June 28, arriving St. Louis, the pilot announced that it was 107 degrees outside. An anonymous cry of “Awesome” from the back of the plane set my imagination rolling. Was this guy some kind of climate change denier painting a smiley face on a killer heat? It made me think of a rock and roller wrecking a hotel room. “We are melting the glaciers! Awesome!”
Who knows what was on that guys mind; it hardly matters. You can’t expect everybody to support efforts to curb climate change. For instance, you can take all the first-person-shooter fans and write them off. When you are done whittling down the potential pool of concerned citizens, you realize that you had better get 100% of the picky breather demographic to put their shoulder to the wheel.
An informal poll of my Prius and Whole Foods friends tells me we are all doomed. My poll consists of various propositions; each proposition has a dollar or social cost balanced by some environmental benefit. Rather than asking a predictable, “Are you in favor of breathing clean air?” question, this stealth poll elicits honest answers; I have painfully realized.
For instance, I proposed a slow motion protest to reduce auto emissions. The protest would occur wherever and wherever one of the protesters was driving the speed limit. Instead of a placard, a protestor would have a bumper sticker proclaiming the reason they were obeying the speed limit. For instance, you might see “WHEN I DRIVE THE [SPEED] LIMIT, I DENY TERRORISTS CASH.” or “WHEN I DRIVE THE LIMIT, I SLOW CLIMATE CHANGE.” or “WHEN I DRIVE THE LIMIT, I SAVE LIVES.”
The reaction to the above idea was, “I am NOT driving the speed limit.” That is, the cost to the individuals was more than they were willing to pay for any benefits of reduced fuel consumption and increased public awareness.
At this point, I should confess that I live in a house, drive kids to soccer, and work at a BANK. Most of the time I am driving, I am speeding. Basically, if St. Peter is a liberal environmentalist I am toast.
A second poll simply suggested that before boiling water, he or she who boils should measure the amount of water to be boiled. The result would be less fuel used, a cooler kitchen and an earlier tea time; the total cost to he or she who boils (I will call them neither a cook nor a boiler) is the time it would take to consider the amount of water in the tea kettle before starting the stove. My poll consisted of me making obvious my measures by pouring the water from the kettle into the coffee thermos and back again in front of my family and house guests. To date, no one has copied my behavior; I have yet to see anyone reduce the amount of water in their kettle before boiling.
To one extent or another, we are all pollsters. There is any number of such polls conducted daily around the world and the verdict is in: the tree-huggers and the first-person-shooter fanatics have one thing in common. They desire to live on the planet sort of the way they lived in their bedroom back in high school. As each of us get the signal that we are the only ones worried, we feel like the one sober person at a wild party. Nobody wants to be trying to recycle during a beer bash.
Tossing your CO2 out of your car as you drive down the road is not the same as throwing your stinking tennies in the corner. Your mama would put our shoes out; Mother Earth is likely to “put a hurt on our nose.”
Here is one more poll. Slow protests have a small cost with a small direct effect. Boiling less has almost no cost and almost no benefit. This last poll has no cost and no apparent affect on the environment and no real cost. Here it is. Many people take some comfort from pausing before a meal to give thanks or to say a prayer. Try this, before you use anything: water, electricity, fuel, soap … say a little, silent grace to be thankful, to seek forgiveness for the damage, to wonder what you would do if you could no longer afford the luxury.
Let somebody know if you find this short, little prayer hard, helpful, or too damn frequent; they might see your struggle as a reason for optimism. A little optimism, in this heat, would be welcome.
[Admin Note: The preceding DI Guest Post was authored by a friend of mine, Bob Schmidt of St. Louis, who can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org].