My family is going through a period of reflection and change about lifestyle choices and environmental ethics. We were already getting by with one beat up old Honda Civic for our family of four. Then, our 6-year old son -- probably having heard some conversation between my wife and myself -- suggested that we stop using the car. We haven't sold the car yet, but we have started marking our kitchen calendar in big bold marker with the words "no car" on every day we do without. If we reduce our car miles from 11,000 per year to 7,500 per year, our insurance company will give us a discount. So far, the words "no car" appear on about 10 out of 14 calendar days, and we are still learning rapidly how to get by without it.
You might think this change would be an ordeal, but certainly not so far. We bought new bright bike lights for the kids and reinstalled our own. For travel together by bike path, the six-year-old rides his own new bike and the four-year-old rides the tag-along. For travel that includes roads, the four-year-old gets the old bike trailer and the six-year-old gets the tag-along. We bundle up for the late New England fall, and of course the weather has been mild lately. Every time we make a decision specifically prompted by the discipline of our new calendar record-keeping -- whether walking together in a hard rain or loading up the bikes with a particularly heavy burden -- we get home laughing at the fun we had together.
You might also think we were doing fine on car choices already and must be particularly uptight to be attempting yet more restraint. But, that's not true either. Everybody knows, for example, that per capita energy use or carbon emissions is much higher in the United States than in China, for example. But not everybody may understand the scale of the difference. Aggregate carbon emissions in the United States (population about 300 million) far exceed aggregate emissions for China (population about 1.4 billion). It is almost enough to make a person fear the growing economic justice in the world economy.
The bad news, if you haven't made this kind of change yet, is that at some point in the future you may feel called to deeper lifestyle changes than you now think possible. The good news is that these changes may be carried more lightly than you realize.
How can you get started? Over the last three days, my wife and I watched both Who killed the electric car? and An Inconvenient Truth, recently out on DVD. Both documentaries are entertaining, informative, and moving. I recommend them more strongly today than any other recommendation I have ever made to you. The Al Gore movie ends with an eloquent list of things to do. They are not all about light bulbs. Two of them, which resonated with us after this month's conversation with our kids, have to do with what children can ask their parents, and what parents can promise their kids, about the future of the planet.