big truck

Over the weekend I rented a double cab Ford pickup to pick up my kids at camp in New Hampshire and Connecticut, and visit another one at college in the Hudson Valley. All beautiful, green, mountainous escapes from the city for the kids. I love the trip, which I've made twice a summer for three years, always in rentals. Because the kids have big suitcases filled with sleeping bags and pillows, I always rent big. While searching for the best deal this time I came across a double cab Ford pickup and rented it immediately. I did not give a second thought to gas mileage, which in retrospect surprises me. What a fantastic ride, like driving a living room high above the world. The dash let me know how many miles I could travel before running out of gas, and the guage started at nearly 600 miles, which I found hard to believe. But I drove and drove, for hours. Somehow, the endlesss tank of gas made it seem like I coudln't be burning that much. But when I finally filled it up after many hours on the road, it took $120 worth of fuel.  My average mileage was 17.5, which is a little less than a minivan. I didn't feel virtuous, but I didn't feel bad. I don't own a car, and in the summer I rent them 7 or 8 times through Zipcar or a traditional agency.  In the winter much less. My car impact just isn't that high. But try telling that to the woman walking her dog on the narrow road that passes through my son's bucolic camp. She gave me a sneering, contemptuous look when I passed, very slowly, in the giant rumbling truck. The sneer of an environmentalist who has found a focus for her ire. And I understand -- I realized this was the same look I'd given to people driving Hummers, many, many times when those beasts still filled the road. It's the look I've given to people loaded with shopping bags and headed into another store. The look I've given to overweight people ordering french fries with cheese. It's a judgmental, superior stance that I well-understand (not proud of it, but definitely familiar with it). Now I was receiving it. And strangely, my reaction gave me some insight into the polarized communities one either side of the issue of environment and, especially, global warming. When she sneered, I got defensive, and proud, and it made me want to laugh at her concerns. This is what happens in the argument between who is right and who is wrong when it comes to virtuous living.


power plays

Supposedly, your iPhone uses more electricity in a year than some refrigerators.  Do you know where your electricity comes from? And how much it costs? Most of us don't have a clue. But in the coming years we will find out, as the need for new power plants increases, along with a desire to keep them clean. I hope that solar and wind power will increase, but there are issues. Driving through New Hampshire over the weekend I saw cute signs on lawns opposing wind power. And then there's the little issue of our inability to store solar and wind power well, making it a difficult option for reinforcing the grid. Problems, problems, problems. But in every problem there is an opportunity. Let's find those and exploit them.


buy now, pay later

This week the president of Ecuador, a contradictory character named Rafael Correa, announced that his country's Yasuni initiative had failed. Several years ago Correa said that if the rest of the world coughed up billions of dollars he would suspend oil exploration and production in a 3,700 square mile area of largely pristine Amazonian forest in the Oriente region of Ecuador. At the time, you could see it as extortion. Or you could see it as an inspired idea. I chose to see it as inspired, even though President Correa was by no means a pure thinker himself. A true politician, he was offering to save part of the Amazon while harrassing environmentalists and opening other regions of his country (including other areas of the Amazon) to oil and mineral exploitation that would devastate biodiverse areas and ruin small communities. His reason: Ecuador needs money.
In the end, the effort failed. Despite a last minute attempt to harness the marketing forces of New York's finest (I helped by writing an article for Huff Post), Correa raised only millions, rather than the billions he sought. So he announced this week that he would open up the area to drilling.
Is this failure a roadsign saying that novel, capital based "solutions" are a waste of time? I'm afraid that's how some people will see it. But I believe it was a failure of execution.  The followup to the great idea of, basically, making industrialized countries and people pay for the privelege of preserving the Amazon, was brilliant. But the campaign to get it done fell short. It didn't even hit its stride until a few months ago when the talented agency, EO Integraton got on board (they contracted me to help them make it work -- don't think I did much good!).
And now, there's not much time left for Yasuni.
But please, let's not give up on coming up with radically different approaches to dealing with environmental crises.
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