Archive for June, 2011

Sins of Emissions

Last Saturday I was on a ten-hour flight from Madrid to Dallas, in seat 31C of a Boeing 767 that was spewing more carbon dioxide than I knew how to compute. To distract myself from my poor math skills, I opened the Summer 2011 issue of “OnEarth,” published by the Natural Resources Defense Council and, for the fun of it, started underlining facts and statistics, starting with the Table of Contents.

Fact Number One: “New York City spends more than $1 million per day dumping its trash in nearby states.”

Fact Number Two: “…82,000 chemicals are now loose in our environment—in toys and clothes, furniture and appliances—and only a tiny percentage has been tested for safety.”

Fact Number 13: “Every day a billion gallons of wastewater and storm water flow from California into the ocean bringing along heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and other contaminants.”

Fact Number 30: “Detroit is America’s poorest large city, with a third of its citizens living in poverty.”

I gave up my game after Fact Number 31 because I became engrossed in Paolo Bacigalupi’s review of “Welcome to the Greenhouse,” a short story collection of 16 science fiction writers who share their dystopian versions of life after humanity has wreaked havoc on the environment.

“Our lives here and now have become historical—a snapshot sepia-tone moment between the way things were before and the way they will be after,” Bacigalupi writes. “But where are we going? And how might a storyteller engage with it?”

That’s the trillion-dollar question. As the earth lumbers toward seemingly irreversible climate change with very serious repercussions how does a journalist engage in that reality while still trying to maintain a sense of hope, wonder, and awe in what still exists?

Despite the carbon my mode of transportation emitted, I still found plenty of wonder in Spain—in the rolling Basque countryside, the cathedrals of San Sebastian, and the kindness of nearly everyone I met. How much did my trip contribute to the demise of the planet? I don’t know. I, like everyone who willingly steps onto a plane, am still in denial.