Apocalypse Someday, Maybe

Thomas Friedman highlights the following letter to the editor in his column today:

“I’d like to join in on the blame game that has come to define our national approach to the ongoing environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. This isn’t BP’s or Transocean’s fault. It’s not the government’s fault. It’s my fault. I’m the one to blame and I’m sorry. It’s my fault because I haven’t digested the world’s in-your-face hints that maybe I ought to think about the future and change the unsustainable way I live my life. If the geopolitical, economic, and technological shifts of the 1990s didn’t do it; if the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 didn’t do it; if the current economic crisis didn’t do it; perhaps this oil spill will be the catalyst for me, as a citizen, to wean myself off of my petroleum-based lifestyle. ‘Citizen’ is the key word. It’s what we do as individuals that count. For those on the left, government regulation will not solve this problem. Government’s role should be to create an environment of opportunity that taps into the innovation and entrepreneurialism that define us as Americans. For those on the right, if you want less government and taxes, then decide what you’ll give up and what you’ll contribute. Here’s the bottom line: If we want to end our oil addiction, we, as citizens, need to pony up: bike to work, plant a garden, do something. So again, the oil spill is my fault. I’m sorry. I haven’t done my part. Now I have to convince my wife to give up her S.U.V. Mark Mykleby.”

I think the tricky part here is deciding what “our part” is. I say tricky because we can do anything that seems green and crow about it. For example, you can build a 5,600-square foot LEED certified house on 2.7 acres for two people and call yourself green. But you’re just kidding yourself. Mark Owen argues this same couple would be way greener just moving to New York City and living normally.

I had a few green inclinations in mind when I decided to walk and bicycle for basic transportation. But my real goal was simply to live what I hoped would be a better life and, perhaps, to get around town with less stress. That’s all worked out. And the greeness of it is just a bonus.

I think what I’m saying is: We not going to get more people burning calories instead of carbon by preaching green living (a few perhaps — those already inclined toward living car-lite in densely populated places, i.e. young people). I think we have to make walking and bicycling convenient enough so that people try these methods and then discover on their own all the other nifty benefits.

I’m not suggesting we should not try to live greener lives. I do think we ought not kid ourselves about what is really green living. Owens makes an excellent case that New Yorkers are the greenest of the green simply because they live in a dense urban environment. Taking re-usable grocery bags to the store is more than offset by, say, driving your Hummer to get there. Using energy-saving light bulbs is more than offset by your HD TV.

Making walking and bicycling a convenient transportation choice takes the sting of apocalypic fear out of going green. Who wants to give up their SUV because the world is going to hell so we all have to sacrifice to save it? Kiss your American lifestyle goodbye. Bummer, man. That’s a loss. Compare that to: Who wants to walk or ride a bicycle because it’s a great way to move around town and you’re life will be better? Hello new American lifestyle. Cool, man. That’s a win.

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Comments 2

  1. Keri wrote:

    Well said.

    For me it always comes down to riding a bike because it’s much more pleasant (and sometimes more convenient) than driving. I live in the urban core because it allows me to use a bike with all benefit and no penalty. That improves my quality of life.

    Posted 13 Jun 2010 at 6:12 pm
  2. Andy Cline wrote:

    Keri… One of the keys: urban core, i.e. an area conducive to pleasant and convenient bicycling.

    Posted 13 Jun 2010 at 6:40 pm