While The Oil Gushes, I Ponder My Responsibility

Oil Refinery Somewhere In TexasEvery day I drive to work. Once a week I pay close to $40 to fill up my tank. When I am not driving to work, I try to ride my new bike everywhere I go, even in the almost 100* Texas heat. And when I drive, I think about the oil-soaked pelicans in the gulf, the porpoises washing up on Alabama beaches, literally oozing oil from their insides-out. I feel the weight of the guilt each time I shift gears, and remind myself not to gun the engine too much, better to save oil.

My carbon footprint is lower than it has ever been. Some nights, when it’s cool and overcast I open the windows in my tiny garage apartment and sleep in the warm Texas night. I’m used to the discomfort, having passed many nights in Southeast Asia and India without any form of air conditioning. I take cold showers, better to save the natural gas. Again, I’m used to cold water, having learned to like it while traveling in India and Southeast Asia. (Of course, I use hot water in the winter months.) When I wash my clothes, I don’t use hot water. When I dry them, I use a clothes line.

But every day that passes with dead birds washing up on shore I ask myself what more I can do?

I try and eat vegetables and such that don’t require cooking in the microwave or meats on the gas stove. I still can’t give up meat totally–I’m not that good of a Buddhist yet. I separate the aluminum cans, glass bottles and paper, from the food waste, better to recycle. I don’t have any toys, other than an iPad, a MacBookPro and an iPhone. They are toys, but they have other, environmentally friendly uses, as well. For example, I don’t own a TV, flatscreen or otherwise. I try to live as frugally as possible, going so far as to buy the majority of my books in electronic format now, better to save the trees. (And this is probably the biggest sacrifice I’ve made because I love the feel of books.)  One reason I bought my iPad was so I would stop printing up news stories on the internet, again, better to save paper.

I don’t own any power tools. No gas powered grills. I take my shoes to a cobbler. I have my old clothes, suits included, altered when necessary.

But every day I ask myself, what’s my responsibility?

I don’t live the American dream, although with my job I could probably buy a home and a big SUV just like everyone else here in liberal Austin.

I have to get to work. I’ve asked to be able to work from home two or three days a week to save energy. My requests have been declined. I’ve looked for a small efficiency apartment near work to lower my gas bill, but when I sit down to figure the costs, it would raise my carbon footprint to live in a bigger place. Personal conservation is a virtue, I suppose, but it isn’t easy when all of our living arrangements are stacked against me. It’s hard to break free from the system.

I’m not some kind of get back to nature, dirty hippie, or a survival nut. Just a guy living in a modern American city trying to be responsible.

And yet, every day I ask myself, what more can I do?

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