Two writers weigh the impact of travel on Earth’s climate

A response to the previous post, “Travel: an environmental dilemma” 

by Jean Franklin

My husband Carl, a physics teacher and meteorologist, has known about climate change since 1970, but thought it would not become a problem in his lifetime. Then shockingly, about 10 years ago, scientists announced that Earth is warming much faster than expected.

We talked it over, facing the facts. As American baby boomers, we had consumed more fossil fuels than any generation in history, and at age 60 we had enough discretionary income to continue harming the environment for 30 more years. We lived in a 3,000-square-foot home and drove two cars to work. We were planning to buy a small RV and tour the Western national parks.

In 2007 we decided to change our lives. We have now lowered our carbon footprint more than 60 percent. Our big decision was to scrap the RV idea and buy solar panels for our bookstore and a Prius. In 2010, we moved within a mile of downtown, where we could walk to work, church, and restaurants. Through a combination of planning and luck, we sold our large house and bought a 1,000-square-foot cottage.

We also changed our thinking about travel. We have not been on a plane since before 9/11. Not only does it take massive amounts of fossil fuel to lift 500 pounds (two people plus luggage) 30,000 feet into the air and propel us thousands of miles, but the jet’s contrails, frozen water vapor, act as a greenhouse gas, trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Since we live in paradise—Western North Carolina—we vacation within a few miles of home. We visit our children in Durham and Atlanta, but otherwise, we like to park our car at a hotel in a quaint mountain town and simply stroll, enjoying restaurants, plays, and concerts.

We travel to fabulous places through books and documentaries. It does not break our hearts to miss seeing the Serengheti or the Great Barrier Reef; it breaks our hearts that millions of African people and elephants are starving due to acute droughts, that large sections of Australia’s great reef are dead due to overheated sea water. Some Americans say, “My small efforts won’t help,” but scientists beg to differ, and beg for our help. The game is not over. Battle fatigued climate scientists say that everything we do will make the future better.

Note: Some people who fly purchase carbon offsets—for example, from groups giving away efficient cookstoves to prevent native people from cutting down trees in rainforests for firewood. Google “carbon offsets” and browse the many options.

 

Jean and Carl Franklin, retired teachers and co-owners of Black Mountain Books, teach and write about climate change.

Travel: an environmental dilemma

While boys my age huddled in their bedroom closets sneaking peeks at scantily-clothed women, I nurtured fantasies of another sort. “State Capitol Building,” (city, state), I’d write. “Dear Sir: Please send me information about your state for my school project. Sincerely yours, Nancy Werking.”

In return for my effort and three-cent stamps provided by my parents, I received brochures from nearly every state. I filed the materials alphabetically in a cardboard box, stored in my bedroom closet.

It was the second state, Arizona, that most captured my imagination. (Alaska hadn’t yet been admitted.) Arizona’s P.R. materials had glossy photographs of rugged mountain peaks, varieties of cacti, Native Americans engaging in rituals. Colors were the browns and oranges of the earth, and turquoise.

I’ve just returned from seventeen days in Arizona. While Facebook friends back home complained about frigid temperatures, I absorbed the warmth of the Arizona sun. My husband and I hiked in the desert and visited old Spanish missions. Every morning I ate breakfast out on the balcony of our little efficiency apartment.

It wasn’t my first trip to Arizona, but the first time I’ve considered how my travels impact the environment.

My husband and I flew round trip from Charlotte, NC, to Tucson, AZ. “According to the Department of Energy, an airplane emits 21 pounds of carbon dioxide per gallon of A-1 jet fuel it burns. If we need 6,900 gallons to fly a full plane round trip New York to Phoenix, that’s an emission of nearly 145,000 pounds of carbon dioxide” (http://gscleanenergy.blogspot.com/2013/04/how-much-gas-does-it-take-to-fly-you.html).

We rented a car. Budget upgraded us to a Chevrolet Impala, which gets about 22 miles per gallon in combined city/country driving. We drove an average of eighty miles a day, each day burning around four gallons of gasoline. Don’t ask me how, but a gallon of gasoline produces about 20 pounds of carbon dioxide.

