Thursday, June 19, 2008

"Green" vs. Grown
Two friends, allergies and an SUV

In the middle of a recent allergy attack, a friend called, excitement brimming in her voice. Thirty seconds in, after obligatory salutations, I learn that she’d finally traded in her 1991 now-lackluster luxury car for… an SUV.

“It’s got all of the bells and whistles,” she gloats. “It only gets fourteen miles to the gallon, but it’s fly!”

And then there was silence. NOT the response she was trying to elicit.

She revived me with a few echoing “Hello? Are you there?’s”. The diplomat in me did her best to resume in support of this friend’s very grown-up purchase, with a few insincere “good for you’s.” But, to my chagrin, she didn’t buy it.

“I know it’s selfish of me but it’s my time to have a little something for me.”

As a single mom and a product of American capitalism, I completely understand her plight. It’s a symptom of the larger dis-ease from which we all suffer, and are complicit; the myth that our well-being should be measured in "stuff"; the size of our cars, the number of flat-screens in our homes, the amount of money spent on our children’s birthday parties. We succumb to bask in the bling and blah-blah-blah of waste and materialism.

Be forewarned: The non-judgmental diplomat in me isn’t writing in this moment. It’s me. The flawed and frustrated newly realized green freak. And I don't think I've become an official "tree-hugger" yet (though I'm working on the badge). Don’t get me wrong. The desire to be as fabulous as the next girl still lives in me. But there came a point when I found more importance in the future health of our aging bodies, our children’s health and the state of this planet than riding in a vehicle that has more TVs in it than some homes in East Oakland.

But she, like many of us, can’t see how every car-buying, recycling, car-pooling decision she makes has the power to impact the world.

I want to shake her through the telephone lines. Beg her to take a moment and think about it. Think about the environmental changes that have happened in the last several years. In my case, when we moved to Austin, Texas, in April 1996, it was touted in Money Magazine as one of the top ten cities in the country “to be young”. While the economy in Austin is still slightly better than many other American “big cities,” these twelve years later, the music capital of the southwest is now more likely referenced as one of the country’s top places to be a heat-exhausted allergy sufferer. But the increased numbers of coughing-sneezing-head-achy allergically affected has increased from sea to shining sea just as the numbers of allergens has increased.

Global warming and allergy suffering a coincidence? Not according to the Natural Resources Defense Council October 2007 report. It says that “global warming and rising CO2 levels could worsen air quality and threaten human health due to increased levels of allergenic pollen and ground-level ozone.”

The Medical News Today agrees, adding that "Asthma and other allergic diseases have become more prevalent in the United States in recent years. They affect as many as 50 million people, or more than 20 percent of the population. The incidence of asthma alone has more than tripled over the past 25 years and currently affects more than 22 million Americans.”

I sneeze, pop an allergy pill and finally muster the courage to be the friend she will later be grateful she has. “Well, maybe you can pack a bunch of commuters up in the back. It may not be great on gas but one of those on the road is better than four.”

“You’re right. And that’s a good idea,” she resolves, as she runs off a short list of people she might be able to tolerate in rush hour traffic. Just before we get off the phone, we are interrupted by her daughter’s unfulfilled responsibilities.

“Casey*! Did you put all of those bottles and cans in the trash like I asked you to?” Whiney protest errupts in the background.

“Cecily*!” I scold, exasperated. Has she heard nothing I've said?

“What?" She pauses then realizes, "Oh. I guess I need to get a recycle bin?”

I sigh and realize we’ve got miles to go (preferably by bike, in a hybrid or electricity-powered car) before I sleep.

This account has been reconstructed with poetic license.

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.