I could be a pompous prick and brag about how I live in a compact, walkable, mixed use, transit served neighborhood in a seven hundred square foot apartment. My commute to work is measured in blocks not miles. Compared to the average North American I use tiny little sips of water and power. I already own all the physical stuff I’m ever going to need or want. I’m practically invisible in terms of my personal impact on the environment. Yet I enjoying a very high quality of life. Where’s my halo, damn it!
I fly a lot. I mean… a lot. Sometimes I feel like I’m in the air more than on the ground. I fly primarily because I can. I have access to various personal and business connections that allow me to travel at heavily subsidized rates which in no way reflect the real cost of the flights – on many levels. I may as well live in a giant house on the edge of the metroplex and drive a massive SUV two hours to work every day as far as my environmental footprint is concerned. I’m really just a cheap carbon whore.
I occasionally attempt to rationalize my activities. For example, I know for a fact that if I exercise restraint and stop flying entirely for the rest of my life someone else somewhere on the planet will burn up that fuel instead. The oil isn’t going to stay in the ground just because I don’t use it. The global demand for fuel is insatiable. It might be burned by an entire village of rural peasants in India over a lifetime of heating and cooking. Or it might be used in an instant to convert sea water into irrigation for a golf course in Dubai. But it’s going to be burned regardless of my individual piety.
Like I said. This is a self serving rationalization. But it still reflects reality. And I have 7.3 billion data points to back me up. That’s the current human population all dipping in to the oil well together – and it’s a race to the bottom.
So here’s how I think about my nasty flying habit instead. It’s entirely discretionary. So is driving, which I do very little of. So is eating meat, which I could live without. So are most of the things I do in my life. My base consumption is very very low and it can get even lower without me feeling deprived in any way. I have a degree of personal resilience in my life. There’s slack and wiggle room. If I believed that I was part of a much larger global movement to voluntarily pull back, to make modest adjustments in order to serve a larger cohesive cause for social justice… I absolutely would. But for the moment, I see no point. We either all do this together or we don’t do it at all.