Then there’s the issue of water. By definition a desert receives little rainfall. Yet, like the nearly million people living in the Tucson area, we regularly showered, flushed the toilet, washed our dishes, and did a few loads of laundry.

I’ve been fortunate to visit Europe, Africa, and Asia. I’ve been exposed to other cultures and have loved the people everywhere I’ve gone.

But for the sake of the planet, I may have to give up travel.

On the other hand, the U.S. is in a de-regulation mood. If so few care about Earth’s destruction, why should I?

(Nancy Werking Poling is author of a new book, “Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987),” available where books are sold.)

What is Congress doing to our wilderness areas?

(a guest blog by Jean Franklin)

On Congress’ first day in session, the House approved rules setting a zero-dollar value on federally protected lands that are transferred to states. By devaluing federal lands, including the Pisgah and Nantahala Forests, Congress is paving the way for such a transfer. States will likely raise funds by selling our lands to developers or to mining, fracking, and logging interests. All Western North Carolina (WNC) Representatives voted yes on this bill.

Our wilderness areas are priceless, not worthless. WNC benefits economically from the human longing to visit wild, pristine nature. Many citizens protect additional land by donating it to conservancies, thus benefiting living nature immeasurably.

Famed biologist E.O. Wilson, in Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, presents an elegant proposal to combat species extinction: “Only by committing half of the planet’s surface to nature can we hope to save the immensity of life-forms that compose it.” Nations have already set aside about 15 percent of Earth’s land area, but millions more square miles must be saved — not contiguous, but arranged to preserve flyways and habitats.

Tragically, Representatives McHenry, Meadows and Foxx, by voting for House Resolution 5, moved to dismantle generations of good stewardship. We must tell them they’ve made a gigantic mistake.

(This essay appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Feb. 24, 2017.)

Why this old lady blogs

“Blog about a day in the life of an author,” a site on marketing books suggests. Okay. I get up, do a Sudoku, read the newspaper, go sit at my computer for several hours.

“Blog about the writing process,” another site recommends. Okay. I compose a sentence, go get a snack, return to my computer, delete the sentence, go to the bathroom, return to my computer, write another sentence.

“Avoid blogging about politics.” Oh-oh.

My new book, Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987), is due out soon. It’s time to promote it through blogging and tweeting, leave politics to the real pundits.

I doubt that I’ll be able to.

In 2007 I started blogging for the fun of it. I wrote about finding an old photo at a garage sale and having my Sunday afternoon nap interrupted by evangelizing teenagers.

Then came the 2008 election primary. Herman Cain, the pizza guy, promoted his 9-9-9-Plan. Michele Bachmann owned a Christian counseling center claiming to transform gay clients into heterosexuals. Rick Santorum, Senator-in-a-Sweater-Vest, promoted teaching intelligent design along with evolution in schools. I felt compelled to bring an older woman’s wisdom to the political discussion. A dose of common sense, I’d like to think.

In the current political climate, which is even more frightening than the 2008 Republican primary, I probably won’t write much that is unrelated to what our government is doing.

I am a grandmother. I am a woman who pays attention to what is happening beyond my home. I feel an urgency to be in conversation about the potential erosion of our democracy, the reality of global warming, the danger of a blustering, confrontational foreign policy, and the marginalization of groups because of race, religion, sexual orientation, or developmental difference.

I can’t be superficial. Neither, I guess, do I want readers who are.

If you don’t have time to…

I remember what it was like to have a full-time job and two kids, with no extra time to keep up with the news. I was then and continue to be cynical about government and the integrity of politicians. Yet over the years I’ve discovered that nearly every aspect of my life is decided by elected officials besides the President.

That’s why, even though this coming election doesn’t have the excitement of a presidential year, it’s as important. Here are issues I consider most important as we approach the 2014 election:

1) Clean air to breath and clear water to drink. Yet many legislators oppose efforts to prevent oil-fired power plants from emitting dangerous toxins into the air. Regulations, they say, cost jobs.

2) A safe food supply and access to basic medical care. Yet many legislators keep calling for the repeal of Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and try to weaken the power of the FDA and the Department of Agriculture.

