Seven tons of airborne effluence. I did that?

Motivated to monitor the outflow of pennies during this recession year, and enabled by a website called Tripit.com, I’ve been keeping tabs on my travel. Seems I’ve clocked 39,725 km thus far in 2009, not counting those short jaunts to the distant exurbs to try to wheedle money out of clients, or the occasional wild weekend at the Red Roof Inn in Findlay, Ohio, or a quick spin around middle Etobicoke on my scooter. My ’09 travel seems to have been pretty much equivalent to the circumference of our planet, measured equatorially at 40,075.02 km. That’s less travel than when I was being regularly summoned to appear for no evident purpose in Antwerp and even worse places, but is still more travel than anyone would want to face on a Monday morning in December.

Accor Hotels outpost in the Buckeye State

For the hell of it, I ran my total through one of the carbon footprint calculators that are popping up on the Internet. Bingo. Seems I’m personally responsible for generating 14,568 pounds of CO2 in the past 12 months. That’s seven tons, if you’re scoring, or approximately 110 times my own weight in crud. I did that? It reminded me of a line attributed to good old Don Rumsfeld, supposedly in connection with Prime Minister Blair’s increasing misgivings over the Iraq invasion: “I say when the cat turds start to get bigger than the cat, it’s time to get rid of the cat.” Good homespun advice, as always, but perhaps it might change your view, Mr. Secretary, when you find you’re the diarrhetic cat.

David Suzuki, the longtime environmental nudnik, claims air travel “presently accounts for four to nine per cent of the total climate change impact of human activity.” That’s the kind of statistical rigor that would get you expelled from a first-year introduction-to-science lecture course, after you explain in your essay that you’ve determined a statistical variance of… oh, 125 per cent. Suzuki, someone I used to think of as well-intentioned, seems determined to be regarded as a crank in his declining years. He filmed a series of TV commercials for an energy conservation effort in Ontario that was at least as objectionable as Howie Long’s recent ads for Chevrolet, and that’s really saying something. Both campaigns try to win over viewers to their point of view, by depicting the man-on-the-street as a gormless mook who craves direction  from a drill-sergeant figure. That may well be the case, but there is still something off-putting about seeing it all laid bare. I’ll toss my energy-inefficient fridge, I’ll even consider leasing a domestic automobile, but for the love of god, allow me to keep my dignity.

I later caught a minute or two of Suzuki’s radio gig on the John Oakley program in Toronto, which led me to wonder if the great conservationist is, you know, losing it. He left the show in a huff, after Oakley raised a mild question about the validity of the climate change data. How, I wonder, when you’re tossing off such dubious statistics — “Could be four per cent. Could be nine per cent.” — can you expect not to entertain questions about your research methods?

Which is not to agree with the faction that sees the Kyoto Accord as an organized plot against Western economic interests. We can leave that knee-jerk contention to Rush and his Legion of Lesser Limbaughs. I’m merely proposing that if your goal is to change people’s behavior, the wrong approach to take is that of a pious, petulant, hand-wringing, finger-wagging auntie.

Speaking of whom, today marks the first occasion when a worldwide coven of pious, petulant, etceteras in the journalistic trade joins together for the purpose of boring readers (no small feat, being dull in 20 languages) with their shared view of the climate summit in Copenhagen. This project was an initiative of The Guardian, which is my newspaper of choice in the UK, in spite of their capacity to promulgate a general form of nuttiness, in the finest English traditions. Some good papers signed on to their plan to speak with one voice on this issue, including The Irish Times, Le Monde, and Amsterdam’s great daily, de Volkskrant. There were dozens of insignificant papers no one has ever heard of, as well as what is generally regarded to be the dumbest daily on the planet, my hometown rag, the vile Toronto Star. Much as I strive to keep an open mind, when the Star declares itself to be on one side of any issue, it almost always turns out to be an idea any reasonable person would reject out of hand.

There are 1,422 daily newspapers in the United States, of which exactly one, the Miami Herald, signed up to reprint the Guardian editorial. I wouldn’t read very much into this, for better or worse. Many of the progressive leaders and managers of the US newspaper industry must recognize that the role of the paper in its community is to present an enlightened local voice, in the local dialect, using local reference points. I’d argue that no cause is properly served when a case is presented in lockstep, without the unique separate perspectives of each news  organization. Were I only lucky enough to be entrusted with a fine institution such as the Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard, or the Pittsfield (Mass.) Berkshire Eagle, I would not be impressed in the slightest by the chance to join ranks with the Guardian gang, no matter how much I agreed with their position, or how much I respected their paper. Joining ranks is fine for some, but is just not why an independent press is supposed to be there.

In any case, there are more effective ways of communicating a message, rather than rubbing readers’ noses in it. I haven’t seen Jason Reitman’s new movie, “Up in the Air,” but I understand that it will do more to discourage unnecessary air travel than any lifetime of media appearances by the cranky, self-righteous David Suzuki, or forest-despoiling newspaper publishers. (I’ll consider taking the Star seriously only after they’ve pulled their air-poisoning delivery vans off the road and replaced them with pedal power.)

Porter Airlines: Just as polluting, but you probably won’t hate them as much as Air Canada

So, look. You’re not about to eliminate all your business travel any time soon, and neither am I. I’m truly sorry about the seven tons of carbon. If it makes you feel any better, I promise that most of my 2010 shuttling in the Toronto-Montreal-New York City triangle will be on Porter Air, the excellent short-haul carrier that operates out of Toronto’s City Centre Airport. I don’t think Porter is any more environmentally friendly than any other means of motor-propelled transport, but at least when you’re aloft and they hand you a complimentary can of Steamwhistle beer, it appears to come in a recyclable green-colored aluminum container. That may not seem like much to some, but I figure that if you want to keep an eye on your carbon, the CO2 bubbles in your beer are as good a place as any to begin.

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