it will usually be less. On my return trip, the bus takes twelve minutes to arrive nearly doubling the length of my journey though this still isn't that bad. But with that guilt-monger Gore popping up everywhere these days, I'll need to take the bus once in a while. In the meantime, I'm signing up for the Cool Driver program that donates 6 dollars every month to facilities working on creating renewable energy theoretically offsetting my car's global warming contribution.
Of course Cool Driver isn't reflected in my Carbon footprint score either. But, for the moment, my sense of guilt has subsided and will only resurface many years from now when I frolic in the fields of scorched earth, recounting the days of endless oil consumption, Godless homos trying to marry, and Global Warming "hooey" to my black lunged grandkids and their three headed, glowing dog, Terry Schiavo.