3) A fair wage for the work people do, including equal pay for women. Many people work two or three jobs to provide their family with basics. Yet some candidates continue to oppose a higher minimum wage. (Beware of those who in the past week announced they are for a minimum wage increase—after learning much of the public favors it.)

4) A solid education that will allow children to become leaders in ingenuity and production. Yet pledges not to increase taxes are forcing teacher layoffs, denying schools the resources they need for effective teaching, and increasing class size.

I urge you to vote. If you haven’t had time to keep up, google to learn the endorsements of organizations who share your values. Examples include Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, local chapters of the American Bar Association

2014 voting made easy (well, at least easier)

The future of our environment, educational systems, gay marriage, and women’s health is decided by people we elect. The list of offices to be filled is long, overwhelming when it comes to deciding who to vote for.

The internet has made it easier to cast an informed ballot. Here are a few suggestions.

1)  First, be sure what district you live in and the voting location. This can usually be done by Googling “voter guide” for your state. Remember, it may be easier to cast an absentee ballot. The League of Women Voters also lists rules. For example, in North Carolina you do NOT need a photo ID this time, but you will the next.

2)  Find the website of an organization that shares your primary concerns. Many organizations, such as the Missouri NEA (National Educational Association) endorse candidates.

environment: http://content.sierraclub.org/voterguide/endorsements. Most endorsements are listed by states.

women’s reproductive rights endorsements: google that or “Planned Parenthood Endorsements” and locate your state or region.

education endorsements 2014: state teachers unions or organizations often keep track of who is education friendly.

workers’ rights , workplace safety, consumer protection: google “aflcio endorsements,” then find your state.

3)  I find it especially hard to decide what judges to vote for. They make a lot of      important decisions, though. State Bar associations, while not endorsing judges, do evaluate their professionalism. Again, some special interest groups, such as LGBT lawyers or Hispanic lawyers, make endorsements.

4)  The following sites are for North Carolina, but each state has similar resources that are easy to find.
If you are concerned about equal rights for gays and lesbians, go to:   http://equalitync.org/pac/voterguide2014/index.html

If you are concerned about jobs, workplace safety, workers’ rights: aflcionc.org

Voting isn’t just a privilege. It’s one of the few tools you have for deciding the country’s future.

For those thinking it’s better not to vote at all than to cast an ignorant ballot

In 1986 I was a young working mother too overwhelmed by responsibility to keep up with politics. But I felt an obligation to vote. In the Illinois primary election I entered the booth knowing nothing about the candidates. Afterward, I discovered that out of ignorance I had cast my ballot for a man running for lieutenant governor whose extremist views were abhorrent to me. Fortunately, though he won in the primary, he lost in the general election.

Since the 2014 election doesn’t include a candidate for President, a lot of people haven’t been paying much attention to politics. They’re thinking, like one young woman I recently spoke with, “It’s better not to vote at all than to cast an ignorant ballot.”

Instead of choosing between not voting or casting an ignorant ballot, consider a third possibility: Take some shortcuts to getting the information you need for making an informed vote.

  1. Check the website of an organization whose opinion you trust. During election time many special interest groups post endorsements. If the environment is the issue that most concerns you, seek out the guidance of an organization such as the Sierra Club (http://content.sierraclub.org/voterguide/endorsements) or a local environmental group. If you’re particularly concerned about equal pay for equal work, check the National Women’s Political Caucus (http://www.nwpc.org/2014endorsements) or see if your area has a Women’s Chamber of Commerce. State Bar associations often evaluate candidates for judicial positions.
  2. Get a sample ballot ahead of time and fill it out. One is usually available online, at a party precinct office, or at the poll. Have your choices recorded on that ballot, so that all you have to do is transfer them. And yes, it is better to leave some blanks than make an uninformed guess.
  3. When you get to the voting booth, take along the sample ballot.

Whoever wins the 2014 elections will make laws related to the environment, the workplace, reproductive rights (accessibility to contraception as well as abortion), education, college loans, and immigration.

It’s your life—your future, your children’s future—that’s being determined. Vote.